June 16, 2011 at 11:35 PM

REVIEW: THIRSTY EAR FESTIVAL 2011

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THIRSTY EAR FESTIVAL – June 10-12, 2011, Santa Fe, NM

One of the first people I met at this year’s festival summed up the Santa Fe music scene pretty well.  His name was Bo, and he had come all the way from Amsterdam for some festivarian action in the states.  “I cannot believe that more people aren’t here,” Bo said.  “In Europe, Calexico is big, very big band.”  I assured him it was early yet, and not everyone had crawled out from under their respective rocks for the evening, but secretly I wondered if this was as much of a showing as Santa Fe was going to give.

Under not-quite-blistering-but-not-quite-comfortable 90-degree sunshine, a couple hundred music lovers had gathered for another Thirsty Ear Festival at the old Santa Fe Brewing Company (now apparently dubbed “Santa Fe Sol”).  This year, unlike years past, the festival staked its claim closer to town, with acts playing different venues like Corazón (where Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers reportedly wreaked havoc with an amazing set on Friday, June 10) and the beautiful Lensic Performing Arts Center (where Shawn Colvin played for those who’d rather have a nicely-dressed, sit-down kind of night on Saturday, June 11), as well as the aforementioned Sol.  All events were separately ticketed, unless you ponied up for the “all pass,” which made it feel more like a film festival than a music festival, but everyone seemed glad not to be trapped in the oppressive heat and dust of the Eaves Movie Ranch for once.

Cedric Burnside Project turned in an enjoyable performance on the outdoor stage at Saturday’s Sol date.  Since they’re used to southern humidity, Santa Fe’s dry heat didn’t seem to faze them.  Cedric started the set on guitar, and later switched to drums.  Through an unusual acoustic mixture of blues and hip-hop, Cedric smiled the entire time.  Despite the fact there was room to pack a few hundred more in the crowd, at least we came off as appreciative.  “I wish we could play for 2 hours up here,” he said.  “You’re making us feel very welcome.”

Sunday, June 12, dubbed “Community Day” by festival organizers, focused on local acts and the admission price was a pittance in comparison to Saturday.  The crowd was sparser than Saturday’s and skewed a little older, demographically.  Luckily for the bands, a good number came prepared to boogie.  The highlight of the day was an Albuquerque gypsy-jazz combo called Le Chat Lunatique.  Their set – Sunday’s (as well as the Festival’s) last – was a little more experimental than those who’d come before.  An almost perfect balance of complex instrumental arrangements and what I will call “song-y” numbers you could dance to and sing along with made for a great closer to a great festival.

I only made it to the Sol shows for this year’s Thirsty Ear, so I can’t say what the attendance was like at the other venues.  I agreed with Bo from Amsterdam: the crowd seemed a little thin.  I think moving the festival from the remote movie ranch location was a good idea, but maybe Santa Fe doesn’t have enough of a live music fan base to split the locations and spread them around town.  Then again, maybe one day, in a distant future where all the 20 year-olds don’t leave Santa Fe for Austin, TX or Portland, OR, or even Albuquerque, NM, festivals like this will take root and draw bigger crowds.

Or maybe we should just resign ourselves to apologizing to guys like Bo from Amsterdam for not packing the house.

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