IT’S A MAD, MAD SWIRL: The Mexican Heritage and Mariachi Festival fills San Jose with concerts and dance programs Sept. 18–29.

Mexican Heritage and Mariachi Festival

Sept. 18-29

Last year, famed L.A. producer Dan Guerrero came into the Mexican Heritage and Mariachi Festival like a whirlwind. Prompted by the festival’s artistic director, Linda Ronstadt, who gave him the job of creative producer, Guerrero more or less revolutionized how the festival presents traditional Mexican culture with his epic multimedia show Adelita! The Women of the Mexican Revolution.

Ronstadt, whom Guerrero calls “the smartest woman on the planet,” gave him the kernel of the subject matter, and Guerrero developed it into a sprawling theater and dance production set to the live music of two mariachi bands and vocalist Eugenia Leon. Mariachi may never be the same again.

Which is why it’s a lucky thing that Guerrero is back again this year, directing a follow-up called Once Upon a Time É A Mariachi Musical—which, if anything, is even bigger. “I need a lot of therapy,” jokes Guerrero, before admitting, “The truth is, I only do big. I’m not interested in small. And I work best under pressure. I thrive on it.”

This year, he’s doubled the number of mariachi bands, bringing back Mariachi Cobre and adding Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandex, and Guadalajara’s Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan. They’ll collaborate with Los Lobos’ Cesar Rosas, and pop legend Vicki Carr. “We wanted to celebrate the diversity of Mexican music,” says Guerrero.

This time, the multimedia piece is structured around three different Mexican folk legends, incorporating dance and what Guerrero calls “some incredible visuals.”

Once again, he’s entangled in “a million trillion details,” but considering the success of last year’s show and his endless search for an adrenaline fix, don’t be surprised to see Guerrero continuing to bring new perspectives to the festival. “I fell in love with San Jose last year, I really did,” he says.

The festival runs Sept. 18–29; Once Upon a Time A Mariachi Musical will be presented Sept. 25 at HP Pavilion at 7pm. Other festival events include Los Lobos performing with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and special guest Tito Puente Jr. on Sept. 23 at San Jose State Event Center at 8pm, the Outdoor Feria del Mariachi concert on Sept. 25 at the HP Pavilion Arena at 10am, and many more. For tickets, call 800.745.3000.

KEEP TO THE LEFT: Acoustic-soul singer Mara Hruby is one of the headliners at Left Coast Live in October.

Left Coast Live

Oct. 8

In its third year, Left Coast Live moves from the SoFA into the backstreets of downtown—namely, the alleys at Post and Lightson streets, where organizers will set up three stages this year. “We like the urban landscape of those two alleyways,” says founder Chris Esparza. The festival has smartly scaled back, presenting 25 bands—as compared to nearly double that number in 2010—and making LCL more manageable for both audiences and organizers. Headlining will be Campbell’s Limousines, supported by a mix of up-and-coming national acts and local bands, which have always been the core of Left Coast Live. New York indie rockers the Postelles, Afrobeat freestyler Chico Mann, Oakland acoustic-soul singer Mara Hruby, Santa Cruz’s Hurricane Roses and San Jose singer/songwriter Ben Henderson are just a few of the acts that will be in the mix. Says Esparza: “We’re going to be looking back at some of these artists in a couple of years going ‘We had them where?'”

Santana & George Lopez

Sept. 24 at Shoreline

There’s a fine line between bringing your music to new generations of fans and losing sight of what made your music great in the first place, but guitarist Carlos Santana has walked it for over 40 years without a misstep. From his first taste of fame at Woodstock in 1969, through the ’70s and ’80s hits of his band Santana to Live Aid to his collaborations with Lauryn Hill, Cee-Lo, Wyclef Jean and others, he’s always been cool, and never faded into a nostalgia act. Incredibly, his 1999 hit “Smooth” spent longer at the top of the charts (12 weeks at No. 1) than his signature song, 1970’s “Black Magic Woman.” Perhaps the secret is that there’s always been substance to his artistry. His music has always been informed by his spiritual quest, and he dared to dip into the fringes of the avant-garde when everyone around him warned it was commercial suicide. He’s joined on this “Divine Rascals Tour” by George Lopez.

The Lemonheads

Oct. 31 at the Avalon, Santa Clara

I’ve seen Evan Dando on nearly every tour he’s done since It’s a Shame About Ray, so I know a thing or two about the ins and outs of the Lemonheads. There have been assorted highs and lows: I’ve seen him momentarily storm offstage in a fit of confusion and disgust when he thought the audience wasn’t supporting his desire to tune between songs. And I’ve seen him nail an absolutely perfect, gorgeous set of his signature post-punk pop tunes—many, many times.

From his career heights in the early ’90s to the unfairly unloved Come On Feel the Lemonheads to his hazy rehab songs like “Hospital” to his dusty, Gram Parsons–style solo stuff to now, there’s something magnetic about Dando’s personality, something incredible about his songwriting gifts, and something slightly tragic about his path. Sure, every Lemonheads fan (and there are way, way more of us than people think) wants to smoke out with him, but I think we all secretly want to save him, too. If he plays his exquisite, deceptively sweet take on the Misfits’ “Skulls,” this will be the best Halloween show ever.

YOU GO FIRST: Jay-Z and Kanye West compare ego sizes Dec. 10 at HP Pavilion.

Jay-Z & KanYe West

Dec. 10 at HP Pavilion

So Enter the Throne, the much-hyped album bringing together Jay-Z and Kanye West (as the Throne) didn’t turn out to be as good as “Monster,” their collaboration on Kanye’s last record. Hell, it didn’t turn out to be as good as Kanye’s last record, period. But the most interesting thing that Jay-Z said about it is that it’s partly a response to rock music’s total dominance on the live-music stage.

He doesn’t want hip-hop to be locked away in the clubs, he wants it to be the biggest show in town. Which makes this tour with the two rap kings a must-see proposition: these are two guys who just unleashed a flood of braggadocio reaching levels unseen even in rap on their new album, and now they are actually feeling the pressure to back it up onstage. Not only that, but in light of Jay-Z’s revelations I can’t help but think that songs like “Lift Off” on Enter the Throne were basically created to be performed live.

Monterey Jazz Festival

Sept. 16–18, Monterey County Fairgrounds

India.Arie has never really done what people expected her to do, which is why it’s not entirely surprising to find her popping up on a jazz festival stage now and again. She was singing new-soul before new-soul was cool to sing, starting with her debut album in 2001, which came out of nowhere to be a double-platinum smash. When three hit records didn’t prove to be enough for her record company—which started fiddling with her songs, most famously adding Akon to the single “I Am Not My Hair,” Arie simply changed labels, declaring her next effort, 2009’s Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics, to be the first on which she felt truly artistically liberated. Her latest project Open Door was inspired by a trip to Israel in 2008, where she met world music producer Idan Raichel, who became her collaborator on the record and will join her Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Monterey Jazz Festival. This year’s festival also features Herbie Hancock (Sept. 17), Sonny Rollins (Sept. 18), Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band (Sept. 16), Huey Lewis and the News (Sept. 17), Joshua Redman (Sept. 17) and more.


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