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Adams City High Mariachi Aguilas
La Voz photo by Daryl Padilla

By Joshua Pilkington

Adams City High School’s once prominent mariachi program looks to rebound

The Adams City High School Mariachi program was at one time the face of high school music programs in Commerce City. Performing under the name Mariachi Aguilas in authentic mariachi garb at high-end venues throughout the state, the mariachi program built a name and a reputation among high school music students, teachers and fans of mariachi.

Then something happened

Over time the program dwindled both in size and financial backing, losing its luster in the process.

“The program has gone through some ups and downs over the last 10 years,” said Advanced Mariachi Teacher and Dean of Adams City High School Rudy Bustos, himself a graduate of Adams City and active member of the community. “They used to operate with a significant budget and by significant I mean five figures. Now its closer to four figures and the low end of four figures.”

Money doesn’t always make the musician, but from a performance standpoint – especially in the mariachi world – the proper attire and resplendence can turn another high school band performance into an event.

Though he does not have a background in mariachi what Bustos does know is performing. As a member of the prominent Rudy Bustos Band, he has played hundreds of venues over the years and worked alongside a variety of talented musicians and performers. According to Bustos, it’s the performance aspect of the program he has been able to enliven since volunteering to take over the program.

“I’m a strong performer and have a lot of experience in the music business,” Bustos said of his thought process when first offering to volunteer. “I just couldn’t see the kids playing the simple stuff they were doing and I knew we could move further.”

What Bustos immediately brought to the program were his colleagues. Other musicians he knows or has played with came to the school and did workshops with the mariachi students to help them hone their skills.

One of the founders of Mariachi Los Correcaminos – the mariachi outfit that performs out of Metropolitan State College of Denver –and a graduate of Adams City High School, Isahar Mendez Flores visited the school and did a workshop with the students. Following her were other local performers.

“I was able to bring professionals from the community in to workshop with the kids and we got better,” Bustos said.

Outside of musical challenges is the challenge of getting more students involved. At one time a program rife with talent, Mariachi Aguilas is now a difficult program to fill.

“There used to be a lot of kids involved in it and I’m dealing right now with maybe a dozen,” Bustos said. “The program has to be brought back to the luster and prominence it had at one time.”

Luster and prominence, however, carry a price tag

“The trajes that we’re using right now were purchased 12 or 13 years ago and they’re in disrepair,” Bustos said of the traditional mariachi outfits. “We’re making do with what we have right now and I have had some commitments from people in the community that they will purchase new trajes for the kids. That’s part of the presentation.”

Along with the mariachi suits, Bustos added that their traditional mariachi instruments such as the guitarron and vihuela are in less-than-optimal conditions.

“And that’s what happens when the program is neglected,” he said. “[The district] needs to pump more money into those situations.”

The community can also assist in the revival of the program through donations and by attending performances, Bustos added.

Adams City High School Mariachi Aguilas will hold its first performance on September 15 at Kemp Elementary School on 6775 Oneida St. in Commerce City. That is just the beginning for Bustos.

“Their culture is out there,” he said of the students’ ties to mariachi. “It just needs to be promoted and celebrated. When they are reaching their audience and touching them at the height of their own cultural experiences, that’s your payback.”

Editors Note:

Please be aware that the concert mentioned in the article above is NOT open to public. This performance is for faculty and parents only. We apologize for any confusion.





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