Augie Garcia is known as the godfather of Minnesota rock and roll, and you can experience his story now through May 31 at the History Theatre. Written by Joe Minjares, River Road Boogie focuses on the period of time after Garcia returned from the Korean War and formed the Augie Garcia Quintet. The band regularly packed the River Road Club in St Paul and even opened for Elvis (and may have been kicked off the stage!).
Ricardo Vázquez plays Garcia and leads the show with an easy confidence. Music was Garcia’s post-war therapy, and the audience can feel the natural joy that comes through Vázquez as he performs numerous toe-tapping songs with the band.
talk about swoon over the band for a minute. Shawn Hamilton as Willie Brown on tenor sax is a strong second to Vázquez’s lead with his cool swagger but also provides many a laugh. Matt Rein as bassist Mike Continelli adds more depth to the show, especially in an intense scene when we get more of a glimpse into how the war affected these men. Along with Riley Jacobson as Jessie Lopez, Corey Stampley as Jimmy “Cornbread” Harris and Benjamin D Wagner as Donny Rustad, the quintet gives us the perfect soundtrack for the show. Whether it’s only Stampley on the piano or the full band rocking out, their music lends itself in just the right way to any given scene. Designed by Tom Mays, the huge guitar that forms the backdrop of the set impressed me immediately upon entering the theater and really tells us that one of the main reasons we’re there is for the music.
While this is the story of Garcia and his band, I found myself loving the time spent with the rest of the supporting cast. Lara Trujillo and Pedro R Bayon play Garcia’s parents and add a goofy light-heartedness to the show. Mama Garcia is a spitfire but she’s a romantic at heart, and Trujillo portrays her with a nice mix of sass and tenderness. You will love “Canción Mixteca,” a beautiful Mexican folk song sung by Vázquez, Trujillo, Bayon and Javier Trejo who plays Tio (Uncle) Frank. This song was one of my moments of the show.
Kelly Matthews plays Nancy Garcia and it was tough not to see more of the story between her and Garcia because of Matthews’ addicting joyful nature. We even found out before the show that the real Nancy Garcia was in the audience which was a real treat.
The various special touches that the History Theatre included are what really made the experience that much more meaningful to me, especially not being familiar with Garcia’s story. Old photographs of Garcia and the band were blown up and displayed around the theater. On a wall just outside the theater, people could write down memories of Garcia then check out the Memory Wall (see photos). This story happened right here in St Paul and the cast and crew of the History Theatre has memorialized it with grace and class.
Enjoy the Augie Garcia Quintet performing “I’m All Through With You” below, then head to the History Theatre to see River Road Boogie: The Augie Garcia Story. Tickets cost $23.50-$40 and can be purchased online. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.