When music fans look back on the summer concerts of 1994, they will recall a sold-out Eagles reunion tour with tickets going for about $100 a pop. They will remember Pink Floyd's flying-pig extravaganza that filled 50,000-seat stadiums across America. They will look back fondly on the armies of tie-dyed Deadheads truckin' to Las Vegas one more time.
In a season that has epitomized the attitude that bigger is better, it took Tish Hinojosa - a still relatively obscure singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas - to put contemporary music back into perspective.There were no flashy stage sets, no flying pigs, no egocentric lead-guitarists, no preening. Just straight-to-the-heart songwriting wrapped around the most crystalline voice to bless the music world since Emmylou Harris.
Hinojosa dazzled fans during a Sunday night performance at the Zephyr Club, not with visual schlock, but with lyrical intensity and charm and an unbridled passion for the music she writes and performs.
It is virtually impossible not to be mesmerized by her songs - a mix of country, folk, traditional Mexican, honky-tonk and 50s-esque rock 'n' roll. They alternate comfortably between social commentary, chasing down dreams and dealing with affairs of the heart.
Any predisposition to label her a torch singer or a folk singer or any other kind of singer quickly disappears in the wake of her versatility.
She's the old-fashioned kind of songwriter who writes about people and places and emotions she has experienced herself, wrapping them in simple three-chord melodies that are nothing short of magnificent. There is precious little formula writing, and even fewer cliches.
Hinojosa, the daughter of Mexican-American immigrants living in south Texas, made her first Utah appearance at the Utah Arts Festival a couple years back. Now boasting a new deal with Warner Records, she is touring again in support of "Destiny's Gate," her most commercial album and one certain to awaken legions of new fans, thanks to CMT.
Hinojosa opened her Zephyr performance with the gem, "Who Showed You the Way to My Heart," then moved smoothly into "Bandera del Sol." The ease with which she switched back and forth between English and Spanish, often in the same song, was remarkable.
Hinojosa's best songs are character vignettes. Like "The West Side of Town," about Filipe and Maria - two "pilgrims the hard way" - whose dream of reaching San Antonio is an exercise in determination. And "In the Real West," a song about real cowboys with working spurs, and "Chanate, El Vaquero," a song about the passing of old traditions.
One of her finest ballads was a cover of James McMurtry's "Crazy Wind," the tale of a neglected housewife who finally musters the courage to escape the torment that consumes her. McMurtry's version is haunting in its starkness; Hinojosa's powerfully different in its pleading for release.
But the evening's finest performance was "Love Is on Our Side," a powerful prayer of optimism and determination for the human race. And her cover of Patsy Cline's "Always" - with a new verse of Spanish lyrics - was breathtaking.
Throughout her 23-song set, Hinojosa proved beyond a whisper of doubt that the best concerts of 1994 are not always bigger.