While it may seem odd that a woman of Cuban descent would create a Mexican festival, it was really a natural occurrence for Rodriguez. "Since early in my career I worked with mariachi music giants Lucha Villa, Lola Beltran, Miguel Aceves Mejia, Juan Gabriel and so many others," she said. "In this process, mariachi romanced my ear."
Mariachi is defined in Wikipedia as a musical group, originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, that consists of at least three violins, two trumpets, one Spanish guitar, one vihuela (a high-pitched, five-string guitar), one guitarron (a small acoustic bass) and sometimes a harp. The musicians dress in silver-studded charro outfits and wide-brimmed hats, and many of them also sing.
What Rodriguez enjoys most about mariachi music is "the acoustic instrumentation and the romantic tales that can easily range from a love story to losing a horse!" Indeed, the music of mariachi touches on themes of love, death, loss and betrayal.
The single Studio City resident has shared her talents in many other areas.
Mariachi USA Foundation promotes Mexican culture through music and performing arts in school-based programs. Scholarships are awarded and free tickets are distributed to Mariachi USA.
In 2006, Rodriguez became a founding shareholder of the first Latino-owned bank in California in 35 years, Promerica bank in Los Angeles. Promerica founder and Chairman Maria Contreras-Sweet had convinced 27 powerful non-Latinos and Latinos, including Rodriguez and Henry Cisneros, the former U.S. secretary of housing under President Bill Clinton, to invest.
And Rodriguez recently became a principal partner with Manuel Meza in the Los Angeles restaurant La Fonda, the first mariachi dinner show venue in the United States. The restaurant originally opened in 1969 by Natividad "Nati" Cano as a home for his group, Los Camperos. The restaurant closed in October 2007, but Meza and his partners reopened a freshly redesigned space in early 2008.
Just as many businesses have felt the effects of the troubled economy, so too has Mariachi USA. Rodriguez, declining to give revenue figures for the festival, said: "All of us producing shows at the Hollywood Bowl have felt the sting of our frail economy, both on ticket purchaser and sponsor level." She is thankful for the major sponsors that pulled through this year: Farmers Insurance, Goya Foods, Southwest Airlines and La Fonda.
Rodriguez said fans shared that they had cut back on other expenditures to be able to attend the event, which has ticket prices that run from about $15 to $150 apiece.
"Music is not a luxury, it is a necessity," believes Rodriguez. "It nurtures the spirit like nothing else except, of course, the smiling face of a child."
Rodriguez travels each year in search of all the mariachi groups for the festival. Groups these days, she said, are composed primarily of members in their 20s and 30s, "a reflection of the audience," and often must learn Spanish in order to sing the mariachi songs. She said what is interesting is that these groups, individually, are not star groups. On their own, their concerts may play to 1,000 people or fewer, she said. But collectively, the event that is Mariachi USA draws huge crowds.
Rodriguez and festival organizers do not take lightly the responsibility they have in producing an entertaining, enjoyable show that often attracts four generations of family members and requires a crew of about 130 people. There will be six mariachi groups this year, in addition to The Mariachi USA All Starz and special guest Los Panchos.
She said Mariachi USA is considered a destination event for many, who plan their vacations around the festival date. "We will deliver a fantastic festival with the highest production quality available anywhere and the reason why our fans buy tickets a year in advance," she said.
In past years, seats have sold out well in advance of the festival. This year, Rodriguez is estimating that 16,500 of the nearly 18,000 seats will be filled. It is these fans, she said, who "will be singing our 20-year-old traditional sing-along of 'El Rey,' 'Volver Volver' and 'La Negra' with a spectacular fireworks show lighting the Hollywood sky under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl."
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