The Caliente Column

Kansas City: Tejano Outpost
By Doug Shannon (

Though Kansas City is better known for its first-rate barbecue
restaurants, DJ/promoter Mark Grado is working to make the midwestern
city a center for Tejano lovers.

"The next level for Tejano music in KC is to expose live acts to the
public, which is what I'm doing," he said.

He also hopes to educate Tejano fans, who live in a city isolated from
Latin music industry centers and without any commercial Spanish radio.

"This is going to blow your mind, but there are people up here who still
think JAY PEREZ sings with the LATIN BREED and RAM HERRERA is still with
DAVID LEE GARZA," he said.

Grado estimates that the audience for Tejano music in the KC metro area
is from 10,000 to 25,000. A good chunk of that audience attended the
city's first annual Tejano Superfest which he organized this past March
in conjunction with the Hispanic Economic Awareness Expo.

MAZZ, RAM HERRERA and THE OUTLAWS, and TEXAS LATINO swapped sets for six
hours, playing on separate stages so there was no waiting between sets.
A crowd of 4,100 paid from $20-30 and came from as far away as San
Antonio, L.A., and Washington, D.C.

Grado worked tirelessly to promote the event. When a rival began tearing
down promotional fliers stapled to telephone poles, Grado sent his crew
back out--this time with instructions to use 15 staples per flier. When
those signs disappeared, he negotiated a deal to rent 50 billboards.
Those didn't get torn down.

However in May, Grado saw the frustrating side of working in a growing
market like KC. Scheduled "Tejano Slam" headliner David Lee Garza
was cancelled by William Morris booking agency after slow advance ticket
sales and only 50 fans came to see opening act CONNEXION, who graciously
stepped into the headliner role.

Redemption may be found in the Tejano Block Party, scheduled for Aug. 26
and featuring Ram Herrera. It's cosponsored by KC's Hispanic Economic
Development Corporation.

Born and raised in Kansas City, Grado started deejaying at age 14. He
worked at a radio station briefly, but was fired when management found out
he was only 15, according to coworker Mary Lona.

Now he owns Groove Enterprises, a DJ service specializing in Tejano.

"He's very entertaining--never at a loss for words," according to John
Fiero, executive director of the Hispanic Economic Development Corporation.
"But he's also giving a lot back to the community, and you can't say that
about all Hispanic businesses."

Grado also does event planning for Lona-Medina Public Relations,
publishers of KC's Hispanic business directory, "La Lista Latina." As if
that weren't enough, he coordinates shuttle bus service between Park
Place Hotel and Kansas City International Airport.

As for the last job, "It's a part time job I do in order to get insurance
for my family," he said. He's married and has two kids.

Although he's a popular DJ in Kansas City, he said the approval of the
powerful TTMA has eluded him.

"TTMA should be proud that the music and the things they started are
expanding with other people being involved. They should try to become
involved by backing whoever is the strongest promoter," he said.

TTMA Executive Director RUDY TREVIN~O said he didn't recall Grado but
did agree that the lack of Spanish radio was a hurdle for promoters in
the Midwest.

Another obstacle for promoters like Grado is the skeptical attitude of
some corporate sponsors and booking agents, who are hesitant to risk
spending money in an emerging Tejano market like Kansas City. The days
of mutual trust and verbal agreements between artists, promoters, and
booking agents are almost gone.

"Some booking agents use their artists more as weapons than as
commodities. They don't see cities like KC as major markets because we
don't have a radio station," he said.

Grado plans to bring more bands to KC in the near future and let young
people know that it's cool to like Tejano.

"We are going to expose the music to a younger generation," he said.