I walked into the press conference announcing the lineup of this year’s San Jose Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival wondering how it would be possible to match last year’s excellent presentations. I needn’t have worried about it. Festival director and Mexican Heritage CEO Marcela Davison Aviles and the festival’s artistic director, Linda Ronstadt, have managed to exceed even the highest of expectations created by the 2008 festival.
Aviles and Ronstadt were on hand at the Cinco de Mayo press conference in the Fairmont Hotel along with one of the guest stars of this year’s event, legendary guitarist and human rights advocate Carlos Santana, to give the exciting details of the now-renamed festival for 2009. Aviles explained that the festival’s new official name came at the suggestion of Linda Ronstadt, who wanted to acknowledge the greater context of Mexican and Mexican American culture that Mariachi is an important element of. Enlarging the scope of the festival has been coming for some time, and, accordingly, the new artistic vision is a more accurate reflection of the festival and the official aims of the Mexican Heritage Foundation.
The 2009 festival will run from Sept. 20 to 27 with the theme of “a tribute to the heroes of our heritage.” Aviles began by acknowledging the vital support for the festival from the city, RDA, Downtown Association, Team San Jose and former mayor Tom McEnery. This year’s festival is also being supported by the Mexican government, and Mexican Consul General David Figueroa was on hand to announce his country’s participation. In addition, Target has made a generous gift of sponsoring the Sunday, Sept. 27 Feria del Mariachi outdoor family event—featuring performances on three stages in downtown San Jose—that will be free of charge to the public.
The festival continues last year’s educational theme with workshops on Mariachi music making, Mexican American culture and organic Mexican cookery. This aspect of the festival is close to Ronstadt’s heart whose enthusiasm for “teaching kids about their culture” and “connecting them with their grandparents” was evident in her answers to questions from the press. Santana agreed, pointing out that California spends more money on a prison inmate than a student, and referring to the governor as the “exterminator of education.” Ronstadt and Santana both expressed their personal affection for San Jose and recognized its uniqueness as a “great incubator” with its “multicultural population, fabulous symphony and ballet, progressive city government and the enlightenment of Silicon Valley.”
The festival’s music presentations begin with a Student Showcase Concert on Sept. 24. The following evening, Friday the 25th, Joan Baez will perform at the Center for the Performing Arts. The political songstress and civil rights activist grew up in Palo Alto in a Mexican American family and was one of the first popular artists to record an album of Mexican songs in Spanish (1974’s Gracias a la Vida).
Saturday the 26th there will be a tribute to the “golden era of Mexican film” in a concert entitled “Mariachi Goes to the Movies,” featuring Mariachi stars Aida Cuevas (who also appeared last year), Mariachi Cobre, and San Jose dance troupe Los Lupeños, celebrating its 40th anniversary year. After the outdoor events on Sunday, the festival will be brought to a close with a gala tribute to Cesar Chavez by Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt and Carlos Santana, performing together at the HP Pavilion.
This festival has clearly become one of the very best and most important four or five annual cultural events in the life of our city. How lucky we are to have it here.
For more information and updates, visit http://www.sanjosemariachifestival.com