A slice of Tejas in Sacramento

Sunday evening provided an opportunity to check out the refurbished Stoney Inn at 1320 Del Paso Blvd. The sprawling North Sac club combines an indoor bar with a couple of outdoor patios, the larger with a stage, the smaller with pool tables, which are covered during the bad weather season and uncovered for the long summer nights. I’ve always liked the place; its semi-al fresco presentation is similar to clubs in Austin, Texas. And even with the patio covered, its ponds and palm trees convey an open vibe.

New owner Mike Aguilar reopened the Inn at the end of last November; he bought it in July 2001. He plans on booking mainly Latin, R&B and oldies acts, but will mix it up with jazz on Thursdays, blues barbecues on Sundays and some classic rock on occasional weekends.

On Sunday, Aguilar was walking between tables, selling raffle tickets. The place was crowded; the occasion was a benefit for the family of Angel “Baby” Espinoza, a 23-year-old mother of five who was killed around 7:30 p.m. last November 18 on Norwood Avenue in Del Paso Heights when a black Jeep hit her, dragged her for several blocks, then drove off.

Aguilar can empathize with Espinoza’s family; his 6-year-old daughter died in a car accident—after surviving Hodgkin’s disease. “I know what that family is going through,” he says. “It devastates you. Changes you forever.”

The atmosphere on the patio, however, was closer to a parish-hall fiesta than anything funereal. While Espinoza’s kids sat in a corner alcove below the DJ booth and a buffet table sold dinners for $5 a plate across the room, Raigambre, an up-and-coming seven-piece Latin-funk combo, started playing. Frontman Sam Miranda asked the crowd if the drums needed miking. Someone yelled back, “No!” Mistake. The kind of hybridized ritmo caliente that Raigambre plays depends on a strong propulsive rhythmic drive; without locomotion provided by loud congas and drums, the bassist and guitarist were left to carry the band, and it wasn’t until halfway through the set that it caught fire. And the seven-member group that followed, Latin Party Crew, played an energetic set of danceable covers—oldies, blues and Latin tunes.

The evening’s most poignant moment, though, came between sets, when DJ Vince Vasquez played “Angel Baby,” a 1960 hit by Rosie and the Originals. In the corner where the Espinoza family sat, a little girl of about 5 or 6, dressed up in her Sunday best, stood on a bench seat, singing along.

A trust account for Angel Espinoza’s children has been set up through Wells Fargo Bank, 1501 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95815-3012.Scene & heard was reported by .