The musical traditions of mariachi and bluegrass will meet in a free one-hour concert this evening at the Great Aunt Stella Center on Elizabeth Avenue, near Central Piedmont Community College in uptown Charlotte.
I can't say I know much about bluegrass or mariachi music. But the organizers offered an interesting and educational write up about the background of both musical styles.
Here is an edited excerpt:
Back in the 1930s, two tradition-based stringband styles came of age - bluegrass in the U.S. South and mariachi in central Mexico. Today both are part of the New South musical landscape of Charlotte, NC.
The evening's bluegrass ensemble brings several of this region's top pickers together on stage for the first time. Guitarist Jack Lawrence tours internationally with flatpicking legend Doc Watson and as a soloist. Glen Alexander on fiddle captured first prize at Galax this summer, his third win at that prestigious fiddlers festival. David Grant on bass is best known his work with Charleston's Southern Flavor. Randy DeBruhl on Scruggs-style banjo won the top banjo prize at Uncle Dave Macon Days in Murfreesboro, TN.
The bluegrass music that they'll play is often thought of as "traditional," but a better description would be "tradition-based." In the late 1930s and 1940s, Southern fiddle music moved from the family farm to cities and the new medium of radio. Kentucky farm boy Bill Monroe, playing first on Charlotte's WBT then on Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, speeded up old-fashioned picking and added the punchy new sound of the five string banjo as played by North Carolina innovator Earl Scruggs. Performed by polished professionals decked out in matching outfits and cowboy hats, bluegrass swept the South and won eager listeners beyond.
Like bluegrass, mariachi has deep roots in rural stringband playing, then came to town in the 1930s. It may have been born in the state of Jalisco in central Mexico, where instrument makers developed two special variants on the Spanish guitar - the vihuela, smaller and higher-pitched, ideal for the rhythmic chording that drives mariachi, and the giant bass guitarrón, fretless with gut strings that project a solid thwump. The rhythm players supported the lead instrument, the violin. Then in 1934 a Jalisco band, Mariachi Vargas, moved to Mexico City to play for the inauguration of beloved "peoples' president" Lázaro Cárdenas. Musical director Rubín Fuentes added trumpets for punch, dressed his players in stylized charro cowboy uniforms with embroidered waist-length jackets, and forged a polished sound that took all of Mexico by storm.The event is part of the regular monthly gathering of the Charlotte Folk Society. It's free and open to the public. It's being sponsored, in part, by a grant from the Arts & Science Council, and co-sponsored by Levine Museum of the New South and Latina 102.3 FM / Norsan Multimedia.
Gabriel Sanchez, from the town of Toluca (between Jalisco and Mexico City) leads Mariachi Los Gavilanes ("The Sparrowhawks"). His trumpet is joined by the violin of Eifrain Martinez, Rogoberto Silva on guitarrón, and Anzelmo Alaweter and/or Alfredo Jimenez on vihuela. Each played in bands elsewhere in the U.S. - Phoenix, Chicago, Los Angeles - before getting together here in Charlotte.
Parking is also free. Doors open at 7 pm and the music starts at 7:30. Questions? Visit www.folksociety.org or call 704-563-7080.