Vicente Fernández, Edith Marquez Toyota Center October 1, 2011
If Aftermath were forced to assign Mexican equivalents to famous Anglo and/or American musicians, the list would go like this:
Los Tigres del Norte = The Beatles
Maná = The Rolling Stones
Vicente Fernández = Elvis, Frank Sinatra & Johnny Cash
Yes, Fernández is that big of a deal. His fans call him "Chente," and Saturday night at Toyota Center, a nearly three-hour set in front of a packed house further cemented his status as El Rey, the king of ranchera music.
The crowd was first treated to the lovely former Timbiriche singer Edith Marquez (above). It takes a lot of confidence to open up for a legend, and Miss Marquez was certainly up to the task, armed with telenovela looks and an equally impressive voice. She belted out classic songs about love and heartbreak with ease, ending her set with a sultry rendition of Joan Sebastian's "Secreto de Amor."
Then the gates that served as a replica to Fernández's Los 3 Potrillos ranch opened and Vicente emerged, dressed in his charro outfit: Sombrero, monogrammed belt buckle, and six-shooter holstered at his hip. He greeted the crowd with "Buenas noches, mi Houston querido" (Good evening, my dear Houston).
The audience welcomed him with the first of countless standing ovations throughout the night. Everyone - from the guys in pointy boots and cowboy hats to the ladies in skin-tight dresses, and even the homies in baggy jeans and baseball caps - tried their best to sing along.
Fernández started with crowd favorites "Lastima Que Seas Ajena" and "Mujeres Divinas," promising that if they keep clapping, he would keep singing. (He is well-known to extend his sets at the audience's behest.) He took shots of tequila after each song, not so much to get wasted, but rather as a means to keep his vocal chords alive after he pushes them to the limit during each emotionally charged performance.
He was backed up by Mariachi Azteca, one of the best mariachi bands in the world. Their boss kept the group on their toes as he deviated from the set list, stopping mid-song to tell a story or recognize someone in the crowd; someone like Memo Villarreal sitting in the front row, whom Fernández called "the brother I never had."
Villarreal owns a record store in the East End named Discotecas Memo, and Fernández thanked him for his support throughout his long career. This brought Memo to tears and he thanked Fernández for the sweet gesture.
At this time, Aftermath noticed a young man sitting with his mother in the lower level, about halfway up. Good seats for sure, but he walked his mom down to the first row so she can be closer to Fernández, if only for half a song. Security asked them to return to their seats. The young man agreed, but waited for 30 more seconds to let his mom savor the moment.
We swear we saw her shed tears of joy, as if Vicente's voice was the answer to all of her prayers. Music is such a powerful and beautiful force.
He dedicated the song "El Hombre Que Mas Te Amo" (The Man Who Loved You the Most) to all the fathers in the audience, as well as to his three sons. As Fernández sang, images and video of his son Alejandro flash on the giant screens flanking the stage.
Alejandro followed in his father's footsteps as a singer, a feat that made his father proud and emotional. With tears in his eyes, in the most macho voice, Vicente's jokingly proclaimed that he was not crying, but that something must have landed in his eye.
The night ended with his most famous songs: "El Rey" (The King), and "Volver, Volver" (I Shall Return). Everyone was on their feet at this point, and it no longer felt like a concert, but more like a backyard family barbecue with beers on ice, fajitas on the grill, and family all around. And, of course, Chente on the radio.
Personal Bias: When I die, I want a mariachi band to play Vicente's songs at the funeral.
The Crowd: Emotional and loud.
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Overheard In the Crowd: "Viva Mexico! Viva Chente!"
Random Notebook Dump: Congratulations to the winner of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund sponsored by Budweiser, who received a $2,500 check at the show. When I was going to college, I won the same scholarship, which gives thousands of dollars to high-school and college students every year, and it helped me immensely.