EDINBURG - Charlie Vela and Ronnie Garza finally saw the fruit of their three-year passion project this past weekend.
Their documentary, “As I Walk Through the Valley”, opened to a packed house at the Edinburg Auditorium on Saturday. After making its debut at South by Southwest last month, the film, which explores the music of the Rio Grande Valley, screened for the first time in the region it covered.
From the get-go, the familiar faces of Valley musicians appear. Artists like Esteban Jordan, The Playboys of Edinburg, Ralph & the Cruisers, The Steroids, Inkbag, and Confused all come on screen. Spanning five decades, they share their stories and describe the atmosphere in which they made music in the RGV.
Those unacquainted with the groundbreaking musicians beforehand found themselves immersed in this rich and often forgotten subculture of the Valley’s history.
“[We hope] they learn some history and learn some things they probably didn’t know about the place they’ve lived their whole lives,” Vela said.
Although the film jumps all the way back to the ’60s, co-directors Vela and Garza started the documentary focusing on the music scene of the late ’90s, when they both were in high school and going to shows.
“Before the story really took its shape, we thought we were just talking about ‘what are the origins of the punk scene’ or the scene we were a part of,” Vela said.
The project quickly evolved as they continued to research and interview people. What they discovered was a plethora of music that had origins and influence from both sides of the border.
“La División del Norte is an interesting band…They’re amongst this crop of bands from the Reynosa side. A lot of the bands are from the border area because along the border you can get access to American radio stations and records. The border region produced a lot of signed artists in Mexico and some eventually became big stars,” Garza explained.
With all they uncovered, the pair could not fit every story into the film. There is so much material that the possibility of a series was suggested during the Q & A session of the screening. For now, “As I Walk Through the Valley” serves as a great primer for the region’s underground music scene, which the co-directors hope will reach the rest of the country.
“Part of the reason that we did it was to address current narratives…about the region. Outsiders sort of have like a cartoon of what the Valley is like. We want to provide a high definition closeup of what the Valley is like, what the music is like. It’s not border wars. There’s a long, very interesting cultural and musical legacy in the area,” Vela said.
In their effort to have the film distributed nationwide, Vela and Garza are asking people to go online and fill out a request for Netflix to add the film to its library. The simple form can be found at https://help.netflix.com/en/titlerequest.
To complete the night of musical celebration, a concert was held outside the auditorium. Five local bands, representing the different eras of music, performed. As the crowd danced, cheered and sang along, it was clear that the filmmakers had rekindled something in the audience. They not only shared an interesting part of Valley history, they, for the first time, held up a mirror to the Valley itself.