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Texas’s Best Young Accordionists Carry on a Conjunto Legacy

Texas Monthly

Originally Posted: May 2021

Had this been a non-pandemic year, Christopher Ramirez and Ashly Nicole Molina would have been in Austin on a recent Saturday afternoon. As two of the four finalists for the sixteen-and-under conjunto category in the Big Squeeze—the annual competition of Texas’s best young accordion players—they would’ve played live at the Lone Star Plaza in front of the Bullock Texas State History Museum. They would’ve felt the butterflies in their stomachs that come from standing onstage in front of a crowd, playing in front of judges, family, and other competitors. And as they did, extending and compressing the accordions’ bellows that breathe life into the instruments, moving their bodies to the rhythms and sounds, they would’ve felt that anxiety melt away.

But because of the pandemic, like every contestant in all four of the Big Squeeze’s categories—polka, zydeco, cajun, and conjunto—Ramirez and Molina submitted virtual entries for the May 8 contest. Each musician recorded him- or herself playing two songs. They were graded on technical skill, song interpretation, and stage presence, even though judges admitted that the latter was difficult to convey in a video audition. READ MORE