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Mariachi USA celebrates Latin culture and Mariachi music, driving over 17,000 music fans to the Hollywood Bowl for the day every summer. While the fervor remains, the festival has changed a lot in the 26 years since its founding.
Don’t worry, the music is still played with violins and vihuelas, trumpets and guitarróns— you won’t find any Powerbooks or synthesizers. The mariachis still wear the elaborately embroidered Charro suits. There will be no holograms, no light show.
Still, the change is unmistakable. It can be seen in the people plucking on the strings and working the valves on stage and in the folks in the stands and box seats who give themselves over completely to a music that hasn’t altered all that much during the past century.
“Every year, the community seems to get younger and younger— and also more diverse,” says Rodri Rodriguez, the producer, founder and host of Mariachi USA, which takes place Saturday, June 27 from 6pm to 10:45pm. “It is a true reflection of the youth that is embracing this music, which is a grassroots culture. Our audience is a cross pollination of Mexican and non-Mexican latinos, African Americans, Asians, and everything else you encounter in Los Angeles.”
Adds Rodriguez, “Sometimes I say, ‘if you drink a margarita, you love Mariachi,’ and it’s true. They go hand in hand. People just seem to respond the acoustic rawness of the music.”
Part of this wider array attracted to the largest concert of its kind on the planet are those looking to make Mariachi’s biggest night into an all day, all out affair. Fortunately, Mariachi USA gives you plenty of opportunities to remind you and your friends that this night is not your little sister’s quinceañera.
Getting There & Parking: Half the Headache, Twice the Fun
Many veterans of past Mariachi USA concerts start in the morning with a traditional Mexican breakfast. As anyone familiar with the Hollywood Bowl can attest, parking on an event day— or really traversing Highland much at all— can be a slog. Be sure to leave plenty of time and secure a preferred parking pass.
If you don’t want to mess with parking and traffic, you can park at the LA Zoo and take shuttle over. The Red Line to nearby Hollywood Highland station is another option. Better yet, make your commute part of the fiesta: Mariachi USA sponsor Albertsons-Vons is hosting a sweepstakes for a party bus complete with DJ and room and tickets for 20 of your closest friends. You can find information for entering at most L.A. Vons or Albertsons or at the Mariachi USA Facebook page.
Mariachis start hitting the Hollywood bowl stage around 6PM, but look for things to kick off a good two hours earlier at the pre-party. There you will be able to try food and drink samples from sponsors and get your first sip of a Paloma, a tequila cocktail that is the official cocktail of Mariachi.
While there will be a DJ on hand to get things going, the musical centerpiece of the pre-party is “Juan Gabri-oke,” where you can pay tribute to Juan Gabriel, the Latin pop legend being celebrated at this year’s concert, by singing along to his hits.
Seats Fit for El Rey
To make the most of the nearly five hour concert, you will want to make yourself at home. Fortunately, with table seating at all box seats, the Hollywood Bowl gives you plenty of opportunity. The table-cloth covered tables come with the terrace and garden level seats and and fit anywhere 3 to 6.
The best part of the box seats is when you are done with your meal and the music starts heating up, you can fold away the tables and directors chairs so there will be plenty of space to dance. It will also give you the room you need to crane your neck for the fireworks finale, which promises to be even more spectacular than usual this year with Mariachi USA kicking off Fourth of July week.
Meals As Grand As the Music
So now that you are seated, what to eat?
Many people pack a picnic from home— just don’t pack cerveza or any other alcohol: the bowl doesn’t allow people to bring their own for sponsored events like Mariachi USA, (though there will be plenty on sale there.) It’s a Mariachi USA tradition for people to share what they have during the concert, so don’t be afraid to pack a little extra or look askance if someone offers you some of their Grandma’s chilaquiles.
“It is like a family of 17,000 people,” says Rodriguez. “People tend to bring extra dessert, hors d’oeuvres, everything, and they pass it all around. God knows what else they pass around!”
You can also bring in dinner from a nearby restaurant. A great option is Loteria Grill, the legendary Farmers Market taco stand that has an outpost on Hollywood Blvd.
If you are looking to eat there, Patina will be grilling up Mexican favorites for the occasion. And if you’re not in the mood for Carne Asada, you can opt for lobster, filet mignon, or even sushi. They offer a fine wine and champagne list to wash it all down.
Taking Advantage of the Setting
Being in the heart of Hollywood has its pluses, including plenty of opportunities to revel in the stately old world tradition that Mariachi music calls to mind.
If you are looking for a place to stay— or just a poolside cocktail— you can do no better than the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd. Not only is the 90-year-old Spanish-Revival-style hideaway a temple to classic Hollywood glamour (it went through a stunning renovation in 2005), the Roosevelt is a quick mile long stumble to the Hollywood Bowl.
South of Highland, you will find the one neighborhood establishment that pre-dates the Roosevelt in Musso & Frank, the iconic grill and cocktail spot considered the genesis of Hollywood. If a Paloma is just not your speed, this is the place to score an extra dry Martini.
Meet Me at Don Chente’s
Not that Mariachi USA can be contained to just Hollywood. After the last firework explodes, things head south, where the VIP, invite-only after-party takes place at Don Chente. Opened for just a few months, the Downtown L.A. rooftop restaurant and lounge features gourmet and traditional Mexican food, breathtaking views of the city, and— you guessed it— some of the town’s best Mariachi.
Expect that the party at the massive multi-story space will go till 2AM. It should give a much needed opportunity for those who made Mariachi USA possible to finally unbutton their chaleco and let their hair down.
“I will be euphoric at that point,” says Rodriguez. “That’s when I get to take off my six-inch heels and rip off my lashes. Five hours on stage is enough for anyone.”