It is said that music makes the people come together and for Daniel Bustamante, this is one of the reasons he founded Chicano Festival, a cultural gathering featuring live entertainment that takes place every October—including tonight through this Saturday—at Miller Outdoor Theatre.

During the 70s, Bustamante was appointed chair of the United Farm Workers committee in Houston. His job included organizing, bringing in volunteers to aid in the Chicano movement as well as support for UFW. Bustamante adds that one of the biggest challenges he saw was how to get people to come together.

“The barriers that I had seen growing up, the racial barriers in South Texas and the barriers here in Houston, led me to start using culture as a vehicle to communicate to communities about themselves, so they can learn who they were,” Bustamante says.

It was their venue to register voters as well as speak about the issues and to organize. Thus, Bustamante began to use music as a means to attract people to the parks.

One local artist Bustamante got to know was Lydia Mendoza, a Tejano music legend who is considered “The First Lady of Tejano.” Bustamante said Mendoza would tell him and his friends that although she was just an artist, she was willing to help however she could. Thus, Bustamante and his friends would organize gatherings around the singer, as well as other local musicians. It was a tool to reach out to the community, especially during a time in Houston where police brutality was an issue in the 1970s.

“We started using cultura (culture),” Bustamante notes. “We were already using teatro (theater), and teatro was a vehicle to educate communities, and (it’s) a very powerful vehicle. And music was the same tool that the united farmworkers used to entertain farmworkers, but to also empower them with the words.”

It was not until the second year of the festival, in 1981, when the date was moved to October. Coincidentally, the date falls in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month. Originally observed for just a week, President Ronal Reagan expanded the observation from one week to 30 days, beginning on September 15 and ending on October 15.

During the 30 days, many Latin countries celebrated their independence, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, to name a few. However Bustamante, who attended law school and chose to serve as a civil rights activist for the United Farm Workers, says it was more than just music; it was the culture, literature and art.

For Bobby Martinez of the Hometown Boys, whose band will perform tonight, it will be their second year participating in the festival.

“It’s always full of people, so we were honored to be asked to perform (at the festival),” Martinez said. “We get involved in benefits and if we need to talk to people, we’ll talk to people.”

He adds that the diversity of crowd are not only there to enjoy the music, but for the kids to find out about Tejano music, since there is no longer a Tejano radio station on the airwaves. 

“These days, the younger kids aren’t paying attention to Tejano music, so this festival right here helps a lot,” Martinez adds. “The festival is there to entertain the people, to educate the people, with our culture, (and) our music.”

The band is currently nominated for five Tejano Music Awards, including Album of the Year and Entertainer of the Year. Other Tejano artists who have been involved were the late Laura Canales and the late Selena Quintanilla, who performed at the festival when she was still a child.

For Martinez and the band, it’s also about passing on the music to the next generation.

“We want to let the people know that Tejano music isn’t dead, it’s still around,” Martinez says. “We don’t want it to die. We want the kids to grow up knowing what Tejano music is. “

Festival Chicano. Oct 1–Oct 3., 7p.m., Free. Miller Outdoor Theater, 6000 Hermann Park Dr. facebook.com/festivalchicano