Porchfest band Maria the Mexican celebrates mariachi roots


Maria the Mexican played recently at the Voodoo Lounge, but they’ll unwind a little at Porchfest, where they’ll be among the performers playing on front porches of homes in the West Plaza neighborhood on June 14th.

Some band members at the city’s first Porchfest won’t have far to go – they live in the West Plaza neighborhood where it will happen.

Maria Elena Cuevas and Garrett Nordstrom of the Maria the Mexican band don’t have a porch to play on, but they are among 68 musicians so far registered to play on 30 porches at the June 14 Midtown music festival.

Cuevas, 26, and her sister, Tess Cuevas, 29, will probably play with Nordstrom in a scaled down version of the seven-piece band that calls its music Americana soul and Mexican blues – a hybrid of Mexican folklore and rock.

gma2The smaller version will focus more on its mariachi music roots, a story in itself.

The two sisters grew up in Topeka. In 1970, their grandmother formed one of the nation’s first all female mariachi bands.

The band prospered until a tragic 1981 gig. Grandmother Maria Teresa Alonzo Cuevas was severely injured and four of her seven band members killed in the Hyatt skywalk collapse.

After she recovered, she continued to play and to teach music, including teaching mariachi to her granddaughters. Meanwhile the girls also studied classical music. But when each turned about 11, Tess said, that was over. Then they started playing in grandmother’s band, Mariachi Estrella.

“It was just kind of understood that was what we would do,” she said.

Through high school, they would get in costume and makeup and play wedding parties, masses and fiestas in Topeka, Kansas City and Lawrence.

In college they left that band behind but still played music.

Tess moved to Chicago, where in May 2011, she got a gig to perform at Cinco de Mayo show at a Mexican restaurant.

gma1She called on her sister, who by then had met Nordstrom, a songwriter, guitarist and founder of a rock/funk band called Garrett Nordstrom Situation.

The sisters gave him a crash course in traditional mariachi. After the Chicago gig, he worked with them in blending and mixing it with other music.

Others joined in, including classically trained rock guitarist Jason Riley.

Their first album, “Moon Colored Jade,” was released in October.

Their grandmother, who died in December at 93, went to see them play last summer at Knucklehead’s and was pleased to see what they had done with mariachi, Maria said.

“One of the goals of Maria the Mexican is not to lose the tradition, our culture or our grandmother’s culture,” she said.

More about Porchfest

The PorchFestKC lineup has been announced with 70 musical groups booked to perform on more than 30 “stages” in Kansas City’s first porch festival. The festival, centered in the West Plaza neighborhood of Kansas City, will be June 14th, from 1 to 5 pm. Rain date is June 15th. A handful of local visual artists are also showcasing their art in pop-up galleries located throughout the festival area. Food vendors will be onsite.

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