The sounds of spring are just as delightful. We hear birds chirping, baseball bats cracking and the music of the neighborhood ice cream truck. Along with these harmonies, one cannot forget to mention the joyful sounds of the mariachis.
For the past 22 years, established mariachi greats have come to town to entertain the masses at the International Mariachi Conference. This year, the festival takes place from April 20 to 23. Concerts take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall, 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 22, at the TCC Arena and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at the DeMeester Performance Center at Reid Park. Tickets are $10 for the Thursday evening concert, $26-$76 for the Friday evening concert and $5 for the Saturday event. Advance tickets are available at the TCC Box Office for the TCC concerts; tickets are available the day of the DeMeester event at Reid Park. For more information, visit tucsonmariachi.org. The proceeds of the festival benefit the Dr. Nelba Chavez Child/Family Center at La Frontera Center, Inc., a behavioral health agency in Tucson. "The money is earmarked for keeping the Child/Family Center in the black, because it is underfunded," says Tina Roesler, publicity coordinator for the conference. "There is not enough government money to provide services, so we pick up the slack.
"Over the years, the International Mariachi Conference has raised more than $3 million for La Frontera's children programs," says Roesler. Children who attend the Child/Family Center have mental and or physical issues that prevent them for attending regular schools. "We take care of them, teach them and give them therapeutic treatments," she says.
But helping children at La Frontera is only one goal of the Mariachi Conference. Each year, hundreds of students across the country, ages 10 and older, come to learn mariachi techniques and history from professional mariachi musicians. This year, more than 850 students will attend mariachi workshops through Friday, April 22. Throughout the years of the conference, more than 10,000 students have participated in the workshops, says Roesler.
"It's not widely known that we allow 800 kids to come and be taught by professionals," continues Roesler. "The conference delivers a program to the community, because we train kids about mariachi, and they learn from the masters. For a kid to be trained by a mariachi who has a CD you can buy is really a trip. ... The training conference is highly regarded and considered the pinnacle. The instructors take what they do seriously and treat the kids with respect."
The kids in turn treat the experience as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. "I am struck by the general consensus that the kids are excited to be there," says Roesler. "They have bake sales and car washes to raise money to attend the conference. ... It's a labor of love. You can see it in the faces of the young. They have the time of their lives."
The student mariachis perform at the Participant Showcase at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at the TCC Music Hall. They also perform as part of the Espectacular Concert at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 22, at TCC Arena. "They get a rise out of performing on stage. It's a great experience in regard to showmanship," says Roesler.
The Espectacular Concert features such mariachi greats as Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, Los Camperos de Nati Cano and the Mariachi Divas. In addition to great performances, an induction into the Mariachi Hall of Fame takes place. "Each year, we honor people who have made a different for the mariachi tradition," says Roesler. This year, that honor goes to the late Lalo Guerrero.
In reverence to the conference, a Mariachi Mass will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 23 at St. Augustine's Cathedral, 192 S. Stone Ave. Bishop Gerald Kicanas will preside over the mass.
Following the mass, a day-long celebration begins at DeMeester Performance Center at Reid Park. The Fiesta de Garibaldi includes music, arts and crafts vendors, Mexican food and is modeled after happenings at Garibaldi Plaza in Mexico City. This year, the event was moved to Reid Park from its former Armory Park location to provide more room. Proceeds from the fiesta will be used for a new playground surface at the Family Center.
Roesler says it's a true family event, with many staying the whole day. The heart of the day is the music. "It's very upbeat and gets to be part of who you are," she says. "Mariachi music permeates so many family functions in Tucson. You have to embrace it, because it's one of the good things about where we live."