Decked in colors matching their favorite mariachi groups, pom-poms, posters, cowbells, clappers, and sombreros in hand, families, fans and supporters packed into the Lila Cockrell Theatre, greatly resembling a stadium during the Super Bowl, to witness the 24th Annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza National Group Competition.
This years competition brought the toughest and fiercest of mariachi challengers and top-tier mariachi programs from 29 groups from 16 cities across the nation into the fray.
The ensembles clash in a metaphorical melee of medleys, duking it out on stage not with fists, but gutiarrones, vihuelas, guitarras, violins, trumpets and harps. They’ll let their skill with their instruments do the talking.
From the first boomy note of the guitarron, a tight, tinny melody from the vihuela. A pause; then a glissando from the harp; a tease of what to come. Suddenly, a robust pizzicato from six violins, sounding as one unit, a beckoning from the trumpets, and a dozen in-tune voices, like a chorus of angels pervades from the stage.
The crowd roars. The 24th Annual Mariachi Vargas National Group Competition has begun.
A first, second and third place group are chosen in three categories: Middle School, High School and College/University. The first place winner of each category has the honor of opening up for the Best Mariachi in the World, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, during a stellar concert featuring cream of the crop performances.
For Mariachi Vargas members, the toughest part of the seven-day Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza isn’t performing onstage or teaching workshops. It’s determining which group will place, where the competition is so tight, even the smallest hairline detail like one sour eighth note or tiniest crack of the trumpet, will determine whether an ensemble will place or not.
It isn’t until the first high school group steps into the fray that the energy in the air changes. The crowd feels it too. Cheers and jeers ensue. Cowbells, clappers, and screeches. Students straighten their shoulders, and look ahead, as they walk onstage, as if preparing to go into battle. Now the true competition commences.
High school competitions are so intense that Mariachi Vargas Producer Cynthia Muñoz integrated the High School Finals in 2017 to help judges determine who would place.
“It [the competitions] vary year by year,” Mariachi Vargas Violinist, and Vocalist Andres Gonzales explained. He served as a judge this year. “It took us a lot of time to really decide, because it is that tough. We really have to sift through those minute details. The high school students were really prepared this time around.”
Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza has been around for two decades, and many of the students that once competed and participated in workshops are now directing their own mariachi students and serve as instructors at workshops. Mariachi groups become familiar with the others, earn reputations, and form rivalries with each other, making the competitions more acrimonious.
Out of 15 Mariachi High School Groups, six will advance to the High School Finals, happening Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Lila Cockrell Theatre. Only one high school ensemble will reign supreme. It’ll only get fiercer there.
- Mariachi Grulla de Plata, Grulla High Schoool, Grulla, Texas
- Mariachi Nuevo Halcón, Los Fresnos High School, Los Fresnos, Texas
- Mariachi International, Los Vegas Academy of the Arts, Los Vegas, Nevada
- Mariachi Nueva Santander, Roma High School, Roma, Texas
- Mariachi Cascabel, Rio Grande City High School, Rio Grande, Texas
- Mariachi Juvenil Azteca, Edcouch Elsa High School, Edcouch, Texas
Middle School Category
- 1st- Mariachi Juvenil Santander, Ramiro Barerra Middle School, Roma, Texas.
- 2nd- Mariachi Escandon, Roma Middle School, Roma, Texas
- 3rd- Mariachi Juvenil Grulla de Plata, Grulla Middle School, Grulla, Texas
High School Category
- 3rd- Mariachi International, Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, Las Vegas, Nevada.
- 2nd- Mariachi Nuevo Santander, Roma High School, Roma, Texas
- 1st- Mariachi Juvenil Azteca, Edcouch-Elsa High School, Edcouch, Texas
- 2nd- Mariachi Javelina, Texas A&M University- Kingsville, Kingsville, Texas
- 1st- Mariachi Estrellas del Alamo, San Antonio College, San Antonio, Texas