On Sunday, the Pearl will host its third annual Mariachi Lab event in celebration of the traditional Mexican music style popular in San Antonio.

The idea behind the event – which will offer activities for kids provided by the Mexican Cultural Institute, an instrument showcase from the San Antonio Mariachi Academy, and a series of performances by student mariachi groups and seasoned veterans – is as open-hearted as the music.

“We want to get people to fall in love with mariachi,” said Martha Martinez, the creative director of Mariachi Lab, who works with the Pearl on cultural programming.

“We want to continue to nurture the practice and appreciation of this beautiful art form so it continues for generations to come.”

Martinez noted that in planning Mariachi Lab, as well as other events like the Pearl’s Día de los Muertos festivities, authenticity and cultural consciousness are important touchstones of her approach.

“It’s all about giving an authentic voice to anything we put out in the community,” she said. “It is important to be responsible with our culture and to not talk at the community, but listen to it.”

“We are lucky to be in a city that has a tradition of, at all levels, nurturing this wonderful genre.”

Events will kick off early to allow farmers market-goers a chance to get in on the action. Performers from Guadalupe Mariachi Academy and Campanas de America will perform at 10:30 a.m. and noon, respectively.

The main event begins at 4 p.m. and will feature the youth showcase and the main showcase occurring simultaneously, the latter in Pearl Park. 

This year’s lineup will spotlight performers from youth mariachi groups San Antonio Mariachi Academy, Mariachi Aguila from Brackenridge High School, Mariachi Estrellas de Oro from Burbank High School, Mariachi Leyenda de Oro from Southwest Legacy High School, and Harlandale District Mariachi.

The main showcase, meanwhile, will feature Mariachi Mexica, Mariachi Toritos de San Antonio, Mariachi Las Alteñas, and Stephanie Urbina Jones & the Honky Tonk Mariachi with special guest Juan Ortiz of Campanas de America.

Jones, who will be headlining, is originally from San Antonio, but now is based in Nashville. Martinez said that Jones’ mixing of country and mariachi music makes her especially noteworthy. 

“She is doing something that is hardly, if ever, seen,” Martinez said.

In tapping Jones and her band to headline, Martinez indicated that the intention was to highlight the fact that “mariachi is endlessly adaptable to fusion and blending with other styles and traditions.”

Jones said that her grandmother, who has long been a source of inspiration for her, once referred to her music as “country music with chili peppers.”

Jones wrote the title track to Lorrie Morgan’s 1997 album Shakin’ Things Up and scored a number one hit on the Billboard Hot Country Chart for Craig Wayne Boyd’s rendition of “My Baby’s Got A Smile On Her Face,” a song she co-wrote. She also has released seven of her own albums.

Her latest album Tularosa has helped her gain traction in Nashville and beyond. Jones was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry – one of the highest honors for country artists – last October and brought a full mariachi group with her, becoming the first female artist to ever hit the Opry stage with a mariachi ensemble. 

“San Antonio is my home and my heart,” said Jones, who grew up on the West Side, where her family barbecues were soundtracked by country music, as well as mariachi and Tejano.

“As far back as I can remember, mariachi was a part of every major event, every special life moment,” she said. “Nothing makes me laugh or cry like mariachi music – it reminds me who I am.”

With her Mariachi Lab set Jones said she will look to honor both mariachi and country traditions.

While she knows that purists among fans of both genres might take issue with her fusion style, she isn’t too concerned. She sees her work as her calling.

“The magic of my kind of music is that it can open up peoples’ hearts and minds to mariachi, even if they have never encountered it or never thought much about it.”

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.