For the first time in its 30 years of existence, the Mariachi USA festival is going digital and hosting a free two-hour special event in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, set to take place Sunday.
The festival, founded in 1990 by artist and producer Rodri J. Rodriguez, was held every summer at the iconic Hollywood Bowl, but because of COVID-19, this year’s event will look different.
“To know we weren’t having a show at the Bowl was heartbreaking,” Rodriguez tells Billboard. “We know what this festival means to our musicians, which is exposure, and our now multigenerational audience since we are now entertaining the grandkids and great grandkids of those who have supported us since day one.”
This year’s virtual fest, which will stream on YouTube, will feature mariachi ensembles from all over the U.S., including Mariachi Divas, Mariachi Los Reyes, Mariachi Lindas Mexicanas and Mariachi Nuevo Tecatitlán, to name a few. “We still have to take music to the people and I needed to create something that would put a little bit of money in our musician’s pockets because they are hurting,” says Rodriguez.
Sidelined by the global pandemic, the mariachi community, which depends heavily on gigs in order to make an income, has reinvented the serenata. Now, wearing face masks in addition to their traditional charro suit and standing six feet apart from each other is the new norm.
Rodriguez also had to reinvent the festival in order to make it work. “We had to pre-record everyone because mariachi is very unique. It’s not just three or four bandmembers. Some groups have 16 and each state has different COVID-19 regulations,” Rodriguez explains. “Some recorded in backyards, horse ranches and empty theaters. I have been so impressed with how everyone stepped up. It’s exciting and motivating.”
As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, Rodriguez hopes this virtual festival will remind the Latino community that, “there is pride in what we do and what we own. What we own is our heritage and our culture and no one can take that away from us,” she says. “With our concerts we deliver a very specific message and that’s a message of passion and the pride that we all carry within us and that cannot be silenced.”
The first-ever virtual Mariachi USA festival will stream here on Sunday starting at 8 p.m. ET.