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Cinco de Mayo concert features bands with local roots

LOS ANGELES — Two bands with strong ties to Southern California presented a Cinco de Mayo concert at the Regent Theater downtown to raise funds for the KLCS-TV Education Foundation, a Los Angeles-based public television nonprofit.

Los Lobos, a group whose members first met at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles in the early 1970s, and Dave and Phil Alvin, who grew up in Maywood and Downey and achieved fame as the Blasters at the same time Los Lobos was starting its career, performed at the benefit, along with opening act the Mighty Echoes, an a capella doo-wop group from Echo Park.

All three groups performed well. The Mighty Echoes got things started with a set that included Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Ooh Baby, Baby,” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Their set showed off the individual vocal talents of all four members while never straying far from their doo-wop roots.

The Alvin Brothers, backed by their three-piece band called the Guilty Ones, played an electrifying set showcasing the stinging guitar work and songwriting skills of Dave Alvin and the vocals and harmonica playing of brother Phil.

The brothers began playing together again in the last couple of years. Last year they recorded their first album together in more than 30 years, “Common Ground: Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy.”

Broonzy was an African-American blues singer and guitar player whose career spanned four decades until his death in 1958.

The Alvins’ recording of his work earned a Grammy nomination last year and songs from the album were sprinkled throughout the set, but the audience seemed most enthusiastic when Blasters’ classics “Border Radio” and “Marie, Marie” were played.

Dave and Phil Alvin, brothers from Downey, performed songs from their recent album as well as material from their days together in the Blasters. (Photo by Gary Leonard)
Dave and Phil Alvin, brothers from Downey, performed songs from their recent album as well as material from their days together in the Blasters. (Photo by Gary Leonard)

Dave Alvin kept the audience involved with stories. He described the Regent Theater as a former burlesque house that his parents used to frequent.

“Who knows, Phil or I might have been conceived here,” he said.

He introduced his own song, “Dry River,” as a song about the concrete river (the San Gabriel River) that he grew up next to in Downey.

And, acknowledging Cinco de Mayo, he said “I never wrote a song about Cinco de Mayo but I did write this,” and went into “Fourth of July,” a song he wrote during his stint with the Los Angeles punk icon band X.

Los Lobos was given a hometown welcome by people ready to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Their set, as usual, included songs in both English and Spanish. The band opened with mostly acoustic instruments on Spanish-language songs that included the traditional “Sabor a Mi.”

They also dusted off songs from their lengthy catalogue that included “Will the Wolf Survive” and “Kiko and the Lavendar Moon.”

The concert was held in the Regent Theater, a 100-year-old facility that has part of the downtown resurgence of entertainment venues.

After decades as a grindhouse and adult movie venue, the theater closed in 2000. At the time it was the last historic movie theater on Main Street downtown.

The concert raised money for the KLCS Education Foundation, the nonprofit organization that supports KLCS-TV, the local public television and PBS affiliate licensed to the Los Angeles Unified School District.