“That was powerful,” Amy McIntyre said as we stood up and walked, on air, out of the auditorium. My feeling exactly.
My music-loving friend and I had just experienced Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, a fierce all-female band from the hot part of California.
Their violins sang. Their silver trumpets gleamed. The small, medium and extra-large guitars thrummed and the women lifted their voices, filling the Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center, and my heart, with gloriousness.
We all have sounds that take us back to early childhood, and for me, Mexican mariachi is a rapid-transit ticket to the Golden State of my birth. When mariachis play live, I feel it inside my chest.
I remember being serenaded by a line of sombrero-wearing musicians in a sunbaked plaza. I remember attending a quinceañera, a celebration of a 15-year-old girl’s passage to adulthood, where a supremely dignified mariachi ensemble played for us as we entered the church. Those were all-male groups, mind you.
So seeing these women making their music in Port Angeles? My eyes were big as saucers.
Nearly every member of Mariachi Reyna took a solo turn at the front of the stage, clasping the microphone in her hand and singing directly to us in Spanish. Now, I don’t understand everything in the songs. Yet the emotion, the human story there, is clear as can be. Not comprehending all of the lyrics frees the listener to feel the music deeply, and in a way that transcends borders.
The Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts brought this authentic mariachi band from Los Angeles to Port Angeles — a place the women had never been before. But we recognized them, si señor.
At the April 27 concert, I saw people in the front row, basking in the orchestral sound, dancing in and out of their seats as though they had come home to a party in the living room. This was a Wednesday night in the middle of another trying work week, and I’m pretty sure we all forgot about everything except the Reynas and their songs.
I’m writing this, my last column for the Peninsula Daily News, about the Juan de Fuca Foundation for two reasons.
First, the foundation brings the art of the world to this remote spot. Over my 16 years on the North Olympic Peninsula, thanks to JFFA, I’ve had the chance to experience music and dance from beyond, far beyond, the lines on any map.
Second, the annual Juan de Fuca Festival is 23 days from now. This in-person celebration, on four stages in and around Port Angeles’ Vern Burton Community Center, brings dozens of performing acts to town, many of which I’ve never heard of — which is the point.
The word “discovery” could well be added to the fest’s name, because that’s what happens in each of the performance spaces.
I’ll never forget stumbling upon Trio Voronezh — what? — as they played a joyous set on the Chamber Stage. The band members grew up in Voronezh, Russia, and now travel the world; never in a million years would I have sought them out. There they were, dishing out music at breakneck speed, smiling with the exhilaration at the rapt audience.
This year, the May 27-29 festival stirs together rock, folk, blues, soul, country, bluegrass and genre-defying bands, plus Ballet Victoria and the New Iberians, a zydeco outfit.
One can have a delicious time exploring JFFA.org, which provides links to the performers’ websites.
And yes, tickets to the festival are not cheap anymore.
To my mind, my thirsty-for-live-music mind, the joy of discovery is well worth it.