The celebrations for Day of the Dead in Austin came to an end with the rhythm of mariachi this year. The Mariachi USA festival, which has been featuring the best representatives of mariachi music at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles since 1990, had its first Texas version on November 4.
The reverberating sounds of the Formula 1 racing cars fell silent for almost five hours to give way to guitar, violin and trumpet notes at the Austin360 Amphitheater in the Circuit of the Americas during the show.
The Day of the Dead atmosphere was present from the box office to the stage, with “calavera” effigies representing popular Latino artists, such as the “Tex-Mex music Queen” Selena Quintanilla, and the recently deceased Mexican singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel.
The beginning of the show had to be delayed one hour (to 7 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.) due to a Formula 1 racing practice happening at the racing tracks, but the audience waited patiently. Those in the VIP area were able to talk to and take selfies with the musicians in the line-up.
The show started with the U.S. National Anthem performed by the San Antonio Mariachi Campanas de América, who played a Jalisco-themed medley, including songs such as “Guadalajara,” “El Jalisciense” and “Jalisco”.
The female-only ensemble Las Alteñas appeared on stage wearing elegant black suits with fuchsia motifs. They offered a set list of cheerful songs, including Gloria Estefan’s “Mi Tierra” and a Vicente Fernández medley that got the audience to sing along emotionally. But the highlight in their act was the mariachi version of the Guns N’ Roses classic “Sweet Child of Mine.”
Rodri J. Rodriguez, founder and producer of the Mariachi USA festival, took the opportunity to thank Texans and especially Mrs. Belle Ortiz, traditional Mexican folk music promoter, known as the Godmother of Mariachi, for welcoming the winter version of the event in Austin.
“Forty years ago, Belle Ortiz had the vision to have the very first mariachi festival,” said Rodriguez to the audience. “She believed enough in our culture, our people, in the mariachi genre to influence the beginning of what is now a full-blown mariachi curriculum in all the schools throughout Texas.”
Grammy-nominee Mariachi Los Arrieros turned the atmosphere romantic with José Alfredo Jiménez and Julión Álvarez sets, including classics like “Te Solté la Rienda” and “Te Hubieras Ido Antes,” respectively.
Trío Los Panchos made the audience travel back in time to the ‘40s and ‘50s, when the bolero reached its golden age in Latin America, with melodies such as “Historia de un Amor,” “Granada,” and “Perfidia”. They left the stage to give way for an intermission act of traditional Aztec dance.
For the second half of the show, Los Angeles-based Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano presented a mix of classics, including “México Lindo y Querido” and “El Aventurero”. Right after, members of several mariachi ensembles joined on stage to perform a “serenata-style” interpretation.
Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán from Guadalajara, México, considered the mecca of the mariachi music, was in charge of the closing performance. They made the audience sing and dance with Juan Gabriel’s iconic “Noa, Noa,” joined by a folkloric ballet group.
“Voler” and “El Rey,” performed by all the artists on the roster, were the final songs of the first Mariachi USA Fest Texas.
“We want to continue being the finishing with “broche de oro” [to close with a flourish] for all the wonderful Día de los Muertos events that happen here,” said Rodriguez. “I hope people join us next year, to show how loved Mariachi is in Austin, and in Texas.”