A Treasure of the Sierra Madre
by Bob Brooke
For ten days at the end of January, the sleepy town of Alamos, Sonora,
wakes up to the lilting strains of guitars, the pounding rhythms of rock
bands and the echoing arias of opera stars, all part of the Dr. Alfonso
Ortiz Tirado Cultural Festival. Visitors come to listen to music, view
and buy the works of local and national artists, and eat good food.
During the Festival, Alamos becomes a blur of
high-brow events and artistic festivities that draw an eclectic crowd,
mostly art lovers from Mexico City, the United States and Canada. By its
end, some 25,000 people have viewed exhibits of paintings, photography
and folk art from throughout Mexico, and enjoyed the performances of
soloists, pianists, choirs and classical musicians.
Alamos, Mexico’s northernmost colonial town,
is tucked into the foothills of the Sierra Madre seven hours southeast
of Nogales, Arizona. Founded by silver barons in the 1685, it’s filled
with mansions built by wealthy mine owners, ten of which become
impromptu art galleries, as their owners host art exhibits in their
The Festival grew from a single evening of fine
arts staged by local residents in 1985, featuring a literary reading, a
local vocalist and piano music. They held that first program on January
24, the birthday of Dr. Alfonso Ortiz Tirado, a beloved Alamos physician
and tenor, who died in the 1950s leaving the town a legacy of
philanthropy and music. The success of that night has grown into the Dr.
Alfonso Ortiz Tirado Festival, sponsored by the Sonora state government,
the National Institute of Fine Arts and the governments of Alamos and
three nearby cities.
All the activities take place within walking
distance of the central plaza. On the sidewalk edging the plaza vendors
sell paintings, woodcut prints, ironwood carvings, carved tortilla
paddles, embroidered clothing, and semi-precious stones, along with
home-baked cakes, traditional candies and all sorts of Mexican snack
The front steps of the parish church, La
Parroquia de la Purisma Concepcion, completed in 1786, become a stage
for musical groups performing everything from traditional ranchero music
to rock. The two-story, brick 19th- century Palaccio de
Gobierno, featuring a huge courtyard bordered on one side by a stage,
becomes the setting for operatic and classical concerts.
Art and music workshops, for children and
adults, as well as presentations of popular contemporary music have been
added to the Festival in recent years so those who don’t attend the
classical concerts can also participate.
Although events take place throughout the day,
the festival comes alive at night as people fill the streets around the
plaza to eat, dance and await the roving serenade known as the
callejoneada. About 9:30 p.m., 23 estudiantinas, or student troubadours,
dressed in colorful maroon and gold Renaissance garb, gather at the
steps of the Palaccio de Gobierno, accompanied by a donkey bearing casks
of Padre Kino wine. The crowd follow the youths through the streets
dancing, singing and drinking wine. The perfect end to a day of art,
music, and fun.