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Mariachi Vargas Brings Centuries-Old Mariachi Tradition to Festival at Orpheum Theatre

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In the past 119 years, empires have risen, dynasties have fallen, and wars have been fought. Through all that time, Mariachi Vargas has existed, spreading the traditional folk music of Mexico to nearly every corner of the world.

And now, on Saturday, November 12, the ensemble will come to Phoenix's Orpheum Theatre.

Founded in 1897, the ensemble has remained a tightly knit organization. Founder Gaspar Vargas directed the group until 1950, when Ruben Fuentes took over. Twenty-five years later, Don Jose "Pepe" Martínez stepped in, and after his death a few years ago, Pepe Martinez, Jr., took the reigns.

Part of the performance will honor Pepe Martinez's three-decade tenure as leader of the group, says Armando Zamora II of Megaza Live, who is promoting the event.

"When you think of mariachi, you ultimately think of Mariachi Vargas," Zamora says. "It's the name everybody knows and the name everybody wants to be like."

The festivities begin at 6 p.m. outside the Orpheum with a performance from Mesa-based Mariachi Los Caballeros and Tucson-based Ballet Folklorico Tapatio, a Mexican dance ensemble from Tucson. Things then move inside, where Monica Trevino and Tucson-based Mariachi Sonido de Mexico will warm up the crowd before the main act.

The event will be hosted by Jose Armando Ronstadt, a media personality known in the mariachi world as a preeminent emcee and host, Zamora says.

Mariachi Vargas used to play a similar festival at what is now Talking Stick Resort Arena, according to Zamora. He attended one of those shows as a child, and when that tradition tapered off several years ago, he wanted to bring the group back to Phoenix. He hopes that he can eventually grow the event so it can return to the arena.

"This has been in my mind to do for a few years, and we finally pulled the trigger," Zamora says.

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