Saturday Night: 22nd Annual Mariachi Invitational at Arena Theatre

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HLS&R Go Tejano Committee 22nd Annual Mariachi Invitational Arena Theater March 9, 2013

In both numbers and influence, the Go Tejano Committee is one of the largest and strongest within the entire Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. It raises and awards millions of dollars worth of scholarships to high school and college students, sponsors the popular Fiesta Charra and Go Tejano Day entertainment, and generally celebrates Houston's rich Hispanic heritage throughout the rodeo season and all year long.

Of all of the special functions that are held to achieve the committee's goals, the most popular event is the annual Mariachi Invitational. Every year, the committee invites six teams from all around the state to audition for the opportunity to be named the Best Mariachi in Texas.

The mariachi bands are judged on musicianship, musical style, "alma latina," creativity, overall performance and showmanship. The first round is a 20-minute performance, followed by at ten-minute round the next day at The Hideout in Reliant Park, concluding with a three-minute final round inside Reliant Stadium between the two finalists of the tournament.

That last round is not scored by the judges, and the winner is based solely on audience response.

In order to keep the competition unbiased, the teams are given a number and their names and city of origin are concealed; their order of performance is random as well. If a team goes over its time limit, it is disqualified. Lucky for them, the committee provides a performance "stoplight" to aid with the length of performance.

As I listened to the first three competitors Saturday, I was reminded of my dearly departed mother and her absolute love for mariachi music. She loved the emotions that saturate the music, and the complete dedication and professionalism exhibited by each band member. They are dressed in the finest charro outfits, their horns are polished brilliantly, and their voices are so grand, many of them do not even require a microphone.

After several years of housing the Invitational at the former Verizon Theater downtown, the competition came back home to the Arena Theatre. The centrally located, revolving stage is perfect for this event, as is the intimate environment for this type of competition. The audience was full of beautiful faces from all walks of life: lawyers, judges, politicians, entertainers, journalists, and working-class folks. Nothing brings together a group like mariachi music.

After an intermission, the last three performers took their turns. The gentleman sitting in front of me shared his personal scorecard with me as we waited for the finale. He liked Group No. 1, touting their professionalism and polished sound. He also very much enjoyed Group No. 5, saying that their heart and connection with the audience were top-notch.

The best part of the evening was the grand finale. All six groups surrounded the arena, two onstage and the rest in the audience, for a wonderful medley of the most popular mariachi songs. Throughout the night, the bands invoked the spirits of composers and singers such as Vicente Fernandez, Pedro Infante, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Juan Gabriel and even the recently departed Jenni Rivera.

To end the night, we were serenaded with "El Mariachi Loco," "Guadalajara," "Negrita De Mis Pesares," "Volver, Volver" and "El Rey," which contains the following lyric:

"...Despues me dijo un arriero, que no hay que llegar primero, pero hay que saber llegar!"

That translates roughly into this:

"You don't always have to be first, but you must know how to finish!"

Personal Bias: My mom loved this music, and so do I...

The Crowd: Puros Tejanos!

Overheard in the Crowd: A sing-along during the finale that brought me to the verge of tears...It was that beautiful.

Random Notebook Dump: This was my first time at the Invitational, but I hope not my last. Maybe I can be a judge one of these years!

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