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Update: the International Mariachi Festival streaming on Facebook and YouTube.

In the May 27.2020 edition of LA LA Land, I told you about the virtual mariachi festival being planned for Guadalajara.  At the time, no details had been published so I couldn’t tell you when and where and how to see it online.  These details are now available as the Festival begins Monday.  But first, the story of how the Mariachi Festival in Guadalajara – know in Spanish as Encuentro Interactional del Mariachi y Charrería– got started.  The story begins not in the mists of Mexican history, but in 1993 in Tucson, Arizona.

That was the year that Don René Rivial León, then President of the Guadalajara Chamber of Commerce (Cámara de Comercio de Guadalajara), visited Tucson Arizona to see friends and absorb some culture NOB – North Of the Border –  like rock and roll music.  He was surprised when he got off the plane and discovered not rock and roll, but a large mariachi festival.  Since he was from one of the cities in Mexico that claims to be the birthplace of mariachi, he was shocked that it was Americans, not his fellow Tapatios (residents of Guadalajara) who produced a major mariachi festival.

 He was even more shocked when he learned from his friends that it had been running for 30 years.  Obviously, this could not stand.  He was  determined to produce a world-class mariachi festival in its home city, Guadalajara, the capitol of Jalisco state, where mariachi was born.  And as the President of the Chamber of Commerce he was in a position to do something about it.

 As I described in LA LA Land two weeks ago, he outdid himself.  Today, the Encuentro is a week-long gathering of the best mariachis and other traditional musicians in Mexico and the world – some from as far away as Japan – for concerts, exhibitions, rodeos, parties, competitions, and dances.  It boasts the largest number of mariachis playing at the same time, the largest folkloric ballet in the world, a massive choir singing the Mexican traditional song “ Cielito Lindo ” in the round , the largest papier-mâché figures in the world, the largest group of cowboys spinning  lariats, and a huge tower made with charro hats, among other wonders. A good US comparison is to imagine a week-long South by Southwest but built for a city of 8 million instead of 970,000.

In normal years, the Encuentro sells thousands of tickets to indoor concerts at the Teatro Diana and other venues, fills the Guadalajara Bull Ring for the Charreria (or Charreada, the rodeo and horsemanship demonstration) and packs tens of thousands of people into squares and plazas for the kick-off parade and free performances by the top mariachi bands and Laintx singers in the world.  Tickets to some of the events are sold out a year in advance and good luck getting a hotel anywhere near the central Plaza or the other venues. Same goes for parking places.

Although it is virtual this year, the 2020 event will be a little grander in one way because the rescheduling of the virtual Encuentro the festival overlaps with El Grito, Mexico’s national celebration of its independence from Spain.   Diez y Seis de Septembre,  September 16, is the actual Independence Day and is Mexico’s equivalent of the fourth of July in the US (no relation to Cinco de Mayo) and is celebrated with parades, fireworks,  mariachis and parties until the wee hours.

This year the Encuentro also corresponds to the 100th anniversary of the Charro – the traditional Mexican horseman/cowboy and the Charreada, the elaborate Mexican rodeos that also are claimed to have originated in Jalisco, although several other states claim ownership.

To mark these occasions, the festival will be centered at the Patio Mayor of the Cabañas Cultural Institute , declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and will feature up to 30 events, plus a Charreada, but no spectators.

But the festivities actually started a day early with a Charreada in the Bull Ring and steamed on Facebook for the 100th Year of the Charro.  It also included an Escaramuza, the women’s precision drill team and dancing horses, a very difficult and colorful event with women riding sidesaddle in brightly colored traditional long dresses while executing dangerous patterns on their horses

Mariachi music is an integral part of the Charreada and the women in the Escaramuza make their horses weave in and out of military-like formations and dance to mariachi.  Needless to say, some of the biggest mariachi’s in Mexico who were in town for the Encuentro provided the music in the Guadalajara bullring, which had a small, socially distanced audience in the bleachers, most with masks.

The final schedule of events, livestreams, broadcasts and video locations were posted just last week, and although some of the big events are on the Mexican TV network, Televisa, many will be available to US audiences on Facebook and YouTube.  While the huge Inaugural Parade has been cancelled, the traditional inaugural Gala Concert will be streamed online on Monday, September 14, at 10 am CT.  However, as part of the event’s theme of thanking and honoring frontline health workers, it has been shifted to hospitals where the mariachi bands will entertain doctors, nurses and emergency staff to say muchas gracias for fighting Covid-19.

Patrick O’Heffernan

People outside of Mexico who want to see the streamed events can go to:  https://camaradecomerciogdl.mx/#/ and click on the photos of each event to go to the streaming site.

The Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/EncuentroMariachi/

A full schedule and description of events in English or Spanish is at https://bit.ly/32rjsgH

YouTube videos will be posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dqJHDNz6CM



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About Patrick O'Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras (485 Articles)
Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist based in Mexico, with a global following. He focuses on music in English and Spanish that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America, especially Mexico like cumbia, banda, son jarocho, and mariachi. He is also edits a local news website and is a subeditor of a local Spanish language newspaper. Check out his weekly column Music Sin Frontera on Sunday nights.

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