It’s nice to finally have some time to reflect on the past 25 years of the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza. As I look back at some of these photos from the year 2004, I remember it being quite significant for many reasons. There are quite a few mariachi music educators and key influencers we know today who, back then, were college students and participants in this music festival. Among them are Marcos Zárate, Mariachi Director at Veterans Middle School, Alfonso Rodríguez, current Mariachi Director at Grulla High School, and Alejandro Rodríguez, Assistant Fine Arts Director for Rio Grande City CISD. Also included are Mario Ferrer, Assistant Mariachi Director at Edcouch-Elsa High School and Bernardo Aldava, who teaches at McAllen High School. All are graduates of the University of Texas Pan American (UTPA), now known as UTRGV – University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, in Edinburg. Zárate, Ferrer and Aldava are also members of the Grammy-nominated Mariachi Los Arrieros, in the Rio Grande Valley.
UTPA and Texas State University had well-established mariachi music programs by 2004. Ángela “Angie” Campos is a mariachi music educator in San Antonio, as is her husband Cirilo Campos. Both are Texas State University graduates and founders of the San Antonio Mariachi Academy. They both performed with Texas State University’s Mariachi Nueva Generación along with Amy Rábago, David Ortiz and Javier Vela. Amy studied violin performance and currently works at Veterans Memorial High School in the Judson ISD. David is the brainchild behind the popular Mariachi Entertainment System — a YouTube channel that focuses on playing mariachi versions of video game music and other non-traditional songs like “So This is Love” with a mariachi ensemble. Javier Vela is not currently a mariachi musician or educator, but he is the official photographer of the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza who flies into San Antonio from NYC to shoot the event each year. Never-the-less, there’s no doubt that both Texas State and UTPA have produced numerous mariachi music educators and performers for over two decades.
As we all know, many talented mariachi groups compete in the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza each year. Much of this is due to the mariachi directors who played mariachi music, earned their college degrees and returned to the schools to teach mariachi music. They are key to building strong mariachi programs and elevating mariachi music to a whole new level — using their passion, knowledge and experience to do so. The Extravaganza has a reputation for attracting competitive and talented middle school, high school and college/university mariachi groups across the country. They rarely fail to knock people off their chairs with impressive performances. When we stop to think about how, when and why this all came about, it’s because of the mariachi directors who have the experience in performing, competing and teaching.
If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that it’s given me time to stop and think about all of the people who have come through the Extravaganza over the years. I enjoy looking back at these photos and thinking about some of the Mariachi Vargas members who were with us back then, like José “Pepe” Martínez, Jr. (vocalist/violinist), Federico Torres (trumpet) and Fernando Martínez (vocalist/violinist). Fernando is the brother of Mariachi Vargas’ current musical director, Carlos Martínez. His tio, Pepe Martínez, Sr., was musical director of the group for three decades. Fernando left Vargas and eventually moved into the position
Among the powerful influencers who demonstrated excellence in performance and musicality in 2004 were UTPA’s Mariachi Femenil. This was the first all-female mariachi group to compete in the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza. Among these phenomenal women are music educators Karina López, Avigai González, Mirelle Acuña and Lorena López.
Melissa went on to study computer science at Texas State University and currently works Corpus Christi. Karina graduated from UTRGV and lives in Los Angeles where she teaches mariachi music. She is a former member of Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles and currently plays with Mariachi Lindas Mexicanas. Mirelle is the head orchestra director at Edinburg High School and the former president of the Texas Association of Mariachi Educators (TAME). She is also a vocalist and violinist with the award-winning Mariachi Mariposas.
“The Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza holds a lot of great memories for me from competing in the group and vocal competitions when I was in high school and college, all the way to serving as a violin instructor in recent years. I’m grateful that the MVE team not only helps keep mariachi music alive and thriving, but also supports music education.” –Mirelle Acuña
The Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza has always been a large festival to manage and coordinate. When I look back at the year 2004, my team and I were not only producing the event, but we were also administering programs for Ford Motor Company. Ford sponsored the Extravaganza back then and they were also our primary client for 16 years. We also had other clients like State Farm Insurance, Obra Homes, Northside Ford and GolfCraft, but Ford was our largest. In addition to that, we were also producing the 8th Annual Mariachi Vargas Concert in McAllen. So, when I say that it’s nice to have time to reflect on the past, I really mean it. This was an incredible time to be around the many talented artists that inspired our young people, invigorated audiences and motivated my team to keep moving forward in promoting our cultural traditions.
Where were you in 2004? Please let us know by posting a comment to this blog.
On another note, our hearts go out to everyone in the mariachi community, as well as friends and family of the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza, who have been impacted by COVID-19. If you have tested positive, we wish you a fast and full recovery. If you have not been infected, please continue to practice social distancing, wash your hands and stay six feet apart from anyone in public settings. Stay safe and do your part in helping to keep the number of coronavirus cases down so that we can see you soon. And, most importantly, use this time wisely to write down your stories and those of your parents and grandparents before they are forgotten!
Sign up for the mariachimusic.com newsletter at mariachimusic.com, and stay connected with us on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.