Merriment, Mole & Mariachi

Story and photos by Hilltromper staff

Sept. 24, 2014—The 2nd annual Mole and Mariachi Festival brought throngs of revelers to the Mission Adobe State Historic Park on Saturday in a celebration of the Mexican culture that shaped California. An estimated 2,000 people attended the day-long event, which featured folkloric dancing, two mariachi bands, mole from 9 local kitchens, crafts and a lot of high spirits.

In the corner of the plaza, near the stairs leading down to Mission Street, kids chased the giant bubbles made by a parks volunteer dipping a loop into soapy water. Under the shade of the plaza's enormous avocado tree, people lined up for microbrews from Discretion Brewing, icy chavelas made with tomato juice and Corona and Mission Hill ice cream, while the aroma of roasted garbanzos from Hernandez Produce, fish tacos from Garcia's and platters of tacos from Sazon Mexicano floated over the crowd. On the parquet dance floor, assembled that morning and surrounded by benches and hay bales, the dancers of Estrellas de Esperanza stomped and twirled and the giant Mojiganga puppets entertained the crowd as Mariachi Sonora accompanied. The dancers in the crowd went up on stage and got into the act, too.

A little later, during a rousing singalong rendition of "Cielito Lindo" by Mariachi Gilroy, one guy got really inspired and was invited onstage. You can see him in the first part of the clip standing a little in front of the band. Later he gets right in there with them:

One of the highlights of Mole and Mariachis, of course, is the mole. This year nine contestants joined the competition: El Jardin, El Chipotle, Lidia’s Taqueria, El Chino, Discretion Brewing, My Mom’s Mole, Viva’s and Maya, plus an individual, Gloria Yslava (sponsored by Plaza Lane Optometry). Lidia's and Maya ran out of mole—surely a good sign—so they were unable to submit samples to the Judges Choice competition. All of the moles were pretty wonderful, but El Jardin seems to have the right touch; this year the Live Oak restaurant won both Judges Award and People's Choice. (Last year El Jardin also won People's Choice, while Manuel's poblano mole won the Judges Award).

This year's Mole and Mariachi Festival not only brought in more festivalgoers than last year (organizers estimated the crowd at 2,000 compared with 1,200 in 2013), it was also a huge volunteer effort. Some 100 volunteers, many of them regular supporters of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, which organized the festival, arrived early Saturday morning to set up the dance floor, decorate the Mission Adobe and the booths with paper flowers, arrange hay bales brought by Santa Cruz Carriage Company (whose draft horses live at Wilder Ranch State Park), fill coolers with ice and do every other little thing.

This year's festival, as with last year's, was a benefit for Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks' efforts to revitalize the Mission Adobe, which was put on a statewide closure list in 2011 and left there until Friends stepped in in 2012 to fund operations under a three-year agreement with the state.

Read about the 2013 Mole and Mariachi Festival