The Rodeo dust has settled, and the stadium lights go out. Spotlights then beam down to a specially-built corner stage on the stadium floor where the two last-standing mariachi groups wait, ready to compete in the Go Tejano Committee’s 31st Annual Mariachi Invitational finals. Lights gleam from decorations on their matching Charro suits as a note rings out, and the first of two three-minute final performances get underway. 

The journey to this point began with the invitation of five professional mariachi groups from across the nation to compete in the annual three-stage event—two preliminary rounds and the finals. This year’s 2023 invitational contenders were Mariachi Imperial de America, Mariachi Lune Llena, and Mariachi Nuevo Imperio – all from Houston, Texas; Mariachi Plata from Las Vegas, Nevada; and Mariachi Jaliciense from Seguin, Texas. 

The first round, known as the Showcase, is a ticketed event held at the Arena Theatre, an off-site concert venue the Saturday before Go Tejano Day, a special day during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ that celebrates Hispanic heritage. The second round, or semifinals, are held early Sunday afternoon in The Hideout at NRG Park on Go Tejano Day, and the finals are held Sunday evening inside NRG Stadium.

The preliminary events feature individual performances from all five competing mariachi groups and include special guest performances from Folklorico dancers, local high school mariachi band members as well as an ensemble performance. History of Go Tejano Day and the Go Tejano Committee are presented throughout the event as well as their scholarship information.

During the preliminary rounds, each mariachi group is allotted up to 10 minutes to present their selection of songs using whatever mix of singers and instrumentation these multi-talented musicians, many of whom play multiple instruments and/or sing, desire. Competitors are then judged by an accomplished group of three mariachi professionals and educators.

After the semifinals, the third, fourth and fifth-place teams are announced and awarded trophies and cash prizes based on their group’s two-day combined scores. The scores factor in overall musicianship, creativity and showmanship. The top two teams—Mariachi Jaliciense from Seguin, Texas and Mariachi Imperial de America from Houston, Texas—advance to the finals in NRG Stadium. These bands then competed for their chance at Rodeo fame between the nightly Rodeo line-up and Go Tejano Day concert in front of the more than 70,000 RODEOHOUSTON® attendees for the invitational’s grand prize trophy and cash award.

According to singer-songwriter and judge Vanessa Del Fierro, the top two teams stood out because of their entertaining live performance, unique showmanship and excellent musicality. Judge Sean Rodriguez noted that the key strengths of the finalists were song selections that demonstrated superb musicianship and an ability to involve the crowd.

This year, the first-place trophy was awarded with thundering applause to the Houston-based Mariachi Imperial de America, making this fourth-generation band two-time champions of the Rodeo’s Go Tejano Committee Mariachi Invitational. The audience sang along with the lively and emotional medley of songs during the winning group’s final number, reaching a crescendo of cheers during the accordion solo.

Directly following the announcement as winners, Mariachi Imperial de America launched into an encore performance that concluded with the musicians holding out a long note – arms and instruments raised – perfectly capturing this event’s energy and celebratory spirit.

“It means a lot to win, but more important is having a great time together,” said Mariachi Imperial de America Director Jose Longoria. He also noted his experience highlights: being on stage before the Rodeo crowd and connecting with the audience through their performance.

Go Tejano Day is much more than just the swirl of color, flourish of dance and sounds of the Mariachi Invitational’s premiere folk music. Money raised by the Go Tejano Committee’s Mariachi Invitational ticketed events are awarded as college scholarships.

Go Tejano Day and the Go Tejano Committee Mariachi Invitational is a celebration of the history and rich tradition of Texas’ Hispanic heritage, along with cultural preservation and promotion of higher education. 

“Mariachi music is beautiful music rooted in tradition and continues to evolve. I urge the readers of this magazine to support local mariachi musicians wherever they are,” said Rodriguez.