Saturday, April 3

It's possible that for decades, those of us who attended the inaugural Festival en el Barrio Viejo will bore people with stories about how much more awesome the festival was before it got so big.

How very charming it was this first year, with just a handful of food vendors and only the hippest boutiques selling treasures from ordinary tabletops. How congenial it was, with no more than a couple thousand people at the height of the festivities, when Calexico played a rave-up "Guero Canelo" encore into the setting sun.

Has there ever been a more awesome Tucson day? A gigantic mesquite towered in full bloom, stage-side; sandals and flip-flops made a near-universal seasonal debut; sundown cast extraordinary, spring-slanted light out of a clear sky.

"Neto" Portillo, representing the event's beneficiary, KXCI FM 91.3, reminded the crowd that the corner stage on which Calexico would perform marked the birthplace of the legendary Lalo Guerrero, whose influence on music spanned the globe. In honor of the man, Calexico performed his song "Barrio Viejo," which Joey Burns said he'd been practicing all week with Salvador Duran and Sergio Mendoza.

Throughout the set, Calexico was joined by musicians who'd preceded them on the main stage (Fourkiller Flats, Tom Walbank, Crawdaddy-O, Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta) and a smaller stage among the food vendors (Courtney Robbins, Silver Thread Trio, Naim Amor). Walbank, the barrio's favorite blues artist, sat in on harmonica, and resident French pop-jazz guitarist Amor played the whole set, contributing brassy licks to a fan favorite, the Minutemen's "Corona." Mariachi Luz de Luna contributed to several songs, as did most of Mendoza's Orkesta.

Finally, the entire Mariachi Aztlan de Pueblo High School joined in. They had performed in front of Teatro Carmen all afternoon between the other bands' sets. At that point, Burns was conducting more than 20 musicians as drummer/miracle worker John Convertino kept them all in tempo.

We remember Calexico when they were just a duo playing small clubs, and some of us probably will always say that, like the Barrio Viejo, they will never be the same.

Not that that always has to be a bad thing.

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