Hispanic Heritage Series
Part V of V
As a seventh generation Coloradoan, Gino Rael has a lot of first-hand knowledge regarding the state’s history, particularly that of the San Luis Valley where he was born and spent most of his summers.
“When we were young we would spend our summers down there,” Rael said of the San Luis Valley where his grandparents lived. “We would get schooling in Denver, but make our trips down there during the summer when we were young and spend time on the ranch, so we were never in Denver very much.”
Born in what is considered the oldest town in Colorado, San Acacio - which lies 30 miles east of Antonito and 20 miles north of Costilla, New Mexico - Rael grew up with four brothers and three sisters. His father was known around town as “The Cowboy” or “El Vaquero” due to his work as a ranch hand and his ability to break wild horses.
“He was an original vaquero,” Rael said of his father. “People would bring the wild horses to him and he would get on them and break them.”
While his father was the vaquero, Rael’s grandfather, Apolinar Rael, was known as the medicine man. He played a big role in Colorado’s Native and Spanish American history as he led the fight against Jack Taylor and the Taylor Ranch for 77,000 acres of privately owned land that under the 1844 Mexican Land Grant had belonged to the natives of the area for hunting, cattle grazing and collecting firewood.
“He was the lead of the land rights council that fought for that land against the Taylor Ranch,” Rael said. “They stole the land from the people up there and he helped lead the charge against them. Being that he was a medicine man and the elder person out there at that time, they looked up to him to lead that march and he did. He did it for many, many years.”
The fight began in 1960 when Jack Taylor Jr., a lumberman from North Carolina, purchased the land, fenced it off and hired armed guards to keep neighbors from entering to gather, hunt and fish as they had been doing for more than a century.
Residents of the San Luis Valley fought for decades for that land, with Apolinar Rael being at the forefront until his death in 1994.
“A few years later they won the rights to be able to go back there and use that land that was stolen away from them,” Rael said.
Though he did not follow in his father or grandfather’s footsteps Gino Rael has been making a mark in the best way he knows how, through music.
“I started out when I was just a kid singing for family functions and stuff like that,” Rael said of how his penchant for music began. “We would bring out the guitars and they would always make me the singer.”
Rael continues to be the lead vocalist of his current act The Mighty Nice Band, sponsored by KUHS Radio and TV. Going into their 16th year, The Mighty Nice Band has played its share of festivals, weddings and big ticket events.
The band’s ability to flow between multiple genres including R&B, funk, salsa, jazz, country and blues has allowed them to play in events as diverse as their musical talents, Rael added.
“To me music is universal,” Rael said of the band’s approach to different events. “I try to play what I think that people would like. If I’m playing a certain song and I’m not getting any response, I’ll throw in something else. That way everybody is getting a little bit of everything.”
Helping Rael with that cause are Holly Holverson on keyboards, Deano Aragon on drums, Larry Henley on bass, Patricio Romero on lead guitar and Perry Martin on trumpet.
For more information on The Mighty Nice Band including concert and booking information visit www.themightyniceband.bravesites.com.