Originally Published: December 6, 2011 10:10 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Ninety-eight downtown Prescott businesses will host free music from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday, but Matt's Saloon might be the only establishment where the owner is also the performer.
Marco Espitia's heavenly renditions of popular Christmas tunes have drawn admirers to Matt's each year.
"He has a beautiful voice," Joan Meredith said. "I will leave my own place (Jersey Lilly's Saloon) to go hear a couple songs.
"You don't hear talent like that much any more."
Espitia, a native of Prescott, said he has performed somewhere at every Acker Night since its inception in 1988.
"It's kind of like a homecoming for everybody because that's one night we see everybody," he said. "To me, that's the ultimate event, having all the Christmas music. I just love music."
The only thing that's changed over the years is the size of the event, he said.
"It's just getting bigger with more people, and it's just one of those things you have to experience because you've never seen it anywhere else," he said. It started with live music in eight businesses and now has expanded to nearly 100.
After singing with friends at the former Rosie's Bakery before and after the annual Yavapai County Courthouse lighting event for a few years, they switched to Acker Night when it started up.
Espitia has performed at several other current and former downtown businesses over the years during Acker Night, including the Log Cabin, Lyzzard's Lounge, Bluebird Café, Mint Creek Eatery and Vine to Wine Cellar.
In 2001 he even performed outdoors on the courthouse plaza.
"It was too cold," he said.
Since Espitia became the co-owner of Matt's Saloon in 2003 and started singing there for Acker, about 200 people have been able to crowd in at once to see him. It has plenty of room compared to retail stores where sale items can limit space.
Children are welcome in Whiskey Row drinking establishments during Acker Night. They can order non-alcoholic drinks such as hot chocolate and sodas.
"The ambiance is nice, it's decorated well for the holidays," Espitia said.
For the first time this year he'll have two women singing with him instead of one, Mallory Desjadon and Sarah Wise. Desjadon, a new mother, will be singing Faith Hill's "A Baby Changes Everything."
"O Holy Night" is Espitia's favorite song to perform at Acker. He's also likely to sing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night."
"I'm a big fan of traditional songs," he said. "Christmas songs bring back memories. When I hear 'Silent Night,' I can remember going to midnight mass. That's why I like traditional songs, because almost everybody can relate to one of them."
Espitia likes to pop out every once in awhile to hear other Acker bands. Then after Acker, he and co-owner Matt Brassard will perform several songs with the bar band.
Espitia has been singing and performing since he can remember, starting with his church's ballet folklorico at age 4. After performing in church Christmas pageants, he and his siblings organized special Christmas lighting ceremonies at his family home on Pleasant Street.
He's still into lighting up his house these days, by the way, even winning The Daily Courier's Christmas lighting contest last year.
A member of the marching band and show choir in high school, he won the Acker Music Award as a high school freshman. In 2002 he won the Talent Quest National Karaoke Singing Contest in the duet division with Tim Parker.
"He can sing country western, he can sing rock and roll, he can sing Spanish, and he did a Broadway-style show," his dad Art said. "He even went to the Pioneers' Home as a kid and put on a show for the old folks. I thought that was quite touching."