I was talking with my friend, filmmaker and owner of Gringa Productions Lexie Shabel recently.
Lexie: Do you think there are enough bands for your show?
Me: Local bands?
Lexie: Yeah, are there enough good bands in Santa Fe to book on your show? Do you think you’ll
Me: More than enough…I’m booked for the rest of the year.
And so on…
I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation. Yesterday, I was sitting across from The Strange, a
young band that I first interviewed on my show “The Junk Drawer” on Project 101.5, then on Live
at Second Street Brewery and now on KBAC’s Live at El Farol.
In the span of 2 ½ years, I’ve interviewed this band three times. Their name, The Strange, couldn’t
be any further from reality. This is a rock n roll band, which is to say that they play a series sonic and
lyrical patterns based, however loosely, on 12 bar blues formations. Whether they worship at the feet
of Muddy Waters and Mississippi Fred McDowell is one thing, but the rock they play is by American
and British progenitor standards…traditional.
Jimi Hendrix once quipped “Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel,” and the reason why I appreciate this
band and why they will always find a welcoming platform on my radio show is that they live this
Justin, the bands singer and leader, positions himself as a revivalist of sorts—of the “bring rock
back” ilk. Surely, the initiated and anyone with cursory knowledge of jam band music and culture,
for example, would raise an eyebrow. But it is a battle cry that is worth the fight…at least here in
Santa Fe. In short, rock is the one of purest way to floss your chops…there’s no hiding when you’re
playing it live.
The live music scene in Santa Fe is not unlike other places where I’ve lived: El Paso, California’s Bay
Area, New Orleans. Once you’ re done laughing consider this….with all music communities there
is a cache of local players (let’s not forget the promoters), who are usually over-stretched by gigging
with a variety of bands. They are the core musical make-up playing for shit money and little respect
at local bars that hate to admit how much they are needed. In tourist destinations like ours these are
the musicians that outsiders usually encounter.
For better or worse, tourist hoards stream into Santa Fe in prodigious quantities. The less
adventurous, who consider the advice from concierges and Zagat Guides as gospel, frequent a select
number of establishments. Sure, there are plenty of touring bands that play the same venues, but
because we have a relatively limited number of music spaces in Santa Fe, chances are good that the
band being enjoyed by the couple from Iowa, Wisconsin or Italy is homegrown talent.
The problem is when locals measure the health of the music scene by the number of touring
bands that the city accommodates, without truly noting that the music in the foreground. Is it our
responsibility to support music venues no matter what band is playing? Nope. Are we to blame for
venues shutting their doors? Please. Should we care that local musicians are the ones who usually
help to create positive experiences for visitors and other locals above and beyond any other cultural
space or event? Goddamn right.
So why do I have shows with repeat guests? It’s simple...it’s like real estate: location, location,
location, which really translates into “visibility.” Eventually, I’ll have to stop repeating myself over
the complaints about the live music scene and hope that one of our gems—yes, you read that
My tastes are established, my judgment flawed. Will there ever be a true representation of local music
on my show? Time will tell, and it will be fun as hell trying. In the meantime, heed the words of the
great WWOZ Radio from New Orleans when it airs the daily music calendar…“Now go out and
listen to some live local music!”