Saturday Night: 22nd Annual Mariachi Invitational at Arena Theatre
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.