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¡Viva El Mariachi! Festival’s woesavatar

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When news broke this week (check Rebecca Plevin’s excellent report in this week’s issue of Vida en el Valle) that the 28th annual ¡Viva El Mariachi! Festival would not happen this spring, I immediately thought about all the great music I have been privileged to hear because of the festival.

But first, I have to go back a few decades (well, actually four if you must insist on factual reporting). I was not that much into mariachi music. My dad was a Tejano musician, and my preference (outside of Motown and the Eagles) in the late 1970s was for the trumpet-driven sounds of Little Joe & La Familia and others like him. One summer working as a gopher at a machine shop in Bakersfield (yes, I had to scrub toilets clean enough that I was told I’d have to drink water from the bowl!), I picked up a copy of the book ‘Centennial’ by James Michener (one of my favorite authors). In the book, he described a Mexican man at a gas station listening to ‘Cielito Lindo’ on the radio.

I eventually ventured over to a Mexican music store in East Bakersfield and plopped down a good chunk of my college fund to purchase almost every recording I could find of Mariachi Vargas. The Silvestre Vargas era was the best, in my humble opinion.

Fast-tracking to today, I still rate mariachi music as the best. Their musicians are marvelous maestros, and can play everything from standard rancheras to classical to country to cumbias and everything in between. Don’t tell me the hair on the back of your neck doesn’t stand up when you hear the opening of ‘El Son de la Negra’ or that your patriotic soul awakens to the military march ‘Marcha de Zacatecas.’ And, who can’t marvel at the musical arrangement of ‘La Culebra’ (a personal favorite) or the heart-wrenching ‘Cielo Rojo’ or the lively ‘Aires de Mayob?’

Aída Cuevas

Aída Cuevas

Irma Infante

Irma Infante

Nati Cano with Robertito Paz

Nati Cano with Robertito Paz

My sombrero off to Radio Bilingüe for making its festival more than just about the music. The mariachi workshops are the best, with Nati Cano encouraging the musicians to smile when they are playing. In fact, the mariachi workshop jam sessions the day prior to the actual festival are some of my favorites. I remember a youth group from Wenatchee, Washington marveling at the festival and their instructor talking about the importance of keeping their culture. That has evolved into the Northwest Mariachi Festival, which held its 11th annual event this past May.

The festival has hosted some of the best: Mariachi Vargas de Tecatitlán, Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, Mariachi Cobre, Mariachi Las Campanas, Mariachi El Sol de México de José Hernández, Mariachi Imperial, Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, Mariachi Divas, and on and on.

No one can match Mariachi Vargas for its musicianship, and no one else has the charisma of Natividad Cano (see photo above of him trying to get a young boy off the stage, with no success).

My favorite performances (aside from Vargas and Los Camperos) have been Herencia Mexicana (2002) and Aida Cuevas (2001). The former featured the children of Mexican legends like Jorge Negrete, Lola Betrán and Juan Zaízar. The latter is, in my humble opinion, the best female ranchera singer (whenever Lucero is off doing something else).

I hope Radio Bilingüe is able to weather the financial storm and get the festival back on track in 2011. What most people don’t realize is that it takes lots of money to hold such a festival … and ticket prices are not the sole support for paying the artists, their housing, renting Selland Arena, renting sound equipment and everything else that goes into the production.

¡Viva El Mariachi! Festival is, arguably, the oldest festival of its type in the country. At least, we know that it is the oldest one in California. Thanks to the Fresno festival, others have sprouted throughout the country. And thanks to the mariachi resurgence these festival created, the ola continued on to México. Talk to a mariachi musician (or Mexican folkloric dancer) from México, and they will tell you their country has nothing like the mariachi festivals back home.

Written by Juan Esparaza

December 15th, 2009 at 11:11 am

5 Responses to '¡Viva El Mariachi! Festival’s woes'

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  1. I was looking forward to the 28th annual ¡Viva El Mariachi! Festival. Maybe next year. I was hoping this time I would perform in the Seland Arena. Thanks for the notice.


    Edith Cuevas

    10 Mar 10 at 9:39 am

  2. When is the festival?? and how would one participate?



    15 Jul 10 at 3:00 pm

  3. Yo soy muy afisionado a la musica de mariachi y me gustaria ir al proximo festival que se hace en Fresno Ca. despues de 10 años que no boy y quiero en esta proxima ocacion estar en ese gran festival , y quisiera que alguien me diga en que fecha se llebara a cabo, en el 2011 , y el lugar,supongo que todavia se hace en la arena de Fresno Ca.

    Contestenme por Fabor…


    Arturo Garcia

    29 Aug 10 at 1:51 pm

  4. Sunday March 6, 2011 from 1pm – 5pm at the Selland Arena in Fresno, California.

    Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan and Los Camperos de Nati Cano

    For more information call the Mariachi Hotline at : 559-455-5763

    See you there.


    J Ramirez

    13 Dec 10 at 12:53 pm

  5. Que tal amigo amigo Juan Esparza le saluda Steve Martinez y me gustaria saber como puedo ingresar al concurso que esta Ud. realizando sobre talento de cantantes, espero conectarme o poder saber como le llamo.. muchas gracias mi numero es 559 590 5464 muchas gracias..


    Steve Martinez

    15 Feb 11 at 11:08 am

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