The Santa Fe Music Scene:  Help Wanted, Part II | - September 12, 2011

How the key players are honoring the past, dealing with the present, and planning for the future.

(In this second installment, writer Eric Davis continues to examine the state of live music in Santa Fe and the people responsible for bringing it here, including Mike Koster of Southwest Roots Music;  Jamie Lenfesty, now with Heath Concerts;  Mikey Baker, owner of Corazon;  David Lescht, founder of Outside In Productions;  Joe Anderson, the owner of three venues in Albuquerque who recently took over the Pub and Grill at the Santa Fe Brewing Company;  Tim Franke, owner of T-Cubed Productions;  and Shannon Murphy of the After Hours Alliance. All have similar comments about the current state of the Santa Fe scene and its challenges – and similar views about how to solve them:  bring more shows to Santa Fe, especially touring national acts -- and find ways to grow local acts to draw more people to their performances. The story continues below; read the first article.)

I had a very pleasant phone conversation with Joe Anderson, one of the newest players in the Santa Fe music scene.  

Anderson is based in Albuquerque and is responsible for the shows at three of the top venues there: The Launchpad, The Sunshine Theater and Low Spirits. He has now taken over operations at the former Bar and Grill at the Santa Fe Brewing Company – recently re-christened Santa Fe Sol.  But he is not totally new to the venue. In the past, he has done some shows there in cooperation with Jamie Lenfesty.  He remarked that he always liked the space, and made it a point to talk to Santa Fe Brewing Company owner Brian Locke when the last management group left – “hoping I can come in and keep the room open.”

Anderson plans no radical changes at the venue. He believes that Santa Fe audiences like attending shows there. He hopes to keep local promoters doing lots of shows both inside and outside -- including Mike Koster, Jamie Lenfesty, and Tim Franke.

Anderson is not really interested in being a Santa Fe promoter per se  -- his focus is on keeping the venue open.  “I don’t want to be a disruptive force in the music scene. I want to provide a great space where other promoters are comfortable doing shows,” he said.

He was very sorry that Corazon closed, but believes that it was a very different kind of room than Sol.  His plan when I interviewed him was to keep the venue open just for shows, not as a seven-days-a-week enterprise. Although he is considering not only keeping the kitchen open for shows, he may open it for lunch on a regular basis.  As far as concerts, he’s planning on booking national acts when he can get them and opening on Fridays and Saturdays for local band performances. He also is still going to provide the venue for bigger shows such as the Thirsty Ear Festival and Frogfest.

Anderson may occasionally book a band in Albuquerque one night and Santa Fe the next, but his real goal is to try to convince Albuquerque music fans that that the drive to Sol is not too far for them.

As far as improvements to the venue, he has big plans and a great model – the legendary Stubbs in Austin, although his capacity is much smaller than theirs. Anderson believes that New Mexico in general is a tough play for a lot of touring acts – there is not a lot of money in this market to pay bands – and he can only get about 800 people on the venue’s patio, not the 3000 he would need to afford some of the bigger acts touring the Southwest but usually bypassing this area.

One of the biggest changes Anderson plans to make is getting a liquor license that will allow him to have a full bar instead of the beer and wine license the venue currently has.  He’s also planning on being able to better segregate the space for all-ages shows.

Anderson believes that the room already has lots of goodwill, he just wants to continue the live music going there and keep things cool for the people at the shows.  “I am hoping that we can make people happy, and I hope that they appreciate it,” he said.

The last promoter that I talked to was Tim Franke of T Cubed Productions, mostly because he is so busy that we had trouble finding a time when we could both be in the same room. The youngest of the promoters here, he got me curious about what brought him to the business, especially after hearing such wonderful praise about him from most of the other folks I had already interviewed.

Franke told me that he wanted to get involved in promoting shows in the local music scene from a very young age, after working at the former Paramount night club and getting involved with some of the FanMan shows that were held there.

He also worked at Tickets Santa Fe, getting more involved and closer to the promoters in town.  He made friends with Mikey Baker and began to put time and effort into promoting club shows with mid-to lower level national acts, attempting to market them to an under-served younger (yet legal-aged) demographic.

Originally from New York, Franke did a bit of traveling after he finished school.  He told me that he really dug the Santa Fe vibe and culture and permanently moved here when he could. He’s been a Santa Fe resident for 15 years.

When asked about the first show that he promoted, Franke cited Handsome Furs at Corazon – which did well, and got him further hooked into the scene.  He also remarked that his choice of which acts to book is not about his personal musical taste – he’s trying to think outside the box to bring new and interesting shows to Santa Fe.

But, he cautioned, “a lot of times Santa Fe does not respond to good shows,” especially to heavier bands and the more avant garde acts that do well in other markets.  But then again, some of his best shows have been with touring acts such as these, including Check Check Check and El Ten Eleven.

With the closing of Corazon (his primary home base) Franke hopes to do more shows at Santa Fe Sol.  He believes that it is a good room and will grow in popularity with the locals despite its location, which is somewhat off the beaten path.

Franke believes that the local music community is currently in a crisis mode – with Corazon closing we’ve lost a downtown stage with a capacity of 200 or so.  It will be tough to replace that venue for booking shows with progressive and other touring acts. This challenge will probably continue to exist until the economy comes back and someone re-opens the room as a music venue.

Franke is very much into co-promoting shows with Heath and other promoters, including the very eclectic and diverse Meow Wolf, Team Everything, (DJ Featherici and his crew) and others.

Looking forward to 2012, Franke sees lots of variables. Santa Fe Sol should help lead an upswing of the scene – especially after Joe is done with his improvements to the venue – and it may help bring Albuquerque audiences to Santa Fe. Yet, he still feels the need for a new downtown venue to replace Corazon.

”With Corazon closing, I see someone seizing that opportunity,” Franke said.  “The community will begin to see what they’ve been taking for granted.”  With so much stuff to do in Santa Fe, he believes that “the community will keep the music industry here afloat.”

My final conversation was with Shannon Murphy of the After Hours Alliance.  They are not necessarily promoters, but more of an organization to help support promoters and keep the Santa Fe nightlife alive because they believe that without a thriving social scene for young adults, they will choose to live elsewhere.

Murphy observed that Santa Fe has historically had an Americana, bluegrass, country, and blues scene  -- but unfortunately there was a non-existent “edgy” alternative scene – these national bands were skipping Santa Fe when touring, and it created a void.

The AHA felt a need to attract the younger “just out of college” demographic to create their own scene and support that community.  They encouraged High Mayhem, Meow Wolf, Team Everything, The Process, and other smaller groups to bring cutting-edge shows to Santa Fe.  She believes that consistently providing this demographic with shows that may only draw 50-75 people will grow the scene and keep young people with real jobs here in Santa Fe.

But it is a challenge to find ways to bring these types of artists to town – there is not a lot of revenue at a show with 50 attendees.  So the AHA is there to foster collaboration between all parties to make these events happen – not for profit, but for the love of the music.  They are trying to look at the big picture, and are open to supporting shows by all kinds of acts just to help keep the scene alive. 

Over the last three years, different types of bands have come to Santa Fe and they believe that Corazon was an important contribution to that. Murphy expressed (as did most others) that the city needs a place with a stage, a capacity of about 200 and alcohol sales to keep the momentum of the music scene going.

Murphy observed that Santa Fe is a very splintered scene. People tend to stay in their circles and don’t experiment much with other events and genres of music.  AHA’s agenda is to have multiple promoters collaborate on events to bring different audiences to the same show, utilizing the strengths of each group to make the gigs work for the band, the audience and the people putting it on. 

Murphy hopes all of their efforts will come together in September at the first AHA Festival to be held in the Railyard and presented in conjunction with the Santa Fe Reporter.  The goal of this event is to shine a light on Santa Fe talent that may not yet have gotten local attention, and put them in front of audiences that will appreciate them.

The AHA also looks at Santa Fe in a different way, by asking “How do we get more national acts to play in Santa Fe?” and trying to build a case for why national bands should come here instead of bypassing the city.  AHA is attempting to show them what is special about local audiences, and how much appreciation the band will receive if they play here instead of playing Albuquerque or skipping the area entirely.  AHA believes that Santa Fe audiences are very responsive to the acts that come here – the crowd is “discerning, appreciative and intellectual” – and this appeals to new bands that may perform music which might be described as “outside the ordinary.”

More good news is that there is a lot of altruism here in the city different.  Promoters will bring in a good band to serve audiences without worrying about how much profit may be in it for them – seemingly much more often than in other cities.

All of the people that I spoke with expressed positive thoughts and expectations for 2012.  Let’s all hope that they’re right about this. Cellist Pablo Casals once said:  “Music will save the world.”  Let’s hope that it least can save Santa Fe.