Adams Avenue Unplugged headliner Gaby Moreno has sung with Bono, Chris Thile, Hugh Laurie, Van Dyke Parks


Gaby Moreno was not the only 10-year-old girl who saw Ricky Martin’s headlining performance in Guatemala City’s most prestigious concert hall in 1991, when former Menudo member Martin was starting his ascent to solo stardom. But she was the only 10-year-old girl who also appeared as the opening act for Martin’s Guatemala City concert some 28 years ago.

“Ricky Martin was my second gig. I was seasoned already!” said Moreno, who made her public singing debut at the age of 9 in Guatemala City’s prestigious National Theater.

“After Ricky, I opened for Magneto, a Mexican boy band, and other Latin pop acts. When I opened for Ricky, it was in front of 5,000 people, and it was so much fun that, at the age of 10, I decided: ‘This is what I want to do the rest of my life!’ I felt so free and comfortable.”

Moreno moved to Los Angeles when she was 18. In She has since made six albums, composed the theme song for the hit TV series “Parks & Recreation” and seen her song “Pale Bright Lights” featured in both a Chinese cell phone TV commercial and a Hungarian whiskey commercial.

In 2013, Moreno won Best New Artist honors at the Latin Grammy Awards. Her musical collaborators have ranged from Bono, Hugh Laurie and Kris Kristofferson to West Africa’s Angelique Kidjo, San Diego-born mandolin master Chris Thile and former Beach Boys’ collaborator Van Dyke Parks.

Moreno’s next album, “¡Spangled!”, is due out later this year and is a joint project by her and Parks. It includes their captivating version of the 1982 gem “Across the Borderline,” which was written by Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Jim Dickinson.

“This song is very special and relevant to our times. We just did a video for it and will release it soon,” said Moreno, who will sing “Across the Borderline” here Saturday at the 2019 Adams Avenue Unplugged festival.

Along with guitar great David Lindley, Moreno is one of this year’s two headlining artists at the daylong music marathon, which will feature performances by 80 artists in 24 venues. Her repertoire will be evenly divided between songs in English and Spanish.

“That’s how I do all my concerts,” Moreno said. “I don’t have dual-citizenship; I just have a green card. I’m a U.S. resident and I’m still a Guatemalan citizen.”

Moreno cites Aretha Franklin and blues dynamo Koko Taylor as two early vocal inspirations. Blessed with a wonderfully expressive and versatile voice, she is as adept singing an array of Latin music styles as she is folk, pop and rock. She also knows her way around funk, including the Tower of Power classic “What is Hip?”, which she performed with Thile and his band in 2018 at a San Francisco concert.

Moreno’s upcoming album with Parks includes their 2018 single “The Immigrants,” a musically upbeat song that celebrates cultural diversity “in the home of the brave and the land of the free.” She stresses, however, that she is not a musical activist.

“There is a genre in Latin music called ‘trova’ that comes from the word trovadore, or troubadour,” Moreno said. “I don’t really see myself as a troubadour, because I’m not focused on those (political and social) topics. But I do have a few songs that touch on certain issues.

“For me, the most important issue is immigration, as I am an immigrant who has been in this country for so long. I want to be a voice for the voiceless and give a little hope, through music, for people who are in this country, people who are just trying to get by and who came here to fulfill a dream or to have a better life.

“I’m not trying to be preachy or anything. All I’m trying to say is we need to celebrate the immigrants and the people who helped build this country. It’s just a matter of having some empathy.”

Adams Avenue Unplugged

With: David Lindley, Gaby Moreno, Tomcat Courtney, Yale Strom & Hot Pstromi, Dave Blackburn & Robin Adler, Fred Heath, Marie Hadad, Joe Rathburn, Kathryn Cloward, Nina Francis and more.

When: Noon to 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: A 2-mile stretch of Adams Avenue, from Vista Drive in Kensington to 30th Street in University Heights, with a majority of the venues in Normal Heights. Free shuttle service will be available.

Tickets: Free for all performances except Gaby Moreno ($15) and David Lindley ($20), who perform at 5 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., respectively at Normal Heights United Methodist Church, 4650 Mansfield St., Normal Heights. Tickets for Saturday’s 21-and-up VIP Beer & Food package are $19.

Phone: (619) 282-7329