This is the wrap-up weekend of the Fiestas Patria 2022, the week long celebration of Mexican Independence (which took an 11-year war and a second revolution to finally achieve democracy). It corresponded with Dia de Los Charros – the day of the cowboy, and that meant music.
But I am ahead of myself. On Friday night we headed to our regular Americana and country rock/blues venue, Scallions, for one of our favorites, Old Souls.
The core of the Old Souls band is Yvonne Watterson and Scott Henrich. Other players come and go depending on the night and the venue. Scott is a long-time professional musician who also studied musical theater in college. He has an encyclopedic memory for songs and can lay down acoustic guitar riffs with the best of them (and probably do electric riffs from his days in a punk band, but I have not yet heard him on an electric).
Yvonne is originally from Ireland so she has music in her blood. She was an educator and writer before coming to Mexico (and still keeps her hand in), and now delivers great vocals and plays the tambourine in Old Souls. Friday night we were treated to bassman Sergio Casas, freshly back from successful surgery, and guitarist Charlie Cook who was celebrating his birthday. Charlie, like Scott, is a professional musician with a long history in Seattle with a variety of bands, and showed off the skills he honed over the years on Les Pauls and Fenders. Needless to say there was cake.
Old Souls played classic Americana tunes, a little blues, and some country rock that got people up out of their chairs and doin’ the two-step. It was great to sit back and hear some familiar music and just chill – something Old Souls knows how to do and how to get their audiences to do.
The next day was Dia de los Charros – the celebration of the Mexican cowboy. A charro celebration requires three things – a horse, music and beer, all of which were in abundance (tequila helps too). Dia de Los Charros is a big deal in the state of Jalisco, and especially in Chapala -the country where I live – because this is the original home of the Charro, according to local legend and much bragging.
The Charro dates back to the Spanish Conquest when haciendas would outfit their cowboys with distinctive clothing and fancy saddles to show off their status and wealth. During the Mexican War of Independence, Charros rode in private horse-mounted militias against the Spanish army. But what they do most is herd cattle.
Unlike the American cowboy in the US, the Charro is alive and well in Mexico and Charros occupy high social status, especially in the state of Jalisco. Many still work ranches and herd cattle, but their pride is in the charreria – sometimes called a Mexican rodeo, but it is much more. The charreria involves traditional bull-riding, horse roping, and bucking broncos, but it is all done in elaborate costumes and accompanied by music. And, added to the rodeo events are dancing horses, lariat tricks, children roping wild horses (yes -kids 9 or 10 years old who are fearless), a women’s riding event called Escaramuza, and a girls -in- training event called the “skirmish,” done by really little girls on hobby horses doing drills.
The music is usually mariachi, but sometimes – as it was Saturday – is a Mexica party band, which to American ears sounds like noise led by tubas, but which works very well for – well, Mexican parties – and for charreria events.
Sunday was the full charreria in Ajijic, and a mariachi concert afterward with a band I had not heard before. Mariachi Nuevo Chapala. A full band with 10 men and women belting out traditional songs with a brightness and energy that pushed away the grey of the rain which had driven them to huddle inside the covered archway entrance to the Lienzo (bullring, but no bull fighting ever happens there).
The two lead singers, one woman and one man, traded off perfectly, never dropping a word or a note, and keeping in perfect time. This is remarkable since the lead male singer is also the lead trumpet player, so he switched back and forth from vocal to trumpet solos in mid-song. And it all worked.
Three bands, dancing, horses, dancing horses, and lots of tacos and beer. All in all, a great wrap-up to Mexico’s biggest holiday.
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