Banda Baseball!!!!

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Went to a baseball game last night. Not your average baseball game however. Those of us who have been to see the Venados de Mazatlán play are familiar with the party-like atmosphere where the game almost takes a back seat to the music, the beer and extracurricular activities taking place on and around the field. Last night however, was not a Venados game. Last night was El Juego de las Estrellas – or Game of the Stars. By stars, I mean the stars of Banda Music, the style of music popular in this region of Mexico. (See my earlier blog post on the subject here).

Last night featured such stars as members of Calibre 50, La Bandononoa Clave Nueva, La Adictiva Banda San Jose de Mesillas, Julión Alvarez y su Norteño Banda, El Komander, Roberto Junior, Diego Herrera, El Coyote, Chuy Lizarraga, El Yaqui (Banda Recodo fame), Carlos Sarabia and many more, but you get the picture. All links are to memorable YouTube videos featuring the artist.

This is an annual event although the complete history of it is unknown to me, so if you can fill me in, please leave information in the comments below. Thanks.

The event is free to the public. The event has many sponsors, but the main sponsor was radio station 102.7 who gave away the tickets. The doors were set to open around 5:00 and people were in line before 3:00 to try to get the best seat. The real best seats, the box seats and cabinas, were not available to the public. We were lucky enough to score two tickets from our niece, Vanessa, to whom we are eternally grateful. Don’t know for sure, but I believe we may have been the only two foreigners in the crowd, much like our night at Julión Alvarez, a couple of years back (blog post here). Our seats were right behind the dugout for the blue team which gave us much amusement as we watched the stars interact with fans obliging them with photos and autographs and kisses for the ladies. The volume of screaming girls was deafening at time. El Yaqui is definitely the favorite of the young girls, but Julión Alvarez was the overall fan favorite garnering much attention. He played on the yellow team, so we could only see him well when he took the field. Did I mention there was a baseball game going on?

Each team was introduced one player at a time with full name, banda affiliation and a partial recording of a song the crowd would know. The team “managers” were introduced last: both legends in the banda business. Germán Lizárraga managed the yellow team while René Camacho managed the blue team. With introductions concluded the seven-inning game finally began around 6:30. The blue team got off to an early lead and never looked back – but who cares, right? Many players were rotated out, some only playing a single inning. El Coyote was the opening pitcher for the yellow team and lasted less than an inning.

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Chuy Lizarraga amused the crowd with a slow walk towards first after making contact with the ball to the infield for an easy out. Julión struck out his first time at bat, but made up for that with a single his next time up. Governor Malova showed up midway and joined the yellow team. He walked once and popped up to the shortstop the second time. This last at bat was booed by the crowd. Not sure if it was because the guy caught the ball and put the Governor out, or if they expected more from the big guy?

During the game there was a non-stop queue at each dugout to meet and greet stars. They were all extremely accommodating and gracious. Security had to intervene at times, but overall it was quite orderly. Somebody sitting in front of me was famous. I didn’t know who he was, but have since learned that he is Amilcar Gaxiola who pitched a no-hitter for the Venados this season. Thanks to our friends at Torres Mazatlan Vacation International for recognizing him and letting us know. The mystery is solved!


Mystery Guy?

Mystery Guy: Amilcar Gaxiola

The house band was Banda La Corona Del Rey. There were in the stands in box seats just near the yellow team dugout. They played before the game started and during each change of sides. The vocals were often handled by the stars including Julión Alvarez, Roberto Junior and Eden Muñoz of Calibre 50. Before each player batted, the house music would change to one of their hits which helped remind us who was who at the plate.

Click any picture below to enlarge or view a slideshow.

And now you can watch this amazing video:

It was a great night for music fans and baseball fans alike. See you next year!

Julión Álvarez live at Culiacan’s Palenque 2012 – The Full Report!

Read this blog post and you will get:

  • A video-packed report of our attendance at a Julión Álvarez concert
  • A better understanding of what “palenque” means
  • Insight into buchones and other things Culiacán


Well, it finally happened. I got to see Julión Álvarez perform live. What a road it’s been for him and for us. Adopted by Mazatlán, Julión sang for Banda MS (MS standing for Mazatlan, Sinaloa) for three years before going solo as Julión Alvarez y su Norteño Banda. His first album was released in 2007, and sometime after that and before we moved to Mazatlan in 2008, I was introduced to and hooked by his music.


So, it was a huge opportunity when Julión Álvarez was scheduled to play outside at Sumbawa in April, 2009. How nice to be able to walk down the street and see someone who I knew was going to be huge one day, live in a small venue! What could go wrong — how hard could this be?  Well, some pigs in Asia ruined it all. In March of 2009, the H1N1 swine flu “pandemic” took off in Mexico and part of the official government reaction was to cancel all large gatherings of the general public. Click here to read our blog post from that time. Ignorantly, I assumed Julión would simply reschedule. Ha!

Fast forward 42 months. I’m reading the paper one day and see an article listing the music schedule for the Feria Ganadera in Culiacán, Sinaloa. There he is closing night — three albums, countless videos and hit singles later, Julión Alvarez y su Norteño Banda! Two hours away in the capital of Sinaloa in a city many people warn us not to travel to; Julion is going to be the closing night performer at what amounts to the State Fair. He is to play on December 1. I don’t care what else is going on (and there was a lot) —we’re going!  Somehow by going we earned some “street cred” with the locals. Looking back, part of me gets it, but not completely. Read on and see for yourself.

Buying tickets in Mazatlán for an event in Culiacán was surprisingly difficult. Searching the Internet, I could not find a Culiacán website that sold them, and Ticketmaster didn’t have them. Danny reached out to a friend there and he couldn’t help us. A local friend reached out to her friend there and she said they were not on sale yet. Not atypical. As the date got closer, she reached out again and I reached out to a friend in the state government. Both reported back that they had friends who could get tickets for us. So, our friend’s friend got us two tickets and delivered them to Mazatlan the following week.

The annual International Marathon of the Pacific was held the same weekend. This meant we would miss the annual Festival of Lights fireworks ceremony for the first time since living here, as well as have to deal with stashing our car around the block to get around because our street would be closed for two days.

These issues amounted to little more than minor speed bumps on the way to a great night.

Our tickets were 750 pesos each — or about $60 USD — very expensive by local standards.

About 22 people were on stage the entire time. Julión was performing in a cock fighting ring at the State Fair; this was not Carnegie Hall. The newspaper said there were over 5,000 in attendance. Julión was surrounded by his band and performed “in the round,” making sure to turn and see all of his fans.

Gringos in the audience: 2

When we entered the venue, we presented our tickets (after our third security check and frisking of the night) and were escorted to our seats. A young man with a rag wiped down our seats and then asked if we wanted to give a tip. Whatever, ten pesos.

Following behind us as we found our seats was mesera (waitress) number 12. She presented us a typed laminated menu and asked if we wanted anything. Bottle of water, check. One beer, check (only Tecate Light, but don’t get me started on that). The rest of the menu was for other people: bottles of whiskey, tequila or rum priced at 1,000 pesos and up. Coke was 100 pesos and served in a two liter bottle. So, we sipped and we watched. An average group would arrive of four or five people. They would order a bottle of whiskey, 12 beers packed in ice, a few Red Bulls and maybe a snack. This scene would be repeated again and again all night long with groups placing reorders constantly. Bottom-line, these folks got drunk. And, thanks to the Red Bull, they were drunk and wide awake! With each order of a bottle of whiskey, they would receive a stack of cups with napkins, two buckets of ice and their 2-liter bottle of mixer (usually mineral water). Don’t forget that amidst all of this, the bag o’ beers had to fit on or around them. You can only imagine what it was like to get up and try to reach an aisle! The meseras were not the tiniest thing on the block either, in fact most of them were old battleaxes who didn’t give a hoot if they stood in front of you for 5 seconds or 5 minutes — they were just working the tips. Drunk young people trying to impress tip well.  This, of course, is not hard to do, when one round is anywhere from 3,000 pesos on up. Ouch! But, these young people of Culiacán seemed to just print money. They all, men and women, had fat rolls of cash and were not hesitant to spend it.

There are always distractions at public events — that’s what makes people watching so much fun. This night was no exception. The only problem is where to begin.

First of all, I need to try and explain palenque to you. Essentially, it is a legal, sanctioned cock fight and “raffle” popular at ferias (fairs). In this case in Culiacán, the palenque entrance and the concert venue are one and the same, so the ticket is as well. The whole State Fair is colloquially called the “Palenque.” Want to go watch and bet on the cock fights? Then you are going to see Julión Álvarez as well. Want to see Julión Álvarez? Then you are going to watch cock fighting (or go late). Our tickets said the cock fighting starts at 7:30 and the artist will be on at 11:30. We got in around 10:00 and said goodbye to the cock fighting MC just after midnight. Anyhow, as I was saying, the stage for the performance is a cock fighting ring. Watch the change happen here, or just look at the before and after pictures, same stage:



The fashion was really interesting. Most men had nice jeans and a nice shirt. Some men wore sport coats or slacks. There were lots of nice cowboy boots and a sea of white Stetsons. The women were the real story. Sequined shorts were all the rage and when I say shorts, I mean short. Leather pants in a variety of colors, leopard prints and tiger prints, were a common sight as well. I believe that Sinaloa women have a natural beauty, but the women of Culiacán are just not sufficed with that. They add. Push-up bras and obviously augmented breasts were a constant distraction to this writer, as were fake butt cheeks (sorry, I honestly don’t know what these things are other than unnatural and unflattering). Dianne was particularly fascinated with the “hair lifts.” The women wore their hair back and in doing so concealed a plastic foundation of some sort that raises the hair off the head, forming a ridge. Sorry, we could not get any decent pictures for fear of retribution. People did NOT want their photos taken!



There was a guy two rows ahead of that I was able, or almost forced, to watch all night. He did some really strange stuff. First of all, he was dressed nice (for a cock fight) and had no trouble spending lots of money. Had he not been mixing the Red Bull with his whiskeys, he would have passed out. As the night progressed, it got crazy. There were a lot of drunken people and multiple waitresses squeezing past our knees chasing sales and tips. As a waitress would squeak by this guy with a tray full of beer, ice buckets, etc., he would occasionally lighten the tray of a beer or two. It was like a game. All I kept thinking is that the poor waitress has to pay for them. He really pushed things at around 3:30 in the morning. There was a photographer working the crowd. He takes your picture with a fancy Polaroid, puts it into a cardboard frame, gets your money, and he’s gone. Business was a little slow, but he worked hard in his attempt to cover between 5,000 and 6,000 people. This guy carried a satchel across his body on a strap that he would turn toward his backside to get by some tight spots in the crowd. So as he is attempting to get by my friend, there is a waitress coming from the other end and he is forced to stop for a few seconds. When he does, this guy two rows up deftly reaches into the photographer’s satchel and removes a package of the frames — maybe around 50 or so. This is the kind of item no average person has the use for, agree? As the photographer walks on, clueless as to what happens, my friend starts to proudly show his buddies what he has done. One of his friends appeared to have a moral compass. His body language indicated that he was not happy and he began to see if he could locate the photographer. After extended minutes of arguing, the thief grabbed the frames back from his friend. A waitress working in the row above witnessed the whole thing, and even she had the guts to come over. She tried calling out for the photographer, but with the music it was next to impossible. Finally, after the photographer had cleared the row and exited to the promenade, the thief gave the frames to the waitress, who set out in the direction of the photographer, apparently intent on returning them.  My take was this guy was a skilled thief. Every move he made was made with confidence and no fear of recrimination. He did it for pure delight. I knew enough about Culiacan to mind my own business and say nothing (until now).

There was a small opening act of sorts that played for about twenty minutes. Julión and his band came on just before one in the morning and when we left at 4:20, he was still going strong. We understand the concert ended just after 4:30. He played non-stop. His only break from singing came when his tuba player, Cheque, sang a couple of songs. Even during those times, Julión kept busy signing autographs, posing for pictures, dancing with a seemingly never-ending line of women, and being a great host.


In the first hour, Julión went through most of his biggest wide-reaching hits: La Maria, Las Mulas de Moreno, (click to view)  La Niña, Olvídame… Next, he played a series of his smaller hits and popular songs, and then switched to classic corridos, cumbias and banda songs — the same songs played by every banda group around, but with his amazing voice and incredible backing band. The crowd loved it. In fact, it was often hard to hear Julión’s voice for the sheer volume of the crowd, as they knew every word to every song and were not afraid to help out. Just watch! A few other videos for you:
For the Mazatlecos in the crowd, he sang our song!
See how into things the crowd was at 3:45 (great ad for Red Bull)
A quick shot of the crowd with some house lights on.

A few things made the night special. Julión was the consummate host. He welcomed people on stage to take pictures, dance a few turns or just high five him; it was as though he was returning to his home neighborhood to share in his good fortune. In the clips above, you will see some Down’s syndrome fans that Julión welcomed on stage to dance a few songs for the crowd and share their excitement with the world. When three kids ran on stage to dance, Julión gave clear instructions to his handlers to let them stay. It definitely made for a night that three families will never forget! For about 30 minutes straight, Julión invited all the women to line up and dance with him one at a time. Each gal got a quick spin, a smile, a kiss and if asked, a quick pose for a picture. Watch here. He never stopped making good eye contact with the audience, waving, smiling and making everyone feel welcome. He even gave a special wave to Dianne.

Culiacán — We have spent a little time in Culiacán and know the people there are different, but wow, was this an eye-opening night. Rare is it when we travel anywhere in Mexico that someone doesn’t talk to us about where we are from, were we live, how well we (Dianne) speak Spanish, etc. On this night not one person spoke one word to us. Mind you, we sat next to, in front of and behind people in very close quarters for hours, but nada!

Did we feel safe? Yes. Did we avoid trouble? Yes. Would we do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. It was a fabulous night with great music in an awesome venue. The late night is no problem if you plan for it. We had a nearby hotel and planned on being out late. Our plans worked out well. I just need a white Stetson hat and a wad of a cash to blend in J (or not).

I was a Julión Álvarez fan before we went and I’m a bigger fan now. That’s the way it should be.

Here is a link to a YouTube playlist of all of the videos.

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Banda is not Spanish for Band!

I have heard Banda and Norteño music described as “an acquired taste,” “a God-awful racket,” and “the best music on the planet.” Realistically speaking, I agree with all three.
First off, what is Banda? Banda is a style of music popular in Mazatlán and the rest of Sinaloa, the state in Mexico from which it hales. It is growing in popularity elsewhere, but especially in the United States.
Banda style music dates back to the late 1800’s. It was imported from Germany when the Germans came over to invent Pacifico beer. You won’t find this fact validated by any reference checking, but I can assure you that the German’s greatest contributions were Banda and Pacifico. In fact, I’m drinking one now.
A Banda band is a band ranging size from around 8 to around 24 – give or take a few. A band consists of mainly brass or wind instruments like clarinets, trumpets, trombones and tubas. There are always drums – many of them. One drummer will usually play a snare drum and some cymbals (or cowbell, etc.), another will play tom-toms and still a third might play a bass drum with a cymbal on top. Because of these drum types, you will often see drummers standing when playing. String instruments are rare; as are keyboards. Normally there won’t be an accordion. Most often a Banda-like band with an accordion is actually a Norteño band. While some Norteño does come from Sinaloa, most comes from the more northern states of Mexico. Norteño can also thank the Germans (and the Czechs) for its beginnings. It is more of a rural sound, and I really like it too. You will hear Norteño music on Banda radio stations and see the videos on Banda video channels.
When it comes to the Banda “sound,” there are many. The most common are cumbias, rancheras and corridos. At the end of this post I will put links to a variety of videos so you can hear for yourself. If you think this is confusing, it is. These three types of music are not limited to Banda, but also played by Norteño bands. Why is this a problem? Well, people will say, what kind of music do you like? Do you like Banda? What kind? Norteño? How about Mariachi? Are you wondering why Pacifico is needed to get this all straightened out?
For purposes of clarity (and ease for the author), I will use Banda from this point on to mean Banda and Norteño.
Often Bandas will have more than one singer, making it difficult to hear a song on the radio or in a restaurant and know who you’re listening to. So, apparently to solve this problem, Bandas are known for singing out the name of their band (and home city or state) sometime during the song (usually at the beginning). I find this system very efficient and would highly recommend it to bands elsewhere in this world. Not only are there concurrent multiple singers, but as bands age, singers are replaced. Some Bandas have been around for many years. The most famous and best example is Banda El Recodo. The full name of the band is Banda Sinaloense el Recodo de Don Cruz Lizárraga. The band has been under the control and guidance of the Lizárraga family for over 70 years. Their current lead singer sounds very different than the last singer, but he is great and is very young and hopefully will be the primary voice of Banda El Recodo for years to come. Note the full name tells you who founded the band and where it is from, very efficient. You will often see Banda names with a founders name included or a city or state of origin. This helps designate a band if someone else in the country has a similar name and shows hometown pride. I like it!
Banda is not exclusively a male-dominated genre. There are some female Banda bands, but they have not had the successes associated with today’s well-known Banda bands.
Sometimes Banda sounds over-amplified and distorted. This is usually due to the tuba being played and used in a way that is uncommon to most music listeners. Other times it is due to the fact that the band will amplify one or more of the singers and put the tuba too near the microphone at which point it is over-amplified and distorted.
The more popular or more successful a Banda becomes, the better they become. They get better instruments, better musicians and uniforms. A good-looking Banda is quite a sight. Think about 18 guys in matching cowboy hats, brightly colored jackets, western shirts, matching pants and boots, all swaying to the beat of a song. Along with this, musicians swirl or pump their instruments in between stanzas. It is quite a sight to behold. You’ll get the picture in the videos.
Speaking of videos, Banda videos are fun! Often they tell a story, either about the song, or just about life in Sinaloa. Many are filmed in my wonderful city of Mazatlán. If you are ever in Mexico and have the opportunity to watch TV, check out a channel called BandaMax (Mazatlán cable, channel 11).
A Banda concert may at first glance look like controlled chaos, but it is very enjoyable and festive. But, there are a few things you should know. First, gentlemen need to wear their best jeans with stitching, a “western shirt” with glitzy design on back and/or front, your best cowboy hat and boots made from a dead animal. Ladies, anything tight that highlights cleavage will do great and really high heels. Banda concerts start late and go later. It is not uncommon to be going home at 3 or 4 in the morning. Beer is usually no more than 100 feet away at any given time. The event is very loud. I have been to a lot of rock concerts in the states, a Banda concert is louder.
Outside of a concert, how do you get to see a Banda? Acts just starting out will walk the beach or between restaurants looking for work on busy days. There are some restaurants and cantinas in town that are known for having Banda music. Some have a house band and others have different bands playing. Often, two will show up and it becomes a “Battle of the Bandas”. Bandas play little dance halls and cantinas. If they have a name or following, there will be signs advertising the Banda. For larger touring acts, concert venues are used. If you want to hire a Banda for a party, you can ask for cards of any Banda you see, or just go down to the area of town where they “hang out” and find one. If you’re in Mazatlán, just go east at the Fisherman’s Monument to the corner of Gutierrez Najera and Juan Carasco. You will find Banda bands looking for work hanging out there.
If you read this far, I’m impressed. What’s the bottom line on Banda? What you think of it when you first hear it will depend on how you hear it. If you hear a professionally recorded song by a mainstream Banda band, it will probably sound like Latin pop with horns. If, however, you are sitting in a cantina with your compadres and drinking a bucket of Pacificos, then you will think it is too loud, unorganized chaos. Remember in elementary school when Miss Carlson, the music teacher, arrived? She would open a big box of musical instruments, some shinier than others, but all capable of pleasing a child’s senses and wonderment and making a noise that, to a child under ten, passes for music. Remember Susie and Vicki would always fight over who got to play the triangle and whip it like mom’s mashed potatoes. Remember how Bobby always got the tambourine and ran around shaking it like a Hari Krishna? And remember how we would all just bang and tap and strum and hit and run to our own little personal beat? Remember that sound and how good it felt? Well, to many people, that’s what Banda sounds like the first time. The real problem with Banda is it needs room to breathe. Like good wine, the more it breathes, the better it gets. Keep listening and after a while, you will start to recognize the songs. They actually have a beat (and yes Dick Clark, you can dance to it) and the band is organized. In fact, the better the band, the better the organization.
If you decide you like a Banda song or a group and you want to buy the music, good luck. A mainstream act like Banda El Recodo can be found on line (iTunes, etc.) as well as some music by Julion Alvarez, Banda El Limon, and others who have had some success outside of Mexico. Beyond that, you are stuck. If a band gets lucky enough to get a record deal, they may have very limited, if not regional, distribution. I have spent weeks trying to find some CD’s and went so far as emailing the bands through their websites, Facebook pages and My Space pages. I still don’t have anything. I got some vague instructions on how one store might have something (not), I got a guy at a music store who was going to order them and call me (not). So, I have learned how to extract the audio from a YouTube video into MP3 format–problem solved–sort of. If you want to catch a Banda when they come to town, just check their websites and pages for a concert schedule, or watch for signs around town and their tour busses. How to get a ticket? I’ll save that for another time.
I created a playlist in my YouTube account with a whole bunch of videos. If you have about 45 minutes, you will see some of my favorite videos, many filmed in or about Mazatlán. You will:
·Learn a lot about typical Mexican life
·Enjoy a Banda remake of a 1970’s US pop classic.
·See Banda El Recodo live at a concert I attended
·See Grammy and Latin Grammy award winners
·Experience life on a Mazatlán beach during carnaval
·Learn about pigs, cheese, peanuts, cars, girls, beer…
·See that I snuck in one Mariachi song because it’s all about Mazatlán!