Villalobos Brothers Perform Barnard Benefit for Migrant Workers Saturday Night

  • Villalobos Brothers will be performing at Feast and Field in Barnard, Vt., on August 12, 2017. (Stephanie F. Black photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/9/2017 10:00:11 PM
Modified: 8/11/2017 11:17:02 AM

Among the estimated 1,500 migrants working on farms around Vermont, Enrique Balcazar knows for sure of just three other than himself who plan to sway to the Mexican folk music of the Villalobos Brothers band in Barnard on Saturday night.

“We’ve been getting the word out,” the 24-year-old Balcazar, who works at a dairy farm in Addison County, said through a translator during a phone conversation on Monday. “I’m in a group of four that’s going, and we’re hoping others are able.”

As leaders of Migrant Justice, the Burlington-based agency that advocates for farmworkers in Vermont, Balcazar and his friends know better than to expect a stampede of compadres to the former Clark Farm in Barnard, where the Villalobos Brothers will perform their fourth benefit for the organization.

“The dairy industry is a particularly grueling industry, where workers are working 14 hours a day up to seven days a week, without a day off,” said Balcazar, who six years ago followed in the footsteps of his southern Mexican parents to become a migrant dairy worker in the state. “Plus in Vermont, there are very few musical or cultural acts in Spanish, so it’s very rare that farmworkers would get to see a concert even if they could go.”

Helping Migrant Justice meet workers’ logistical, legal and social needs by donating proceeds from the Barnard concert has become an annual mission for Alberto Villalobos, his brothers Ernesto and Luis, and their band.

“I visited a farm two years ago, and it was very touching to see and talk and get to know some of the workers, who don’t have much of a social life,” Alberto Villalobos said during a telephone interview last week. “They don’t get too many chances to go out to concerts. A lot of them don’t have transportation to get to a show. And a lot of them are afraid of getting detained, or getting rounded up and maybe deported.”

Those fears rose to a new level after the election of President Donald Trump, who campaigned on, and then empowered, a clampdown on illegal immigration. And last week, Trump endorsed a bill in the U.S. Senate to cut legal immigration in half, and to favor immigrants who speak English.

“We’ve seen changes in policy and practice, a real increase in immigration enforcement,” Will Lambek, a member of the Migrant Justice staff, said after translating for Balcazar. “In addition to detaining and questioning, there’s wholesale surveillance of these people — on back roads, in banks, in public parks. With all the publicity about raids and detainees, a lot of what they go through every day just goes under the radar.”

The Villalobos Brothers, all fiddlers who grew up in the Veracruz region of Mexico and live in New York City, can relate: Alberto and Luis have their green cards and are pursuing U.S. citizenship, while Ernesto and the band’s guitarist, Humberto Flores are still “aliens of extraordinary ability,” who must keep reapplying for artist visas to perform in the United States.

According to the website for the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, qualifying for such a visa requires the performer to “demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim and must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability.” A printout of the application information yields 12 pages. The quantity and complexity of the paperwork that such artists must submit to qualify adds up to many more pages.

“Luis and I were each carrying a box of documents to the post office, almost too heavy to carry,” Alberto Villalobos recalled. “When Trump talks about making the immigration process even more difficult, I don’t know what he’s talking about. ... It’s time-consuming, an expensive process. It’s really draining. ... It took me six or seven years from the first application to now.”

For all the red tape, Alberto Villalobos added, “I know I’m a privileged human being. Many of my friends are undocumented and don’t have this opportunity that I do. A lot of the dairy workers in Vermont are never going to be able to apply for green cards, even though many of them have to pay taxes on their income.”

The recent push for further restrictions on immigration adds urgency to the work of groups such as Migrant Justice, and makes this annual concert in Barnard a must-stop on the Villalobos Brothers’ itinerary.

“We’ve seen instances of racial profiling, especially against Mexicans,” Alberto Villalobos said. “In the city, you don’t feel it as much because there are so many people from all over. But whenever we travel to smaller communities, we see a little more suspicion. ... At the same time, after 12 years in the States, I never felt what I felt right after Trump became president. People felt empowered to say things against immigrants.

“That’s something we’re trying to change.”

Music, Alberto Villalobos added, is one way to promote change. He said he finds a high level of support for his band’s music and outlook around Vermont in general and the Woodstock area in particular. Among local musicians joining the band on Saturday night will be pianist Sonny Saul, who sent the brothers a tune called Bolivar for use in a future album, clarinetist Quincy Saul and saxophonist Ben Barson.

“The values that people around there embrace are very similar to ours,” Alberto Villalobos said. “The embracing of different cultures. Whenever we’ve gone there, we’ve felt really welcome, everywhere we go.”

The Villalobos Brothers perform on Saturday night at the Feast and Field Market, on the former Clark Farm in Barnard. Cuban musician Albertico Lescay opens the concert at 6. For tickets ($25) and more information, visit

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304.


The Villalobos Brothers band plays a benefit concert for Migrant Justice on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 6 p.m., at the Feast and Field Market in Barnard. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect date in the first paragraph. In addition, saxophonist Ben Barson and clarinetist Quincy Saul are scheduled as guest performers at the benefit concert that the Villalobos Brothers will play at the Feast and Field site in Barnard on Saturday night. An earlier version of this story left out Barson's name and misidentified the instrument that Saul plays.

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