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Poncho Sanchez: Heating up Lincoln

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By Gabriel Medina Arenas

Nebraska's coldest month is usually January and in 2015 that didn't seem to be an exception. That is, until Poncho Sanchez's hot salsa and Latin jazz melted the ice, bringing “gozadera" and joy to The Midwest.

This is not just a metaphor, since the weather did get warmer on Thursday, January 15th, the day Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band played at The Lied Center in Lincoln, the state capital.

Two days before the world famous conguero and his band were in town the lowest temperature was minus 4 degrees and the highest was 25. When Sanchez played the thermometer reached 49 degrees, so people in the streets smiled more and stopped wearing big coats.

“We brought summer with us," joked Joey De Leon Jr. , percussionist and timbalist.

Sanchez hadn't played in Lincoln in 15 years and paid back his debt with a warm but relatively short, 90-minute show full of salsa, Latin jazz standards and some soul-inspired music.

The show started with “Soul Bourgeoisie," by the Jazz Crusaders that will be included in the Laredo, Texas musician's next album. Sanchez seemed to be enjoying every second his hands touched and slapped the congas.

The first climax came when the band played “Willie Bobo Medley," a song comprised of Bobo classics like “Fried Neck Bones and Some home Fries" and “Spanish Grease."

At one point, Sanchez stopped playing congas and proved he is also an accomplished singer. Among the audience there were few Latinos, and they showed their support shouting “Vamos Poncho!"

De Leon said proudly he had bought a “Huskies shirt" and some of the people in the audience shouted back “Huskers!" to correct the name of the state's famous college football team. The timbalist laughed and looked a little bit ashamed of his mistake, but he paid back the audience with an outstanding timbales solo during Dizzy Gillespie's “Groovin' High."

A bolero entitled “Aunque tú" sung by Sanchez marked one of the most romantic moments of the night. During the song, De Leon played congas and Andy Langham lovingly caressed his piano keys while some couples held hands and embraced.

Probably some of the hottest minutes came when the band played a salsa song called “Conmigo," during which Sanchez invited the audience to dance several times. The predominantly white audience clapped enthusiastically and even moved their feet and heads to the rhythm, however few accepted Sanchez invitation to stand up and do some footwork.

It was during “Conmigo" that Rob Hardt's performance shone the brightest. He played the flute with mastery and the public warmly recognized him.

The 63-year-old Sanchez seemed a little bit frustrated because few people danced or stood up to make some noise, even though he encouraged them to do it in different occasions.

That's probably why he decided not to do the planned intermission and he just gave a 90 minutes show with one encore. The Grammy award-winning musician, with a career that spans four decades, is a fan of the late James Brown and played “Out of Sight" to prove it.

Sanchez's admiration for Brown is such that Sanchez titled his 2004 album after that song. The Mexican-American sang and howled passionately to pay a tribute to the “Godfather of Soul."

Francisco Torres played his trombone enjoying every instant and the audience celebrated his performance with gusto.

“Yumbame," another salsa song, was the last before the encore. Sanchez invited the audience to dance once more. Few couples did it probably out of shyness. But it's also worth noting that it's not an easy task to dance in the inclined floors of The Lied Center.

Sanchez and his band said goodbye for the first time with that song, but the applause made them to do an encore. The experienced group chose Herbie Hancock's 1962 classic, “Watermelon Man," recorded by jazz masters like Mongo Santamaria, Erroll Garner and Quincy Jones.

The audience was thrilled. Unfortunately, Sanchez and the band left the stage after that song. Nebraskans hope that the brilliant musician won't take 15 more years to return to play again.
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