Los Lobos Treat Fans To Intimate Show At Winston-Salem’s Ramkat: Live Review

Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo with Louie Perez in background perform at The Ramkat in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Photo by Andy Tennille/Ramkat

Celebrating 50 years as a band, Los Lobos are scorching rockers with apt attitude and stunning musicianship.

Normally the band plays esteemed music halls and PACs, where fans can sit and appreciate the sonic blast of familiar anthems and deftly curated covers from their extensive catalog. But a recent stop at the Ramkat in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was something else altogether.

The rescheduled appearance was a return to their East LA origins: performing in a rock club where the fans stood transfixed at their feet and the balcony shuddered with the continuous motion of people dancing.

The evening rekindled memories and reminded everyone why the band was awarded the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2011), inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame (2018), bestowed the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (2021), and received the Grammy Award for Best American Album for Native Sons on in 2022.

According to Pollstar box office reports, Los Lobos has sold more than 747,000 tickets with a total gross of nearly $22 million over the course of 692 reported shows dating back to 1983.

And The Ramkat appearance almost didn’t happen.

The band was on the Wheels of Soul Tour with Tedeschi Trucks Band in July 2022 when on an off night, they were going to fulfill a bucket-list booking for co-owner Andy Tennille at the Ramkat. But COVID struck the tour resulting in several cancellations.

With full calendars, finding open dates in the post-COVID era can be challenging for any band but on top of that, West Coast-based Los Lobos don’t have many Southern, East Coast runs to work around for make goods.

“It’s challenging regardless of COVID,” said Tennille, who got his industry start as Tom Petty’s former concert photographer. “They have routing and plan tours months and sometimes years in advance …They aren’t through here that often so when you have to think about a way to route them back through here, it’s a challenge.”

Tennille credits agent Josh Knight, VP of music at Wasserman Music, with aligning the stars.

“He said, ‘I don’t know when they’ll be able to be back down there. You will have to be patient,’” Tennille recalled. What followed was ongoing communication with ticket holders, a slew of phone calls and a few refunds. “It wasn’t like we could pick a day and a month and they could circle back. We worked with Josh over several months looking at several windows to make it happen.”

“It was all about doing the right thing,” Knight said. “We had to cancel a show and the guys wanted to make it up to the fans. Especially fans in a market they usually don’t get to hit. Andy’s passion, along with the band and my pursuit of doing what’s right, led to the show getting rescheduled when we could get into the area.”

The capacity crowd clearly appreciated the effort. From the opener “Flat Top Joint,” from Native Sons, which is a collection of songs performed or written by California artists who influenced the band, fans were captivated.

Originally released by The Blasters in 1980, the lyric “There’s a real gone little night spot/just for real gone cats” resonated with the 1,000-cap audience.

Dale Draughn, 56, of Mt. Airy, North Carolina, held onto his balcony tickets for seven months. He discovered the band in high school and “rocked to” Los Lobos in the early ‘80s. Last time he saw the group was in 2007 at an outdoor show in Raleigh, North Carolina. “This is a coming-of-age moment,” he enthused.

The follow up was “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes,” which was written by T-Bone Burnett and band member César Rosas for the band’s third album By The Light of the Moon, which was produced by Burnett and released in 1987.

They followed with “Will the Wolf Survive” from How Will the Wolf Survive, which was released in 1984 and is No. 30 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s and again on their list of 500 Greatest Albums of All time in 2003 (461), 2012 (455) and 2020 (431).

The cut is one of their most enduring hits and deftly combined their rock, R&B, blues and traditional Mexican roots into a fearless song about gaining acceptance in the U.S. while maintaining their heritage. Draughn, who discovered the song on FM rock radio, was in heaven. It was the song he came to hear.

“I’ve been a fan of Los Lobos for 20, 25 years. Tennille said. “They don’t put out bad records and they are one of the most amazing live bands you will ever see. You often hear people call them the best Chicano, or Latin, band of all time, but in my opinion that is a disservice to what they do. They are certainly of that dissent, but they are a great American band, period.”

They demonstrated why with a lengthy set that included “Love Special Delivery,” which was on Native Sons and was originally released in 1966 by Thee Midniters; the poignant view-from-the-top “Is This All There Is”; the super charged “Chuco’s Cumbia”; and “Evangeline,” which had the purists thumping; and a breathless Spanish version of “La Venganza de los Pelados.”

Everyone in the band found moments to shine with impressive solos including soulful sax from Steve Berlin, but drummer Fredo Ortiz was focused and crisp keeping the beats with bass player Ari Sedar, who filled in for Conrad Lozano, who was out following recent surgery.

Intrepid about tackling important issues, “One Town, One Night” was a particularly moving performance from David Hidalgo. The song is a reflection on the American Dream that was used in the opening credits of the 1988 folk Colors by Dennis Hopper starring Sean Penn. The band’s most notable cinematic contribution was “La Bamba,” from the movie by the same name about the life of Ritchie Valens.

“David Hidalgo could sing the phone book and I’d buy a ticket to watch it,” Tennille said.

Bandmates Louis Pérez, who traded his guitar to play drums on two numbers, Rosas on vocals, guitar and Bajo sexto, and Berlin on sax and keys, were equally compelling adding depth and nuance to the night’s numerous musical departures.

Other crowd pleasers included “That Train Don’t Stop Here,” “Saint Behind the Glass,” “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” and “Ay te dego en San Antonio” before a brief exit and welcome encore which kicked off with a crowd singalong of “Don’t Worry Baby.”

It was a night of master musicians demonstrating for adoring fans, why they are regarded as one of the most enduring and important rock bands touring today.

“Getting a band of that caliber at the Ramkat is always exciting,” explained Tennille, who saw the band opening for Petty in 2012. “We are a small room and an independent venue, so anytime we can get someone of that caliber, with that kind of legacy is always exciting. When we started the Ramkat in 2018 and we put together lists of all the artists that we would aspire to try and get to the Ram, Los Lobos was absolutely on that list.”