For the many border residents who grew up with mariachi music Calexico’s 28th Annual Mariachi Sin Fronteras was a thrilling reminder of their cultural roots--and just a plain old good time even for area newcomers
While the festival ran from May 15-18, the main event drew throngs to the Crummett Park stage on May 18.
Loli Torres, a retiree and life-ling Calexico resident who was among the first to arrive, said any maraichi is good mariachi music.
"I don't discriminate," she quipped, noting she grew up listening to Mariachi Vargas, one of the oldest bands from Guadalajara.
"They play beautiful, romantic music," Torres added. "My goal is to see them play the mariachi festival at Guadalajara in October. You hear mariachi as a child but some don't appreciate it. But when you are older you enjoy it more. It is tied up in memories, lots of good memories."
Many returned to the park a second night after attending the Rock the Border concert on May 17 with pop music by bands such as La Cachimba. That crowd fought off chilly winds by dancing and visiting the tequila tasting tent.
Milder weather greeted patrons on May 18, who, along with the music, enjoyed the dishes from Tamale Festival winners Asadero Neighborhood. It was their fifth mariachi festival visit and what keeps them coming back is a united community, said co-owner Liz Zepeda.
"We love mariachi but on Friday we enjoyed rocking to the oldies," said Zepeda, while grilling bacon/onion hot dogs for early arrivals. "They really picked up the party here."
Mariachi serves as a lodestar while many are still in their youth and Calexico Mayor Luis Pacheco said he came to the genre by way of watching his favorite Mexican movie stars. An early introduction was actor Pedro Infante, a Latin cinematic idol who recorded more than 350 songs. Infante, along with Javier Solis and charro singer Jorge Negrette, were known as the Tres Gallos Mexicanos (three Mexican roosters).
"Once I got older, mariachi became a cultural thing," said Pacheco. "I enjoyed watching Negrete and Infante in the movies. They gave me a taste for mariachi."
One concert crowd pleaser was Mariachi Estellas de Chula Vista who were joined by singer Leslie Lugo in a second set of music. Connie Nava Garcia, a Calexico High School graduate from the 1960s, cheered them on with friends from a front-row seat.
"They are all good, but Leslie Lugo sings extraordinarily well," said Garcia.
Jo McKay from San Diego, who attended with her husband, Ray, said, "It's very happy music and they tell lively stories."
Added Ray, "We like all kinds of music, but this is wonderful."
Gil Acuna, chairperson of the Mariachi Committee, explained it was the Mexican settlers of the 1830s who brought the music over from Europe that combined Spanish, German and French traditions of the day. Initially, bands were comprised of guitar, violin and guitaron (bass guitar) but trumpets were added in the early 1900s, he explained.
"With the trumpet, it brought a whole new dynamic." he said. "Folklorico embraced it and made the music more attuned to dancing. My dad was an avid fan and borough back mariachi bands form Mexicali to serenade my mom."
Acuna explained Mariachi Colibri (the hummingbirds) features local violinist/singer Stefani Martinez, who has a powerful voice and fluid facility on violin. She is a 2008 graduate of Central Union High School but grew up in Calexico.
Martinez noted she played in a mariachi band at the University of California, Riverside, and later turned professional joining Mariachi Divas, which won a Grammy award in 2014.
"Mariachi brings all kinds of communities and different age groups together," said Martinez. "I started off playing orchestral music. But mariachi was part of my culture and now has opened so many doors. We’re getting invited all over Europe (including London dates) so I get to play the music I love and see the world."