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St. Patrick's Day in Utah: Irish music with a hint of Mexico

Published March 15, 2013 8:19 am

Music • Mariachi El Bronx performing this weekend, in addition to Irish rock bands Young Dubliners and Flogging Molly.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It makes sense that Irish-influenced rock bands Flogging Molly and Young Dubliners will perform in Utah this weekend. After all, St. Patrick's Day is Sunday, March 17.

But putting the Mexican-inspired band Mariachi El Bronx on the Irish weekend bill — opening for Flogging Molly Friday at Saltair — requires some explanation.

First, the band is a side project of L.A. punk band The Bronx. Members dress as charros and play traditional Mexican folk music.

Flogging Molly's mandolin player Bob Schmidt said including mariachi isn't as disconnected as it might seem — his father's ancestors came from Mexico, while his mother's lineage is Irish. Including Mariachi El Bronx on the tour is his way of adding the unexpected.

"I always appreciated rock bands that went off the beaten track, like Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and the Beatles," he said.

Young Dubliners, who perform Saturday, March 16, at The Depot, do not have a mariachi band opening for them — that honor goes to the Utah Irish band Swagger. But Dubliners frontman Keith Roberts sees similarities between his band — which plays rock music with Irish influences and instrumentation — and Mariachi El Bronx.

"Bands like Los Lobos and Ozomatli did their [take] on traditional music like we did," Roberts said.

In their hungrier days, Young Dubliners would even take advantage of the prevalence of Cinco de Mayo parties in Southern California to beef up their bottom line once St. Patrick's Day celebrations died down. "We would try to cash in on every holiday," Roberts said. "We would do whole sets of bastardizing 'La Bamba.' We would even dress up with sombreros."

America is a melting pot, Roberts said, and while St. Patrick's Day celebrates Irish culture and music, it is also a day for people to appreciate and value the traditions of other cultures.

Mexican connection • So, what is Mariachi El Bronx?

Matt Caughthran, frontman of The Bronx, created the band in his native Log Angeles in 2002. In a phone interview, Caughthran said he grew up immersed in Mexican culture, but as he entered his teens and early 20s, he gravitated to punk rock.

After several years of nonstop touring and recording, "The Bronx needed a little break," he said.

While on hiatus, Caughthran decided to do perhaps the most punk-rock thing of all — record mariachi music.

"I had been writing punk for a long time, and there's a familiarity," he said. The music he wrote reflected and respected the heritage of Mexican folk music, while adding English lyrics and a decided bite.

While Caughthran and his bandmates were seasoned musicians, they knew they needed help. They met up with producer and engineer John Avila, a Mexican-American and part of the genre-bending band Oingo Boingo from 1984 to 1995.

The debut, self-titled album for Mariachi El Bronx was recorded in the spring of 2008, with Avila (who played the charango) bringing in Mexican-American musicians to supplement the sound. One of those who came to help was Los Lobos' David Hidalgo, who played accordion, tresillos and guitar. Bronx member Joby J. Ford learned how to play the vihuela, jarana, ukulele and requinto romántico, and Vincent Hidalgo learned to play the guitarrón, jarana and requinto romántico.

The album was a resounding success when it was released in 2009, and so was the 2011 follow-up, also called "Mariachi El Bronx."

Mariachi El Bronx has gained more attention than The Bronx, Caughthran acknowledged. "We get a lot more offers as Mariachi El Bronx."

The last time Foo Fighters embarked on tour — which included a 2011 stop in Salt Lake City — they brought Mariachi El Bronx along as openers.

But that doesn't mean The Bronx aren't alive and well — and worth seeing.

The entire month of February, The Bronx played 22 shows in 27 days in support of the band's fourth album, "IV," released on Feb. 5.

It will open for Bad Religion on April 11 at In The Venue.



Twitter: @davidburger —

Mexican eyes are smilin'

Flogging Molly with Mariachi El Bronx and Donots

When • Friday, March 15, at 8 p.m.

Where • Saltair, 12408 W. Saltair Drive, Magna

Tickets • $25 at SmithsTix

Young Dubliners with Swagger

When • Saturday, March 16, at 8 p.m.

Where • The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $22 in advance, $25 day of, at SmithsTix

Bad Religion with The Bronx

When • Thursday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m.

Where • In The Venue, 579 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $25 in advance, $30 day of, at SmithsTix