The layman’s guide to the Tucson International Mariachi Conference
What is it?
Now in its 35th year, the Tucson International Mariachi Conference is the longest continuously running mariachi festival in the world. It is the place where singer Linda Ronstadt first professionally performed mariachi standards, and the birthplace of her platinum-selling Canciones de Mi Padre and Mas Canciones CDs. It is also the place where such stars of the mariachi world as Lola Beltran, Vikki Carr, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, Los Camperos de Nati Cano, Mariachi Cobre, Mariachi Nuevo de Tecaltlan and many others have performed.
Why is it called a conference?
Because while there are concerts for the public, the real purpose of the event is mariachi educational workshops with young mariachi students and folklorico dancers from around the country and Mexico, studying with the masters of their art forms. It’s like being a young rocker in the 1960s and getting to study with the members of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and the Who. The workshops run from Wednesday to Friday, and are split into levels from beginners to masters. These workshops are not open to the public, but this year close to 1,000 students are participating in them.
What is open to the public?
There are a number of concerts and open events that are open to the public. The first Thursday night is the Armando C. Gonzales Student Showcase. This is back-to-back, quick performances by 20 local and national mariachi and folklorico groups. Always a crowd favorite, it is astounding how advanced these young performers are, and the showmanship they bring to their art forms.
On Friday night is the Espectacular Concert, which is the showcase for the headliners. This year the show is dedicated to the late Pepe Martinez – for many years the music director of Mariachi Varagas de Tecalitlan, widely regarded as the world’s finest mariachi. Mr. Martinez also wrote the first mariachi opera – Cruzar La Cara de la Luna (To cross the face of the moon) , which is a story of a family split by the father’s journey to America and the death of his first wife in the desert trying to join him there. The tuneful work is rapidly making the rounds of the operatic world. This year’s concert features performances by Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán (which Pepe Martinez co-founded), special guest Rafael Palomar and Ballet Folklorico los Niños Colima.
Saturday has two main events – the Mariachi Mass and Fiesta Garibaldi. The mass, which is held in the AVA Amphitheater, is a moving celebration of the Catholic Mass, featuring mariachi music. The Fiesta Garibaldi is a quasi recreation of Mexico City’s Garibaldi Square where mariachis perform for visitors. At the conference it is an indoor and outdoor showcase of both student and headliner talent. The outdoor performances are held behind the Casino Del Sol Hotel in a large grassy area behind the pool. Spacious and inviting, it’s a place to bring a lawn chair or a blanket and hang out to hear some of the finest mariachi talent around, and see great folklorico dancers to boot.
I don’t speak Spanish. Will I understand what’s going on?
Yes! The emcees are all bilingual, and the music speaks to the heart.
Why is this important?
Youth mariachi and folklorico groups are springing up across the country, and mariachi education is more and more being proven to be an effective way of motivating students, curbing dropout rates, improving grades, sending kids on to college, involving students in their communities and connecting youth with their culture. In addition mariachi and folklorico involvement gives students the life skills they will need in any profession they will pursue. Moreover the Tucson conference brings millions of dollars into the Tucson economy each year.
How can I learn more / get tickets?
For more on the Mariachi Conference and to buy tickets for the student showcase and Garibaldi go to: https://www.tucsonmariachi.org
For tickets to the Showcase concert, Garibaldi and the Espectacular Concert go to: https://tickets.casinodelsol.com/eventperformances.asp?evt=495
Where can I find out more about youth mariachis and folklorico groups?
Former music journalist turned documentary film maker Daniel Buckley is presently in production on a film and book project called The Mariachi Miracle. Sign up on the email list to get updates on the project at: http://www.mariachimiracle.com