Ironically, or not, mariachi music, the great American genre born in Jalisco in the mid-19th century, has its long weekend in the sun, Mexican style, during Old Spanish Days. Downtown, roaming mariachi bands keep the music rippling through the festive aura of the city in Fiesta mode. Meanwhile, up in the mythic hillside haven of the Santa Barbara Bowl in the prime-time slot of Saturday night during Fiesta, the widely acclaimed Mariachi Festival presents some of the finest artists in this genre in the world.
This year, the festival, a nonprofit organization that funnels profits to scholarships for local Latino students, reaches the significant milestone of its 25th anniversary year. The four-and-a-half-hour concert/festival boasts a suitably high-caliber roster for the occasion, featuring Pedro Fernández, Natalia Jiménez, and Mariachi Estrella de México.
Each year, the festival hosts full-fledged mariachi bands but also showcases special guest vocalists. The spotlight this year goes to famed Spanish singer Jiménez, winner of Grammy and Latin Grammy awards and with a sales tally upward of 30 million. The singer nimbly switch-hits between Latin pop and Mexican regional styles, including mariachi with modern twists, as heard on the two volumes of her fairly recent and impressive México de Mi Corazón project.
Now 40 and going strong in mid-career, Jiménez has a discography going back to 2001, when she led the band La Quinta Estación before going solo. Befitting her transcontinental career and cultural ties, she now splits her time between Miami and Mexico City, with jaunts back home to Madrid.
From the male vocalist perspective, Fernandez is your basic hyphenate creature, a singer/actor/songwriter/composer/producer/TV host. At 59, his bio includes 40 albums and scores of soap operas and films.
A notable headlining band this year, Mariachi Estrella de México exemplifies the expansion of the once male-dominated musical world into a cross-gender realm, with an ensemble of sharp-dressed men and women in the ranks.
All told, the 25th birthday gala promises to be a Mariachi Festival worth the trip up the hill.