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Tito Puente Jr. brought the audience to its feet at Performing Arts Center debut

November 22, 2016 GMT

McALLEN — The new Performing Arts Center came to life Sunday with the warm Latin beats of Tito Puente Jr. who helped break-in the $45 million venue and show off exactly what it was built to do; let the audience feel the music.

“Did you feel that?” asked Puente after playing his first mambo beats to a crowd of about 600 people. “This place is spectacular, and we are very thankful for the opportunity to help inaugurate it.”

For about an hour-and-a-half, Puente played a wide array of his late father’s legendary hits including, “Oye Como Va” and “Ran Kan Kan,” whose Afro-Latin beats reverberated off the wood paneled walls bringing the audience to its feet.

“ This is perfection, the music, the place, everything,” said Laura Solis, 46, as she took a short break from dancing alongside her group of friends at the parterre seats towards the rear of the main floor. “We are rejoicing with everything we have in our hearts, this is truly marvelous.”

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Roy Cepeda introduced both musical acts Sunday night including Break Point, a band with a six-piece brass section that opened the show with a rich mix of Latin jazz and several crowd pleasers — “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” and Luis Miguel’s, “Que Nivel de Mujer.”

Cepeda also presented Rene Sandoval, a Latin jazz artist from Pharr, with a proclamation from the Texas Senate and House of Representatives for his outstanding musical career.

“Rene Sandoval is a beloved resident of the Rio Grande Valley who has contributed greatly to the cultural vitality of our state, and he is indeed deserving of recognition for his musical success,” read Cepeda from the proclamation drafted by state Sen. Eddie Lucio.

Sandoval, took the stage to a standing ovation thanking Lucio, the people of the Valley, and his family for more than six decades of “fun and joy” playing music and doing what he loved.

“ I never in my wildest dreams imagined that the state or the senator would appreciate what I did,” Sandoval said after the show. “I did it for the love and passion for music. Its never been about money or the competition, it’s been about enjoying the music and about bringing joy to the people we played for.”

He said it was wonderful that they chose Puente Jr. to break-in the brand new venue but wished they had done a better job promoting the show. Still he said he loved everything about the performance, from the sound, to the lights, to the dancers.

Joining Puente on the stage were members of the McAllen Bugalu Dance Studio. Martha Houghton, one of the dancers said they were contacted that same day to perform and were both surprised and overjoyed for the opportunity to share the stage with the son of one of her favorite artists.

“It was last minute; today they called us and told us that Tito always likes to perform with a salsa group,” Houghton said. “I was nervous and did not know what to expect, but I just focused on the music and on my steps and it was amazing.”

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The dancing was also one of 9-year-old Diselle De Los Santos’s favorite parts of Sunday night’s performance. “I loved it,” said De Los Santos shyly holding on to her mother Julie Ann Zamora, 39. “This music makes me want to dance.”

“It was awesome,” Zamora said. “It was really spacious — the seats, the acoustics, are a big difference from the old auditorium.”

Mother and grandmother Ana Maria Zamora, 71, of Edinburg, said they were amazed by the center from the moment they walked in but wished there had been a dance floor for everyone to dance.

“Everybody wanted to get up and dance but there was no dance floor,” Zamora said, “That was the only thing that was missing.”

khernandez@themonitor.com