06 July 2007

Cantina Nights (Part One)

fiesta 2
Fifty Fabulous Nights at The Pop Culture Cantina
¡Celebremos!
by Donny Jacobs
Hola, amigos! Stuffed Animal speaking. Let me tell you all about my Cantina. It's a kinda sleazy bordertown bar, known mainly for serving great fish tacos and a diabolical drink called the Cactus Daiquiri. Most of the time, it's an ordinary watering hole, but sometimes, it's extraordinary! On designated nights we present elaborate floor shows. Periodically, we host concerts with famous headliners; we also host book parties on occasion. If you've got un momento to spare, I'll regale you with the checkered history of this wild and crazy establishment, and describe for you all the espectáculos that've been mounted here thus far.

This building originally housed a Gay bar called Chorizo Con Huevos (escandaloso! I dare not translate). Our founder, Doña Laura Pinto, took over the lease, gave the place a tacky faux Mexican makeover, and cultivated a clientele of mixed sexual orientation. The Cantina officially opened for business in late January 2006. She launched it with a big fiesta featuring entertainment from the dance troupe Trío Trotacalles and Mariachi José Cuervo. (Unfortunately, she couldn’t come to salary terms with either group, and they returned to México. I hear the mariachis gave up performing and opened a meth house just outside Tijuana! The Trío still performs, and continues to appear at the Cantina on occasion.) Special guest for that historic event was producer and singer/songwriter extraordinaire, Jeff Barry.

I wasn’t there on opening day, but by the time we mounted our first production, I'd come on board as barkeep and kitchen supervisor. Our first headliners, Clayton Naluai and The Surfers, were real crowd pleasers! The patrons just went loquitos when Clayton’s sarong fell off during a spirited rendition of the “Hawaiian War Chant”. Doña Laura and I worked our nalgas off turning the Cantina into a replica of Don The Beachcomber’s nightclub for that show.

Our revue of early hits by Dusty Springfield brought in customers from as far away as England and Australia. Doña Laura slipped into a gold lamé sheath and a blonde wig, and through the magic of lip-synching, she brought Miss Beehive to life again on our stage. (You can see from her sidebar portrait what a striking resemblance La Doña bears to Dusty.) Santitos Pocho and his Cuarteto Cantina joined us for the first time on that show. Despite the fact that he and his musicians were all drunker than México City skunks, they did a fine job evoking the sound of Dusty’s original backing band, The Echoes.

My friendship with performance artist Bobby López enabled us to book his fabulous alter-ego, The Mexican Elvis, for our next show. The guys from his band, The Memphis Mariachis, got into a Tequila-fueled backstage brawl with Cuarteto Cantina, but tempers cooled before showtime and everything went off without a hitch. El Vez’s nalga-licious female vocal group, The El-Vettes, gave Doña Laura the idea of having our own in-house Girl Group. We hired the Zoot Suit Muchachas shortly afterward; like the El-Vettes, they sing as well as dance. Unlike the El-Vettes, they double as waitresses!


Ann-Margret treated Cantina patrons to an exciting mix of Jazz, Rock and Country stylings when we booked her in early 2006. The only problem was, our patrons were so mesmerized by her sultry stage presence (especially the men), they focused all their attention on her; no eating, no drinking, no nada! They didn’t spend nearly as much diñero as we would’ve liked. Miss Ann-Meow’s revue is an expensive one to mount, so we ended up losing money on that show. Her sensational singing and dancing was worth it, though! Doña Laura swears that Elvis was in the audience that night, but I didn’t see him.


Dusty Springfield had a return engagement with us in February 2006; I coaxed Doña Laura to adopt her British diva persona for one more gig. This time, her emphasis was on “Son-Of-A-Preacher Man” and other hits from Dusty's tenure on Atlantic Records. Consequently, there were a lot of Southern Soul fans in the audience. We served them a chicken-and-waffles buffet, and I think the food was as big a hit as the music! How I wish Chef Don Heriberto had been working for us then; cooking up 500 waffles from scratch is no fiesta! To say nothing of the hundreds of pollitos we cleaned, plucked and fried.

Our next show featured Josie and The Pussycats, reunited for the first time in 35 years! We billed them as “Sanctified Pussy”. This led some folks to get the wrong idea about what kind of establishment we ran! Fortunately, the Zoot Suit Muchachas are karate experts; they managed to rid the place of cochinos before the ladies took the stage. (We had to pay them extra for that!) This was one our most successful productions; Kathleen Dougherty, Cheryl Ladd and Patrice Holloway had the audience rockin' all night with their Gospel and Country-tinged vocals.

We kept the Girl Group theme for our next show. Ellie Greenwich brought a new group of Raindrops down from New York City for a nostalgia-filled revue of her early ‘60s hits. Miss Ellie built her reputation on songwriting and studio work, but on our stage, she proved to be a dynamite live performer. Her funky renditions of “Hanky Panky” and “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” had the patrons up on their feet dancing the Frug and the Watusi! We ending up having to push the tables against the wall.

At Doña Laura’s request, Ron Dante and Donna Marie reunited as The Archies and staged a show for us. It sold out within hours of our announcing it! Of course, Cuarteto Cantina was the backing band, and I must say, they did themselves proud playing “Sugar, Sugar”, "Jingle Jangle" and “Who’s Your Baby?” Even when they’re nursing wicked hangovers, Latin musicians are lo ultimo!

The lovely and talented Annette Funicello paid her first visit to the Cantina in February 2006. Even though multiple sclerosis forced her to sing sitting in a wheelchair, she was a stone smash! Walt Disney would’ve been so proud. Patrons were lined up around the block to hear her perform hits from her albums Annette, Italiannette, Bikini Beach, Pajama Party and Something Borrowed, Something Blue. We knew right away we wanted her back soon for a return engagement. She was kind enough to oblige us.


Chubby Checker is a natural ball of fire! He had ‘em twistin' all night at his sold-out show, not to mention hucklebuckin', pony ridin', flyin', hitch –hikin', messin’ around and doin' the how-low-can-you-go Limbo! The Zoot Suit Muchachas had a ball dancing with Chubby on stage; María Chalupa sang the female part when he performed “Slow Twistin’”. She’d have sounded just like Dee Dee Sharp if it weren’t for her heavy Mexican accent. I can’t say Chubby minded much! He had his ojitos fixed on her big chichis all during the song.

Our tribute to Tico Records was one of the two most expensive shows we’ve ever mounted here. We brought Ricky Martin, Jennifer López and dozens of young Latin music stars together over three consecutive nights; they performed songs made famous by Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, Celia Cruz, Machito and Graciela, Ray Barretto, Joe Cuba and La Lupe. It had to have been the finest series of salsa concerts ever staged! Because of the great expense, we didn’t make any money; however, the boost to our business profile was invaluable! From that point on, the Cantina became known as a source of quality entertainment.


Land Of A Thousand Dances was our two-concert tribute to the wild dance crazes of the 1960s. Sadly, it was also the last show Doña Laura supervised. She needed to devote more attention to her other enterprises, and so she left management of the Cantina in my grubby little patas. At times, it’s been tough running the place without her, but my staff helps me out a lot. Whenever I see the Zoot Suit Muchachas rehearsing their dance routines, I always remember how La Doña looked on that last night, leading a drunken conga line out the front door.

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Annette Funicello’s return engagement was just the moneymaker we needed after our budget-breaking salsa event. Maybe she doesn't work a stage like she used to, but audiences can't resist the Disneyland Diva’s natural charm and warmth. This time, she performed numbers from her Hawaiiannette, Dance Annette, Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Golden Surfin’ Hits and Country albums. The crowd couldn’t get enough; they called her back for three encores! Sadly, Annette's illness has progressed to a stage where future bookings are out of the question.


The Archies returned with a tribute to singer/songwriter Neil Brian Goldberg. A protégé of the great Jeff Barry, Neil wrote and produced soundtrack music for the group's TV series during its 1970-71 season. While his Archies songs were never released commercially, they’re familiar to millions of people who originally heard them as kids. It was a real treat for everybody to finally see Ron Dante and Donna Marie perform them live-in-concert! Neil was also on stage for that show, contributing rhythm guitar and background vocals, and clearly enjoying the long-overdue recognition.

Our first Cantina book party was for Ken Emerson’s excellent history of Brill Building Rock ‘n’ Roll, Always Music In The Air. Cuarteto Cantina serenaded our guests with songs by Sedaka and Greenfield, Goffin and King, Mann and Weil and Barry and Greenwich, I provided cactus daiquiris on the house, and our new chef, Heriberto de Garbanzo, whipped up a muy sabroso chicken salad appetizer. We ran out of chicken, and had to use carne de ratón (rat meat) instead, but hardly anybody noticed . . . Don Heriberto is a genius when it comes to substituting ingredients at the last minute!

Our first show of March 2006 was a tribute to Cine Mexicano, those great Mexican movies from the 1940s and ‘50s. Cuarteto Cantina was in excellent form that night (Don Heriberto locked away their Tequila supply until after the show), and Trío Trotacalles flew in from México City to make a special guest appearance. Recreating a dance number originally performed on film by the famous cabaretera Ninón Sevilla, the girls wore skimpy two-piece rhumba costumes, and their hot mambo moves had our male customers howling like hombre-lobos! We all wore costumes that night. I mixed drinks for the customers sporting an authentic charro costume with a big sombrero! Santitos told me I looked just like El Frito Bandito.

Our tribute to Habanera Rock was spread out over three nights. People are still talking about that show! There were guest appearances by Ben E. King, Tony Orlando, Billy Joe Royal, Steve Alaimo, Johnny Nash and several other male Pop stars from the ‘60s. We tried to book Elvis, too, but that man is so hard to track down . . . the Mexican Elvis was kind enough to appear in his place. He knocked the socks off the crowd with his huapango rendition of “Viva Las Vegas!” This was my favorite show of all the ones we’ve done so far. I spotted Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who popularized the fusion of Latin rhythms with Rock 'n' Roll, in the audience on the last night.

We staged another Land Of A Thousand Dances revue in March, this time focusing on Soul/R & B dance classics. The Zoot Suit Muchachas loved that show; they invited all their chingón lowrider friends to attend! I got a little nervous when I saw all the leather and tattoos, but aside from some vatos trading Spanish insults with Samson and Delilah Papagallo, our foul-mouthed parrot mascots, nothing bad went down. Don Heriberto served his chit’lin-flavored chicharrónes for the first time during that show. They’ve since become one of our most popular menu items.

Our book party for the reprint of Song Of The Loon, a classic homoerotic novel, was our first Gay-themed event. I was criticized for hosting that event here, but I couldn't have cared less! Everybody’s welcome at The Cantina, regardless of sexual orientation. Didn't this place used to be a Gay bar, after all? A lot of the original clientele still shows up, and as long as they buy my Cactus Daiquiris, I'm happy to see them.
Fiesta 1

"Celebremos!" continues with Part Two.

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