Traditions in Music City
Plaza Mariachi: Come for The Music, Stay for The Circus
Nolensville Pike, south of downtown Nashville, is known for being one of the most multicultural parts of town. Mexican taquerias are next door to Indian markets, Middle Eastern restaurants, and Korean churches. There are ten international markets in a three mile stretch alone. Back in 2016, Nashvillians in this area were wild with curiosity as to what an abandoned Kroger building on Nolensville Pike would become when construction began on the site. The Plaza Mariachi opened on May 12th, 2017 to great fanfare, and it has grown to be wildly popular. Looking at it from the outside, one might walk in expecting a
typical shopping mall. But when you step inside, you are instantly transported to a Latin American market with enticing food stalls around a central food court, and little streets lined with shops carrying everything from folk crafts to the most Gorgeous quinceañera dresses imaginable.
The tactile design of the space is remarkable, with different business fronts sporting tile, thatching, adobe, stained glass, and mosaic, many with flowering vines gracefully overflowing from the roofs. While the space feels like an open air plaza, it is in fact the renovated Kroger; the airiness is provided by three enormous skylights that give the food court a sun dappled feeling. Depending on the time of day and day of the week, your journey might be accompanied by a flamenco guitar, violin, or a full Mariachi band, who perform on a stage while people wander by eating paletas (Mexican popsicles that shame all other popsicles), street corn, or all other manner of tasty treats.+
A recent visit to the Plaza Mariachi allowed this reviewer to take a look at the breathtaking new mural of Frida Kahlo on the side of the building, and nab a pico de gallo paleta (it might sound odd, but was utterly delicious) before settling in to enjoy some music. The Gustavo Guerreo trio, featuring Gustavo Guerreo on guitar and vocals, backed by drums, sax, and flute, provided a heady counterpoint to the paleta. The band was tight, the energy on stage was contagious, and Guerreo’s charisma and supple voice charmed the audience with his original songs- a stylistic blend of Latin jazz and folk music- and the occasional Beatles cover in equal measure.
Speaking to Guerreo after his set was a treat, as he is a young man with the skill of instantly putting one at ease, and making it seem as though you have been friends for years. Guerreo hails from Honduras, but spent much of his later childhood and teen years in North Carolina. He is a passionate advocate for DREAMers; his bilingual cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” recorded with Youtube sensation Alex G., was chosen by the Democratic National Committee to be part of their fight for the DREAM Act in 2017. It’s a beautiful video, you can check it out here:
Guerreo’s set ended, and two women in sparkly unitards from the Nashville circus group Beyond Wings took to the air, in a very literal sense. Plaza Mariachi has two sets of aerial silks installed in the center of the food court, and these ladies performed a breathtaking routine 30 feet above the diner’s heads. One of the women, Grace Good, is also an accomplished hula hooper and performed a dynamite hooping routine, finishing with seven hoops undulating around
Live music can be heard daily, and circus performances are weekend staples, but the fun doesn’t end there. The Plaza Mariachi boasts salsa dance nights, Mexican folk dancing, karaoke, and trivia nights. Sometimes it transforms into a latin dance club, other times a wrestling ring is installed and patrons can enjoy Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) while they eat. Not to mention there are slamming lattes and equally slamming margaritas available, depending on your mood.
Scanning the crowd, one gets the impression that the Plaza Mariachi is part Hispanic community center, part Hispanic ambassador ship to Nashville. The majority of the patrons are indeed of Latinx origin or extraction, but the atmosphere is welcoming to those from outside of that community. Families, couples, groups of “girls night out-ers,” and highschool kids that primarily hang out at the arcade (did we forget to mention the arcade? Yes. They have one.) co-exist peacefully and pleasantly. Every color of humanity is represented, because who in their right mind doesn’t appreciate delicious food, beautiful music, and circus babes in an idyllic setting?
For more information about the Plaza Mariachi, please visit https://plazamariachi.com/ . To hear more of Gustavo Guerreo’s story and music, please visit https://www.gustavoguerreromusic.com/ , and subscribe to his YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/GustavoGuerreroMusic . To learn more about the Beyond Wings circus company, please visit https://beyondwings.webs.com/ .
Sarah Wilfong Joblin is a fiddle player, session string arranger, and Suzuki certified violin educator based in Nashville, TN. She is currently pursuing her Master’s of Music in Violin Performance at Middle Tennessee State University. Sarah has released two solo albums of original and traditional fiddle music, and her playing and arrangements have been featured on numerous other recordings, the most notable being a recently discovered and posthumously released track, “The Way is Love”, by Roy Orbison on the 25th anniversary re-release of his iconic album Mystery Girl. When not being involved in all things musical, Sarah spends her time chasing after her two young daughters, and watching Star Trek reruns.