Sounds of trumpets, guitars and violins filled the air as dancers in colorful dresses twirled on a small stage outside the HP Pavilion during a series of free performances Sunday as part of ¡VivaFest! -- also known as the 21st annual San Jose Mexican Heritage and Mariachi Festival.
"The music draws you in," said 17-year-old Anthony Gonzalez of San Jose, who has played the violin since third grade and was waiting for his turn to perform later Sunday with the local band Mariachi Cihualteco. "When we are playing, and people are dancing, we feel like we are doing a good job."
The afternoon event drew modest crowds to a closed-off block of Autumn Street. Thousands more were expected to pay $30 and higher for tickets to see better-known stars -- Lila Downs, Paquita la del Barrio and the bands Ozomatli and Mariachi Vargas -- perform inside the Pavilion during the festival's headline concert on Sunday night.
But more than a few people made their way to the front of two stages that were set up outside in the street, where they danced al fresco while a series of traditional Mariachi groups and other Latin musicians performed.
"The music was just energizing. It was inviting. You couldn't help but dance," said Arcelia Ponce, 43, who didn't wait for her boyfriend to catch up with her in the crowd.
Instead, she grabbed the hand of her niece, 25-year-old Celeste Fuller-Ponce, and the
Sunday was Mexico's Independence Day and a big day for the festival, which actually extends over several weeks. The celebration began with a special Mariachi Mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral, before the afternoon and evening concerts. Festival events on other days included a film series last week at the Tech Museum, several upcoming food-related programs, "history walks" through downtown San Jose and a Dia de los Muertos Symphony Concert at Davies Hall in San Francisco on Nov. 3.
The festival is intended to celebrate the diversity of Hispanic culture and the broader "kaleidoscope of people from all over the world" who live in Silicon Valley, according to CEO Marcela Davison Aviles of the San Jose-based Mexican Heritage Corporation, which organized the events.
It's also a fundraiser; proceeds from Sunday night's concert and other ticketed events help pay for the foundation's other educational and cultural programs.
Several people among the hundreds who turned out Sunday afternoon said the festival crowd seemed smaller than in previous years, when thousands came to free performances at the larger and more centrally located Plaza de Cesar Chavez.
But the size of the turnout was fine with Jose Rodriguez, 64, who brought lawn chairs and an umbrella to shield himself and his wife from the afternoon sun. He described the crowd as relaxed and family-friendly.
"I like the traditional music, which we don't get to hear very often," said Rodriguez, who is originally from Mexico.
The anniversary of Mexico independence made it a good day to enjoy the music and peruse the handicrafts, paintings and clothing for sale in booths at the festival, said Alma Hernandez, a 29-year-old pharmacy technician from Morgan Hill. "It's nice to have a free concert that recognizes our cultural history," she said.
More information and a schedule of additional festival events can be found at www.vivafest.org