Fans feel free during Zona Libre’s shows

click to enlarge Fans feel free during Zona Libre’s shows
(Hiram Perez/Submitted)
Zona Libre Band headlines Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon and Barbecue on New Year’s Eve.

Music is Hiram Perez’s life.

As the saxophonist/music director of the Zona Libre Band, he brings joy to fans with music that crisscrosses genres.

The Zona Libre Band will ring in the New Year at Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon and Barbecue, performing Latin dance music — salsa, merengue, bachata — and American pop and country.

“I enjoy playing music at a really high level,” Perez said. “Salsa music is very demanding music. You need a certain set of skills. I love being able to inspire the guys in my group and make them better and vice versa. Really, it’s all about the crowd and the people. It ultimately comes down to them. Without them, there’s nothing for us. We would have no one to play for. I just like seeing the happiness and joy that we bring to them.”

The $30 general admission tickets include the balloon drop, sparkling wine toast, party favors, late-night menudo or posole ticket from the kitchen and a free photo from the NYE-themed picture booth. VIP and reserved seating are available, and the kitchen will be open from 9 to 11:30 p.m.

Brother John’s is a favorite spot for the Zona Libre Band, having played there for the last six years.

“On New Year’s Eve, we’ll be playing mostly Latin, but we will be doing a little bit of pop and country. It’s a longer night for us and we’ll have a wider demographic than we’re used to having on Friday,” he said.

“It’s great to see people out there dancing and having a good time. Whatever they’re going through, they can just hang out, check out live music and, for a few hours, they’re not thinking about their problems at home or whatever they’re going through.”

Perez and Zona Libre will enter a new phase of their career in 2023. They’ll release their debut album digitally and on CD. The musicians have been working at Allusion Studios in Tucson with engineer Jim Pavett.

“The album is a combination of arrangements of classic songs and some original songs that have been written by the members of the group,” he said.

“It’ll feature different styles of music to complement what we play live. Recording is very tedious work, but we’re just trying to get it right. Our sound engineer has been very patient with us. I’m using a good friend of ours from LA, Rene Camacho, who’s a national recording artist.”

The two performed Dec. 21 at the Century Room while Camacho was in town from LA.

A Nogales native, Perez is a longtime musician, who started playing violin in kindergarten and then saxophone in the fourth grade. He moved to Tucson in junior high and that’s where he met most of the musicians he plays with today.

Perez studied music at the UA and subsequently joined Carnival Cruise Line and the Ringling Bros. orchestra as a saxophone player. He returned to Tucson and eventually founded the Zona Libre Band.

“This is the proudest I’ve ever been,” he said. “The musicians have a great work ethic and they read music really well, which makes my life a lot easier.”

Perez admitted he’s been bitten by the studio bug now. Playing covers is fun, but he’s been doing it for so long that original music is calling his name.

“Hopefully, this will open some new avenues for us and we can play festivals and really see what happens,” he said.

“I’m still really happy and I feel fortunate that I can play music in any capacity. As a full-time musician, it brings me a lot more joy and satisfaction to play original music I’ve written, or my colleagues have written. I’d like to travel a little more with the music of the band and have other people hear what Tucson, Arizona, has to offer. There are a lot of great musicians here in town. The live music scene is thriving. If all musicians do good, I do good. We’re here to support each other.”

Zona Libre Band

WHEN: 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 31

WHERE: Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon and Barbecue, 1801 N. Stone Avenue, Tucson

COST: $30 in advance; $35 at the door; all ages

INFO: 520-867-6787,