Ford Motor Company’s 13th Annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza was larger this year than ever before. The growth was due to more events offered as part of the Extravaganza, new schools participating for the first time and more opportunities presented to participants than ever before. Cap this off with a fabulous performance by group and vocal winners, special guest artist Azucena and el mejor mariachi del mundo Mariachi Vargas and it was truly the best Extravaganza ever!
Because Ford Motor Company has served as the presenting sponsor for 13 consecutive years and Safeco Insurance joined in this year as supporting sponsor, their collaboration ensured more scholarships to be awarded to participants than ever before. The three 1st place vocalist winners and the 2007 Best Mariachi Vocalist in the U.S., Esteban Velasquez, earned scholarships totaling $3,500. In addition, funds were generated for Salute to Education scholarships as well as the Geraldine Orta-Charles Memorial Scholarship Fund. The support of sponsors like the St. Anthony Hotel, who provided hotel rooms for Mariachi Vargas, and Bounty, who served as an exhibitor, also made it possible to give more back to the community.
More opportunities were offered to participants than ever before. Thanks to the John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts in Eugene, Ore., first place winners in the high school mariachi group competition, Mariachi Halcón from Zapata, Texas, and 2007 Best Mariachi Vocalist in the U.S. winner Esteban Velasquez will receive an all-expense paid trip to participate and perform in a three-day residency program in Eugene, March 12-14. They will perform in schools and throughout the area sharing the cultural richness of mariachi music with the entire community.
With the increase of new mariachi groups competing for the first time, students were introduced to Mariachi Veritas de Harvard from Cambridge, Mass.; Mariachi Cotuleño from Cotulla, Texas; Mariachi Tesoro de Tucson from Tucson, Ariz.; Mariachi Angeles Dorados from San Angelo, Texas; Mariachi Oro de Holmes from San Antonio and Mariachi Hermosuro from Houston. Falfurrias Mariachi from Falfurrias and Los Mariachitos del Wesley from Wesley Community Center in San Antonio were also new groups participating.
Beatrice Viramontes from Mariachi Veritas de Harvard reminded students during orientation that everybody has the possibility to make it to Harvard University. This exposure to an Ivy League university was a first for Mariachi Vargas conference participants.
How much can be packed in to a seven-day Mariachi Extravaganza? For mariachi aficionados, there can never be enough. New events were added this year such as the Mariachi-themed art exhibit and competition at the Centro Cultural Aztlán. This event involved local artists who painted mariachi-themed paintings and displayed them in a 10-day art exhibit. Winners of the competition were recognized during the opening reception held on Tuesday, November 27. All participants in the art exhibit received a pair of complimentary tickets to the concert. The first place winner was Jose Segura who captured a beautiful image of a full mariachi group serenading the Virgen de Guadalupe in a painting. First, second and third place winners had their paintings printed in the concert program.
Mariachi Vargas harp player Julio Martinez gave a beautiful presentation on the harp on Wednesday, November 28 at the Instituto de México. Miguel Guzman of Mariachi Los Galleros accompanied him on the guitar while Adrian Lopez from Sommerset High School Mariachi in San Antonio provided translation. Julio talked about the harp in between performances and shared with everyone the history of this amazing instrument. The harp, the guitarra de golpe and the violin were the three original instruments that made up the first mariachi groups. He performed La Bikina which was the first song that really transformed the style of mariachi music in the 1950s. You can see footage from Noche de Cultura here on mariachimusic.com or on qpnn.com.
The Serenata en el Rio on Thursday, November 29 was a perfect evening. The music was fabulous, the weather was beautiful and the huge Christmas tree which served as a backdrop for all the mariachi groups and vocalist performing on stage could not have been more perfect. The Tucson kids were eager to take a ride on the barge following their performance and shortly after, they were seen floating by on a barge waving to all the mariachis. Jaime Valenzuela, the mariachi director for the group said he had no idea San Antonio was so beautiful.
These were just of the few of the many events that took place throughout the week and it was a huge success because of the work these organizations did in helping to plan for events.
For many, the concert was more than they ever expected. Mariachi Veritas said the past 48 hours were equivalent to two months of living with everything they experienced, but the concert alone would have made the trip well worth it. It was phenomenal. It was fun working with fantastic first place group competition winners and I really appreciated the hard work of the directors during this time. My job felt so easy breezing through sound check on Saturday afternoon. The groups were so well prepared there was very little for me to do. Los Galleros de San Antonio did a fabulous job. I only wish there had been more time during the concert to hear more of Mariachi Los Galleros by themselves. They sounded strong and are truly professionals to work with. Azucena wowed the crowd. Her performance was excellent. This combined with her elegance, beauty, youth and professionalism provided an outstanding performance. Azucena has been invited back to San Antonio to perform for the city’s Diez y Seis de Septiembre “El Grito” event at the Municipal Auditorium in September 2008.
Mariachi Vargas gets better every year. I loved it when they sang Que Bonita es Esta Vida, a song the students learned during the master classes with Mariachi Vargas on Friday morning at the Convention Center. This song is also on their latest CD Rancheras… y algo mas and is also the title of the 30-minute TV special that will air on Azteca America in San Antonio on Saturday, December 8 at 10 a.m. I’ve seen Mariachi Vargas perform three times this year: first in Las Vegas, then at the Texas State Fair in Dallas and most recently at the Municipal Auditorium. Mariachi Vargas gives us their absolute best in San Antonio because they know how much we love them. We missed Fernando Martinez, former vocalist/violinist and nephew to Jose “Pepe” Martinez but we welcomed Andrés Gonzalez whose amazing voice added to the other six amazing vocalist in the group. Mariachi Vargas is known as el mejor mariachi del mundo because they are made up of some of the best voices and musicians in all of Mexico. Anyone who attended the concert Saturday night would certainly agree.
Thanks to all of the mariachi directors, instructors, parents, sponsors, professional musicians and my MPR staff for helping to make Ford Motor Company’s 13th annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza a memorable and safe experience for all.
Happy holidays to everyone!