In the age of the iPod, feel the warmth of being sung to

What pleasure mariachi music inspires. What fear. The first from the sweet blare of trumpets, the second from your nervous view of traje de charro-ed musicians gliding toward you. What if I request a stupid song? you think. What do I tip?

In an era of downloaded music, this form of live entertainment is blossoming far beyond its rustic Mexican origins, with the West the new center of its universe. “We’re driving the next phase,” says Jeff Nevin, who directs Southwestern College’s mariachi program in Chula Vista, California. “People talk mariachi the way they talked jazz 60 years ago.” Some Las Vegas public schools teach it; Tucson hosts one of the world’s best mariachi conferences.

So, as the musicians strum their guitarrones, enjoy. Tip “anything you feel,” advises Alejandro Carrillo of San Diego’s Mariachi Del Mar. As for requests, Carrillo suggests “El Cascabel”: “Very happy, upbeat.”

Viva el mariachi

La Frontera Tucson International Mariachi Conference 2009 runs April 22–25 (events from $5, workshops from $100;

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