Even for the always-amazing Tucson International Mariachi Conference, last night’s Espectacular was one for the books.
The 3 1/2-hour show was a cavalcade of the breadth and heights of mariachi artistry.
It was nostalgic for me personally. The first Espectacular I reviewed for the Citizen back in 1988 had Linda Ronstadt as the headliner, hot on the heels of the release of her “Canciones de Mi Padre” record. Back then, a sea of Bic lighters swayed in the darkness as she sang. Friday night the lighters were replaced by cell phones, but the emotion and sense of connection was the same.
Ronstadt performed five songs, ably backed by Los Camperos de Nati Cano.
Though it’s not as easy for the 62-year-old singer to breeze through the vocal acrobatics of this repertoire as 21 years back, plainly the music has grown deeper and more meaningful in her heart.
And she still has the pipes to pin ears, tempered with the grace to evoke waves of emotion in her audience.
Ronstadt’s “stand and deliver” stage style was a stark contrast from Eugenia Leon, who made the concert stage a theatrical venue with her lithe interpretation of classic ranchera fare. A singer of full-bore power and silky nuance, she embroidered her songs with dramatic gestures, fluid movements and natural dance impulses.
Like an operatic diva, Leon is at heart a storyteller, but as a singer, she is also someone who finds a unique perspective on well-known fare. On “La Bruja” in particular, her phrasing was as supple as her silk blouse, the dreamy character of her singing amplified by tango-like accordion accents and Los Camperos’ sensitive backing.
It was a huge night for Los Camperos, which was the MVP in every respect of last night’s show. After leading the workshops all week and rehearsing with the two guest singers, the recent Grammy-winning ensemble managed to make its own set one of the best it’s ever delivered in Tucson.
Proud and heroic, tender and suave, the mariachi poured on chops to rival any of the best ensembles in the classical world.
Blessed with the perfect voice to match every style in the massive mariachi repertoire, Camperos proved equally flawless instrumentally. Its violins pulsed with the singular regularity of a helicopter blade, its trumpets blazing like lasers. Similarly its rhythm section proved as tight and driving as any the genre has produced, while cherubic musical director Chuy Guzman’s arrangements balanced sophistication with intensity and emotion.
Camperos’ performance of “El Pastor” in particular was a thing of sheer luminosity.
Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán upheld its reputation as the best mariachi in the world, even with close competition.
Perfect on both vocal and instrumental fronts, blessed with the best charts in the business, what sets Vargas apart these days is sheer showmanship and an ability to take an audience on a cinematic ride.
Every song in the set, whether in quick medley form or full-length treatment, was carefully calculated to build a sort of dramatic architecture.
By the time Los Camperos came out to join Vargas in Pepe Martinez’s “Violin Huapango,” the audience was at a frenzied level of excitement.
Camperos and Vargas seemed evenly matched in the tune, trading licks in carbon copies and fanning each other to incandescent intensity.
If it turns out to be my last Espectacular, what a way to go.
What: Mariachi Mass
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: St. Augustine Cathedral, 192 S. Stone Ave.
What: Fiesta de Garibaldi
When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: Reid Park
Admission: $5 (12 and under free)
10:30 Ballet Folklorico Davis Bilingual School
11:00 Mariachi Davis Bilingual School
11:30 Mariachi Anacatlan
12:00 Mariachi Pumas
12:30 Mariachi Mixteco
1:00 Mariachi Nuevo Melodia
1:30 Mariachi Los Charritos
2:00 Mariachi Tesoro de Tucson
2:30 Mariachi Imperial de San Diego
3:00 Mariachi Los Tigres
3:30 Mariachi Los Vaqueros
4:00 Mariachi Brillante
5:00 Mariachi Los Changuitos Feos
5:45 Mariachi Los Mineros
6:30 Mariachi Master Apprentice
7:15 Mariachi Sonido
8:00 Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School
8:45 Mariachi Los Arrieros