AP NEWS

Cinco de Mayo event celebrates music and patriotism

May 6, 2019

With vihuelas humming, gitarrónes thumping and trompetas soaring, the inaugural Festival de Mariachi got off to a rollicking start Sunday before several hundred spectators at Market Square.

The competition among high school bands began at 11 a.m. sharp when the red-suited Mariachi Bonito from Fox Tech ALA took the stage.

They opened their medley with an uptempo version of “La Negra,” and, a little over six minutes later, closed with “La Gaviota.”

“It’s a rush being out there performing. You’re doing something you love. We gave it our all,” said Clarissa Herrera, 18, a senior at Fox Tech who has been studying mariachi since the sixth grade.

Herrera, who plays the vihuela and is also a vocalist, shrugged off a dead microphone that made lip-readers of the spectators.

“It’s not about the competition. It’s about showing off your culture and giving happiness to the people through the music,” added Dayron Ibarra, 16, a lead vocalist.

Univision, which sponsored the festival, hopes to make it regular event on Cinco de Mayo. The Mexican national holiday commemorates the defeat of the French army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

“It’s a patriotic day and I think about the heroes in Mexico who fought for us,” said Ricardo Rodriguez 42, who came from Nueva Rosita, Coahuila, with his wife and two daughters, to visit family in San Antonio, and stopped by for some good mariachi music.

“We don’t have these festivals in Mexico. I’ll be here as long as the kids can stand it,” he said.

This year, 10 area school bands and one from Kyle competed for the $1,500 first prize. The winner also got to return to the stage for a closing 15-minute set for the crowd, who munched on gorditas and mini-tacos during the performances.

“We hope to make it a more regional event, to bring in bands from Austin, Del Rio and places like that,” said Cesar Medrano, a Univision senior producer.

After the end of the mariachi competition at 2:30 p.m., a series of professional bands including MDO took over, playing Tejano, Cumbia and Sinaloa style music.

Also on the evening program was Sebastian De La Cruz, the so-called “Little Mariachi” who gained national attention in 2013 with his stirring performances at the AT&T Center during the NBA finals.

“I try to inspire the kids, give them tips on how to be a mariachi on stage and represent the culture well,” said De La Cruz, now 17.

David Zamarripa, 42, the mariachi director for 20 years at Fox Tech, said mariachis struggle to overcome stereotypes, including “that we don’t read music, we don’t play music and we are not organized.”

“That’s why we’re here. We want to show everyone that mariachi music is serious music like band, like orchestra, like choir,” he said shortly before his group of 16 took the stage.

Garrett Matheson, 31, visiting from Minnesota with his sister Sarah, came to San Antonio to check out the local Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and stumbled on the mariachi festival.

“It’s different from the music we listen to every day. It’s definitely cool to be here on a day like this,” he said.

Paco Fuentes, 40, a Univision entertainment reporter who served as one of the emcees of the mariachi program, said “All these kids are here when they could be home with their PlayStations.”

“Instead, they are here with their talent, making beautiful music and passing on traditions,” he added.

John MacCormack is a staff writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | JMacCormack@express-news.net | Twitter: @JohnMacCormack