ATASCADERO — Traffic Records in downtown Atascadero hosted a unique cultural event Sept. 15, with participation from neighboring businesses and a mini-block party bringing the music of East Los Angeles to town on the weekend of Mexican Independence Day.
Gene Aguilera, or “The Duke of Boyle Heights,” as the historian, songwriter, and record collector-producer has been known, came to town at the urging of store co-owner Manuel Barba packing a selection of rare records for sale and copies of his latest book.
Kicking off with “Under the Boardwalk” performed by Los Lobos, Aguilera explained in brief the fusion of influences from the 1940s-60s that merged sounds from Mexican-American performers with Doo-Wop and the start of the British Invasion.
Aguilera curated the collection for the event dubbed, "Let's Take a Trip Down Whittier Blvd; The Sounds Of East L.A.,” of which he explained selections while visitors and passers-by explored the store and dropped in for a sample of Nelle Winery’s offerings at the design studio nextdoor or jaunted across the street for Taqueria Don Jose.
While busy, Aguilera said he’d so thoroughly enjoyed the visit that, “I’d be back to Atascadero next week to tell people about our music if they’d let me.”
One of the things that he finds gratifying is the opportunity to share nuggets about artists or a scene that people think they already know. For instance the fact that Los Angeles has a rich folk history, yet most historians in the field gloss over the contributions out of East L.A., he said, or that Ritchie Valens was a world class blues guitar player.
A vinyl single of Valens’ blues chops was an unexpected inclusion for the evening. The musician was idolized after his death in the 1959 plane crash dubbed, “The Day the Music Died,” as a rock ‘n’ roller and a forerunner of Chicano rock.
While Barba was out front spinning discs with Aguilera, Traffic Records’ co-owner Dawn Neill said they’d like to bring more fusion of the arts to the block in future events.
The wall space not dedicated to album covers and vintage vinyls in the small shop is occupied by a mini-gallery, the installation of which was their most recent cause for a party.
A Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Anthropology professor by day, Neill said the event was the perfect convergence of the couple’s interests and what they can do with her organizational skills and his enthusiasm and industry connections.
Ed Taylor, co-founder of SLO-based Boo Boo records, and Barba’s former employer, wished them well in the endeavor.
“I think it’s a great idea for Atascadero. They’re really doing as much a they can with the space,” he said, adding that it’s an interesting time to be in the literal record business, with younger customers sometimes thinking of items as collectibles rather than making a choice on the sound.
An event like the one on Saturday shows the enjoyment of both.