Deck the Halls
"An old-fashioned Christmas with new-fashioned production"
As any long-time Santa Fe resident knows, Joe West is one of the blue chip entertainers who make the City Different his home. He’s a long-time Frogville recording artist and has shared the stage with most of the other great players in town. He is both a singer and songwriter of note and a performer who is not afraid to push the envelope. See Xoe Fitzgerald the Time-Traveling Transvestite for a taste of how far he’s willing to go.
In October, Joe debuted his latest musical creation, Joe West & The Santa Fe Revue, featuring the Barrel Cactus String Quartet accompanied by his longtime backing band plus special guests Felicia Ford, Sharon Gilchrist, Sarah “Coal” Thompson, Tom Adler, Michael Kott and Uncle Archie the Singin’ Cowboy. This was a sell-out performance and as a follow-up, Joe (along with producer/drummer Arne Bey and co-producer Kim Bey) expanded this concept for the Joe West & The Santa Fe Revue Christmas Spectacular.
I sat down recently with Joe, Arne, and Kim, (plus a surprise special guest) to talk about the new production.
SFDC: How are rehearsals going?
ARNE: We’ve had one.
JOE: For a show I love rehearsals. For this show’s its great.
SFDC: Where did the idea come from for the first revue?
JOE: I think the idea for this stems back a few years ago. Arne and I started talking about something like this a while back. It was a concept to do something different from what I usually do. It was about creating a show to take on the road similar to what I did when I first came back to Santa Fe from Austin, The Lamp Sessions, bringing in people, not having a set band, more of an inclusive project.
What I noticed with Arne from a few year back was that he had an ability to be very inclusive, like when he created the fundraiser for Haiti (at the Cowgirl). It felt like one of the most inclusive musical experiences in Santa Fe. It was performance of people from different genres of music, some of whom I had never meshed with.
I felt that Arne had the natural ability to do that kind of stuff and then we did his wedding to Kim and I sort of played the Rabbi/Priest Role, that felt like another step in creating this kind of “circusy” show with music and performance artists. it felt very special.
SFDC: If I asked you to make a comparison between this show and A Prairie Home Companion, what would you say?
ARNE: I saw a show on PBS the other night, a documentary about the National Barn Dance Radio show that started in 1924 and ran until 1938. This was the first nationally-broadcast country music show and in my view they pretty much invented the idea of country/western music on a national basis. That was a precursor to the Grand Ole Opry, which was the precursor to the Prairie Home Companion. So in one sense I see the evolution of the revue and the variety show with alternative country music and Joe taking it way out and one step further and personalizing it. But drawing comparisons to anything else is probably not the best way to do it, because that narrows the scope. Our show is quite theatrical. That element is where Joe takes it out further, by broadening the possibilities.
SFDC: Joe’s always been a pretty theatrical performer compared to most of the other acts around here. Did that come from your childhood?
JOE: I was a theater person for many years. I have a BFA in Theater. I was an actor, and went to New York for seven or eight years as a total commitment to the acting thing. I’d always done music. I did a lot of musical theater and then I made a flip and decided to pursue the songwriter thing. I began playing a songwriter role and then I went to Austin playing the role of what that is,pursuing that avenue, touring, doing bar gigs, coffee shops for about four years straight. And even when I came back to Santa Fe that continued to be the angle. And over the past two to three years, I’ve started to re-embrace my theater background, feeling comfortable. The Xoe Fitzgerald thing was sort of a walk in that direction. Then I started this radio show on KSFR late night that was just a developing idea. It was a personal journey for me and I think this is another step. To me I’m seeing this as a play. It's a show, a set performance. We’re rehearsing it with a script.
ARNE: The way I see the Christmas show is as a separate thing from the original revue. We had a lot of fun doing it and Joe said “Let’s do a Christmas show.”
SFDC: And If it hadn’t sold out, would you still be doing a Christmas show?
JOE: Oh I think so. The Christmas show is a one-off to try a lot of different ideas. It’s verv different from the first show because its given us a chance to go “Let’s do a special Christmas show and try new ideas that we may integrate into the revue.” We’re still workshopping it.
ARNE: The feeling I got from Joe about the Christmas show was that it could be a wonderful platform for experimenting. I’m not sure that I know anybody who loves Santa Fe more than Joe. He was actually born and raised here. It's almost like him sharing his Christmas gift with his community, his fellow musicians, his family and friends. It really has that spirit of celebration. And it’s also about sharing Joe’s vision of his life here. And I think, too, about this show, all the elements that it incorporates, really almost get to the heart of Joe as the creative artist that I know.
SFDC: You are actually the producer of this show?
ARNE; Yes. Me and my wife Kim.
SFDC: What else have you produced prior to this?
ARNE: The Haiti benefit, Cozy Ralston’s birthday party, last year I brought Nicole Atkins to town, plus the wedding we did all kind of led up to this. I’d like to roll back for a minute, because Joe’s so modest, to Joe’s episode in Austin. He wasn’t just playing bars and coffee houses, he had a residency at the Continental Club every Sunday night.
JOE: It was a very special period.
ARNE; He rose to the top pf the heap there He was voted in the top 10 in the Austin Statesman Readers Poll. He had a great band – the Sinners. He kind of left that whole scene to come back to Santa Fe.
JOE: The revue is very telling about how I like community and extended family. I have a large extended family here in Santa Fe, several generations. I like that connectionc with the place where I live. I didn’t feel connected in Austin. And Tara (a girl) was a draw (back to Santa Fe).
SFDC: Give me a thumbnail view of the rest of the attractions in the Revue.
JOE: We have Doña Dillenschneider, Santa Fe Rodeo Queen of 1967. I grew up with her and I produced her record a few years back. The guests are a little bit of an extension of my own work. Doña became a project that I worked on through taking her stories and integrating them into a narrative that I produced on my radio show and it kind of became a part of my music and my own personal creations.
ARNE: She’s a real cowgirl.
JOE: I had to hold her back. Se wanted to ride a horse in the revue.
SFDC; Frank Rolla?
JOE: He’s the Time Traveler. Frank Rolla has been a musician in and out of my circle for a while. His work is theoretical, .weird but I’ve used his philosophy and theoretical art as part of my work. I’ve sampled him. He’s a character in the Xoe Fitzgerald Time Travelling Transvestite Opera. He’s Xoe’s love interest. His work has become part of the fictional narrative in my work and become a large part of it. He’s an interesting guy so the whole show in a way is my own personal extension. These are people who have orbited around it and been part of it, so we’re just taking it to this new bigger weirder level.
ARNE: He’s the only musician I know that sees things through the lens of quantum physics and quantum mechanics.
JOE: Very well said.
SFDC: Felecia Ford and the Snow Angel Choir?
JOE: Felecia has been a friend and a collaborator of sort for a long time. She’s been singing on my songs over the years, going way back. She’s been around for a long time as part of the Frogville scene and she’s now my neighbor. She’s become much more of a teacher over the last couple of years. She has this great network of singers so that just fell into place. She did the last show, and she’s so good you can’t help but want to do something else with her. I feel like our lives have intertwined over the last ten years.
SFDC: Ben Wright?
JOE: Ben and I go back a very long time. He and I toured England together a few years ago. But even before that we had been playing together. He’s very talented. And during the Mary and Mars period (Ben was a member), I played on and off with them and recorded on some of their things. We’ve been in the studio together. He helped produce my Human Cannonball record. We worked together more lately in the studio, with him sharing the role of producer on Drastic Andrew’s album. We’ve continued that sort of relationship. He’s so talented with the arrangements. He’s probably the smartest musician we know.
SD; Michael Kott, do you have a history with him too?
JOE: We’ve been collaborating for a while. We did a couple episodes of my radio show. He’s such a mystery. He’d just start showing up and playing with us whether we wanted him to or not. He’s still kind of that way. He’s so grea. Over the last couple of years, he's become someone I’ve been recording with more.
SFDC: The Sugar Plum Dancers?
JOE: Those are our version of The Rockettes. The head dancer is Tamara Bates. I won’t be a very traditional dance troupe but they will be interesting.
SFDC: Phoenix Avalon?
ARNE: Kim and I were strolling through the Farmer’s Market and there was this amazing 9-year-old boy with Botticelli hair playing classical pieces on the violin, and he looked like a little angel. I thought I should get this young man’s phone number. He’s channeling it from a prior life. You don’t play like this at nine unless you’re born with something. So I suggested Phoenix to Joe because it heightened the variety show aspect and also for the Christmas show there will be goodly numbers of children in the audience and we hope they will find him inspiring and entertaining.
SFDC: Uncle Archie West?
JOE: He’s my uncle and ex-husband of my aunt over here (coincidentally sitting at the next table). (To her) Do you want to tell Eric about Archie West?
JOE’S AUNT: He’s a really decent guy. He’s a real cowboy too, a rancher. He has a kind of funny wisdom that’s appropriate for the Country/Western scene.
SFDC: Like a cowboy poet?
JOE’S AUNT: More like a philosopher. Archie sings other people’s songs.
JOE: He’s like a jukebox of old cowboy tunes.
JOE’S AUNT: He’s a really great dancer, sits in the saddle like he was born in it. He loves kids. Treats them like little human beings.
ARNE: It seems to me like he’s a conservator of these prairie songs that cowboys would sing alone with a guitar, amusing themselves around a campfire.
SFDC: So do you have any touring plans after the Christmas stand?
ARNE: What we’re planning to do next is take the regular revue show down to Albuquerque in February. And after that we’re going to look at which small, cool city would be best for us to go to next. Maybe Aspen, Boulder, Flagstaff, or Tucson.
JOE: The goal is to be out there. I think we’re taking risks in a safe and plodding manner so we have time to fine tune and workshop the show.
ARNE: This is something akin to the out-of-town tryouts. We are looking forward to the Boise, Idahos and the Eugene, Oregons. We also feel that there is a great need for people to see live entertainment and be affordable and have great value. We want to pack a big entertainment punch when we go out there, create an atmosphere. I look at this as a one to three-year progression. I see Joe as an artist and this is a particular phase of his career. I’m not saying this goes on forever. This is something we’re doing now and we’ll see where it goes.
JOE: It feels very good to me. It’s so nice to do something and confidently tell people that it feels like something really special.
ARNE: I also want to put in a plug for the Barrel Cactus String Quartet. Joe is one of the most down to earth, humble people I know and to frame Joe with such a world-class string section with his humble country band creates a lot of contrast and a broad range to the music. Chase Morrison is the arranger. The other players are world class and have credentials that go on for pages and pages and I hope that this is the first of many Christmas shows.
To sum it all up, one of Santa Fe’s more eclectic performers, Joe West has surrounded himself with a variety of talent and attractions, and has developed a show for Christmas that you and your family won’t want to miss.
The Joe West & The Santa Fe Revue Christmas Spectacular plays at El Museo Cultural Theater in the Railyard on December 16 and 17 at 8 p.m. There is an additional matinee performance on December 17 at 3 pm. The October show sold out quickly, and many people were turned away at the door, so be sure to get your tickets now. This group of talented folks is certain to bring the Christmas spirit to even the “Scroogiest” of Santa Feans.