These are not the broken down mariachis you've seen at flea markets or a struggling mexican restaraunts, these are absolute top of the heap musicians.
Former pop darling Linda Ronstadt is the director of SJM fest. In fact she put in an appearance (accompanying photo) and sang a few songs with Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano. No, not rock/pop hits from her radio play past but romantic rancheras en espanol. You may have heard her sing this music on her disc "Canciones de mi Padre"
The level of musicianship is amazing. Violinists executing Paganini like unison lines, harp solos and driving guitars with complex and percussive rythms. The mariachi is somewhat like theater, like opera. Featured players and vocalists regularly rotate out to the front from the backline, take their solo and return. The vocalists hype the anguish and wring every drop of emotion from a song. Its not all drama, They play some humorous numbers too.
My spanish is limited. I only know a few hundred words. You don't need to speak the language to understand world class musicians. Whether they are jazz, rock, classical, or latin, the titans of a genre are in a league of their own. Clue: If the guy sounds sad, its about a woman. If he sounds angry, its about a woman. Other aspects include the romantic past of the farming and country lifestyle that has gone forever for Mexico.
Aside from the mournful miseries of romance, the exhilaration of romance, and nostalgia of country life, themes may include outlaws, drinking, and odes to particular cities or states or Mexico itself.
One of the violinists made his instrument bray like a donkey during a number about a burro. Cute!
It took place in Ceasar Chavez plaza right in the flight path to the airport. Every few minutes passenger jets skim the tops of the downtown buildings on their way overhead.
During an audience participation segment, we were all led in the mariachi grito. The characteristic cry yiiiii yi yii yii ahh ha ha yii! that is a big a part of the music as the trumpet section.
Mariachi originated in Guadalajara, the state of Jalisco. The same people who bring you tequila. A typical mariachi includes a violin section, two trumpets, one nylon string guitar, a high-pitched, five-string guitar called a vihuela, a guitarron (lit. "big guitar") that plays the bass notes and often a harp. You have got to have a wide brim hat and matching suits too. No mariachis wear shorts and tank tops.
I love good mariachi the same way I like a good rock band. The world is full of average and subpar musicians. If that's your point of reference you have a skewed view. It's an acquired taste perhaps but why not go grab a bite and see what you think. I didn't grow up with mariachi but I'm a fan of many forms of musica latina and have learned to recognize excellence in the genre.
If you are fortunate enough to live where there is a large Mexican community, you might get a chance to experience a renowned mariachi. Many of these groups are institutions and have been around for decades. .