Peace and Barbacoa in Paracho: When a Guitar Town Goes for a World Record

A few weeks ago a town in Michoacán tried to do what only the city of Wroclaw, Poland had done before: Bring together 6,346 guitarists to break the Guinness World Book Record of largest guitar ensemble. People have been making guitars in Paracho for over a century, and there are at least 250 guitar artisans who have kept the tradition alive, still making guitars by hand. The small city is lined with guitar shops, but on the day we went most of the instruments were on the soccer field.

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According to the group that organized the event, people from 18 different states (more than half of the country) registered to join. I saw families, punk rockers, mariachis, nuns, teenagers.

Three songs were played: Cielito Lindo, Flor de Canela, and Afuera by Caifanes. They practiced several times, a group of students on stage leading the crowd. Doug, my step-dad and the only gringo there decided to register and borrow a guitar, but he was too late and all the guitars were gone by the time we got in line. But a few minutes before the show a crew of staff in yellow shirts ran up to us. “We found one!”

Right now it’s hard to imagine a gathering with this diversity of people happening in the U.S., this peacefully, in the name of music and a common goal, even if it was a silly one. With all the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the news, I kept thinking that if just a fraction of this moment crossed the border into the states, we’d be a much more peaceful place.

In the end, we were a few thousand guitar players short. But, in what seemed like divine timing, the clouds held and only started to pour until after the last song.

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Afterwards we escaped the rain and huddled at a counter in the Paracho market. While the stands are a uniform white with orange trim, the options range from carnitas to birria to tacos de cabeza. My parents like El Toro for barbacoa, the first guy when you walk into the center of the market.

Barbacoa in Paracho Michoacan
He grabbed a mix of cuts, placed it on the cutting board, hacked it up, and then threw the pieces on a piece of wax paper in the scale. It was then mixed with a smokey, thick chile pasilla BBQ-like sauce that I couldn’t get enough of.  A bucket of green tomatillo salsa sat on the side, a portion scooped out in a bowl for us.

Barbacoa Paracho

We bought some warm blue corn tortillas from one of the ladies sitting next to her bucket in the market, and found a seat at one of the counters. The people eating next to us were wet from the rain, also grubbing hard, and humming the melody to Afuera just like I was.