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by Bob Brooke

Alamos CallejoneadaFor 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 ends, 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 central courtyards.

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 food.

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., twenty-three 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.

This article was first published in Hispanic Magazine.

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