Rain was on the agenda for Monday, but the morning clouds were replaced with sunshine for the Échale Block Party under U.S. Highway 281.
This year’s all-female live music lineup, the first one in Échale history, gave the party an edge. The nationally renown Mariachi Las Alteñas and former lead singer of local band Girl in a Coma Nina Diaz performed to growing crowds throughout the afternoon, and local DJ group Chulita Vinyl Club kept the energy up with sets of cumbia and soul between performances.
Patrons began to stake out their spots at 4 p.m. in front of the stage in anticipation of the afternoon’s headliner, Latin Grammy-nominee Mariachi Flor De Toloache, “New York’s first and only all-women mariachi group.”
Now in its fifth year, Échale has drawn hundreds of locals and visitors alike to the Pearl’s underpass parking lot on Memorial Day and Labor Day each year for an afternoon of beer, food, art, and Latin music. The block party features an array of Latin musicians who often put a spin on traditional sounds, and whose careers are typically on the up and up. Many previous Échale performers, like Bomba Estereo and La Santa Cecilia, have grown to international acclaim.
Four young women clad in traditional mariachi uniforms took to the stage holding their weapons of choice: violin, trumpet, vihuela, and guitarrón. The lead vocalists sang an impressive, powerful vibrato that brought the crowd to applause almost immediately. They had the audience’s full attention from then on as they floated between time-honored classics like Vicente Fernandez’s Volver, Volver – which mariachi diehards in the crowd helped sing – and original songs in Spanish and English. Their style and R&B-like harmonies gave each song a unique flare. They even surprised the crowd with a rendition of Nirvana’s Come As You Are.
The more upbeat tunes drew smiling couples of all ages to the makeshift dance floor in front of the stage as onlookers clapped to the music. After a few songs, lead vocalists, Mireya Ramos and Shae Fiol, stopped for a quick grito lesson, encouraging to the crowd to join in and give their loudest shouts.
“Mine sounds a little like a cry that turns into a laugh,” Fiol said. Her cry garnered applause and a symphony of other gritos from the audience. Mariachi Flor de Toloache is from New York, but the band seemed right at home in San Antonio.
San Antonio resident Roxanne Gross appreciated the local feel of Échale, from the local art and food vendors to the music performances.
“I just love the Latin culture and the flare that we have here in San Antonio,” she said, adding that Mariachi Flor de Toloache’s performance was one of the highlights of the afternoon. “I was born and raised on mariachi music and (their performance) just has that authentic flare of San Antonio, it’s just really impressive.”