The main concourse felt empty and quiet 20 minutes before Banda MS took the rotating stage at Reliant Stadium on Sunday evening.
Having never been to a Go Tejano Day before, I asked the clerk at the beer stand where all of the notoriously rowdy crowd was this year. He poured my beer, scratched his head, and said "Maybe the weather's keeping everyone away, but I stocked my station with more Bud Light than normal and I'm just as surprised as you."
This seemed odd, but I couldn't disagree.
And then I tried to walk to my seat. There they were. All 75,224 gleeful Go Tejano Day attendees — the largest rodeo crowd this year (besting Maroon 5 by 10 people) and the fourth largest crowd in rodeo history.
People were gathered all the way down the steps, jamming the aisles, chatting excitedly in their seats, and dancing around the standing room only area. And all of this just during the calf scramble.
I could barely get through the entryway to section 106. People were gathered all the way down the steps, jamming the aisles, chatting excitedly in their seats, and dancing around the standing room only area.
And all of this just during the calf scramble.
Peering down over the sea of straw and wool Tony Lama hats, I noticed the stage set with bongos and brass stands. This was going to be a wild show!
Newcomers soon learn that the show consists of two acts that bookend an intense mariachi competition.
Banda MS opened the show with a traditional set of banda music, a brass-heavy genre consisting mostly of corridos and rancheras. Dressed in festive purple suits and snazzy white boots, the band played songs full of infectious rhythm, with synchronized dancing and many, many horns that ricocheted to the point of absurdity by the cavernous acoustics in the massive stadium. Still, that didn't bother fans who never missed a line of each song — even when singer Oswaldo Silvas would ask the crowd to fill in the blanks.
Grupo Pesado, on the other hand, played a more norteno-centric set, and was the clear audience favorite. A three-time Go Tejano Day regular, Pesado played songs full of accordion and crooning from singer and accordianist Beto Zapata. Throughout the show, the guys in the band entertained the large crowd with popular ballads from their long career. Ladies swooned and men swigged their beers. Children shouted "Pesado! Pesado!"
The evening's highlight
The highlight of the evening, however, was the mariachi competition. As Banda MS exited the stage with tubas, trombones, and the toes of cockroach-killer boots all jutting out of four large golf carts, attention was directed to the south end zone for a passionate and intense mariachi-off for the honors of hoisting an outlandishly large trophy and the coveted title of "Mariachi Maravilloso." (OK, I made that last bit up.)
After much back and forth that consisted of two damn fine mariachi bands giving it all they had for the crow, Mariachi Las Mariposas from McAllen triumphed over Dallas's own Mariachi Michoacan de Mario Fernandez in audience applause. Maybe next year, Mario. Personally, I liked Michoacan the best, but then again I also liked Banda MS over Latin Grammy-winning Pesado. Call me a contrarian if you must.
Speaking of next year, I hope to see much more of Go Tejano Day in 2015. The day is clearly one of RodeoHouston's most underrated concerts.
Banda MS Setlist:
Mi Razon de Ser
Mi Mayor Anhelo (si hay tiempo)
Cuando Estas De Buenas
Cielo Azul Cielo Nublado
A Chillar A Otra Parte
Aca Entre Nos
Mi Primer Amor
------otra otra otra otra otra------
Ojala Que Te Mueras