Music Weekend: 64 Hours of Music In Santa Fe - November 7, 2011

"Baja Tacos selling Frito pies, streaming the event live to the world, families and loved ones cheering on their favorite drummers…it was a great afternoon"

Friday, November 4, 8:00 PM (ish)

 “When the hell was the last time I walked down Alameda Street with a drink in my hand?” Sean Healen chuckles as we walk to his parked car from Canyon Road. a glass of red wine swishing in his hand as we negotiate the cottonwood roots over the Acequia.  Sean’s been around Santa Fe a long time, so it would be reasonable to think that any answer to his question would somehow fit into a correct answer.

His friend, actor Wes Studi, is walking with us. At the moment, Wes is the most famous person I’ve met in recent history. This is nothing special. You can’t throw a rock or lurk in the bulk food section at Whole Foods in Santa Fe without smacking a famous person of some degree.  Still, I ask him about any current projects in the works; he casually tells me about a new series that premieres in a few days and doesn’t say much else. Sure, he’s a local celebrity, but to be clear, if you’ve ever seen a movie in your life, you’ve seen this guy on the screen…no shit. I like him immediately.

We reach Sean’s car and, like three teenagers sitting in a bowling alley parking lot passing a joint and sharing a 40, Sean throws on a CD, which contains three new tracks he recorded in Mill Valley, Calif. Sean is keeping the details of the project close to the chest. When the time is right, I will commit something to paper about his new project. In the meantime, I will say that one of the guitars used on the tracks had been stored for so long in the studio that when his new producer opened the case, he removed original notebook lyric sheets for “California Girls” and “Help Me Rhonda.” The outdoor furniture belonged to Van Morrison, who recorded there for years, and the gold records on the wall represent an unholy swath of 20th century music. 

“Oh, shit, man….this is the fucking shit,” Wes pipes up from the back seat.  The music is yet another creative departure for Sean.  The singer-songwriter signatures that have long graced Sean’s music have been reshaped; the songs have new angles, both economical and immediate, but still linger purposefully.

The songs end and we’re walking back towards Canyon Road. Wes and Sean talk about the finer points of the songs and how they differ from the rest of Sean’s recorded material. In my pocket is a copy of “Crown of Coal,” Sean’s latest album, which I’m reviewing and the original purpose of my visit; it’s produced by another music powerhouse, Malcolm Burn. As I say my goodbyes, it feels like a relevant moment. The front-end of what could possibly qualify as a defining stage and time for Sean and his music. I feel thankful for having a front seat and watching it unfold.

8:45 pm (ish)

I’m sitting at the El Farol bar talking with Mathiew McClinton, bass player for Bill Palmer’s Band TV Killers and Stephanie Hatfield and Hot Mess. Stephanie and Bill are on Matt’s left side at the bar; all three are waiting for the gig to start.

Matt and I are drinking club soda. I haven’t had a drink since August and it’s the first time I’ve actually sat at a bar since I decided to cut down the tree, mill the wood and build and paint the wagon I’m currently on.  In spite of the fact that I host my radio show here, it has been a long time since I’ve actually hung out in the evening. It wasn’t that long ago that I enjoyed epic nights here with Radio La Chusma.

In my left pocket is a copy of Bill’s album he recorded under the name The Dinosaurs. It, too, is on my album review list. Bill played all of the instruments and produced all of the tracks on the album. TV Killers will play some of these tracks as well as some older tunes from his defunct band Hundred Year Flood.

Bill is to Santa Fe what James McMurtry is to Austin, which is to say that he gets a lot of shit in town, particularly from club and bar owners for speaking his mind. In a way, he is Santa Fe’s music conscious, unafraid of exposing the shortsighted attitudes that undermine local music’s vitality and relevance to Santa Fe culture. The band’s name, TV Killers, stems from an incident at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame where a television, placed above the band area, was kept on during a Stephanie Hatfield and Hot Mess gig.  Words ensued. The band was asked to leave mid-set and they haven’t been back since.

As I write notes for this blog, the gargantuan irony bomb in the shape of a flat screen television, flanking the bar, is showing the USC / CU Boulder football game during their set. Still, both cohabitate; the band sounds great and people are listening.

10:30 (ish)

Anthony Leon and the Chain are knee deep by the time I get to the Tin Star. This will be difficult. The bar itself is arguably one of the best in town, if not the best. If you drink whiskey, you should drink it here. I won’t hide my admiration for Anthony and the boys. It’s true that they often have different musicians playing with them around town—tonight it’s Freddy Lopez on the harp—but they are a true band in a town full of hired guns. They sweat out each song together, bring it to market, change and grow as a group.  You can hear it in their live sets that hold plenty of surprises. It is most evident in the delivery, which may be innate to an individual, but takes time to mature as a band.   

11:30 (ish)

“John looks crazy,” my friend tells me when we arrive at Cowgirl. John Kurzweg’s hair, originally pulled back into a ponytail, pulses like an electric jellyfish on his head while he shreds his guitar.  Tonight he’s playing with Mike Chavez on drums and Josh Martin on bass. I’ve never seen John play his solo work before. Most people know John as a music producer, but he also has quite an extensive history as a musician.

I’m not surprised by his fluidity as a musician—he is a monster on the guitar—or his taste in cover songs. The cover “medley” begins with Cheap Trick’s, “I Want You to Want Me,” and eventually comes to Led Zeppelin’s “Gallows Pole” then onto The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil.” 

When John breaks a string on his Stratocaster, Josh and Mike bust into improvised jazz odyssey, while the string is replaced. Watching the three of them play reminded me of something one my poetry professors once told me. He objected to the beat poets’ democratized underpinnings of improvised and spontaneous verse, influenced by jazz musicians in the 1950’s. That all poetry is created equal was not something that he believed to be true.

“It’s true that these jazz musicians played off the script during live performances, but imagine all the time they spent practicing scales, learning charts, working through difficult phrasing, to reach a place where they could deliver those intense live performances…”

Watching these three musicians bouncing riffs back and forth without an ounce pause, gets to the nut of what it means to devote your life to making music. Whether it’s through an academic program or cutting your teeth in bars and coffeehouses (usually both), jumping in with both feet will always make a difference.        

Saturday, November 5, 2011

11:00 am (ish)

So I go to the New Mexico Vinyl Junkie Record Show and the first thing I do is buy a book. It’s not just any book it is The Land Where the Blues Began, by Alan Lomax.  From the chatter around the room, this seems to be the first time Santa Fe has ever had such an event, which is mystifying considering all the DJs, collectors musicians, etc., in town. The vendors in the room had their records in various states of organization on tables: rock, jazz, pop…the usual suspects.  Live DJs and musicians apparently played throughout the day, but for the very brief hour or so I was there no live music appeared. Still, I managed to walk away with a copy of Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk by Meco, which I gifted to KBAC’s Lisa Clark (The Motherfunker) and Red Beans by Jimmy McGriff…and I don’t even own a turntable.  

Drum Battle

12:00 Noon (ish)

If you’ve ever read a science fiction or choose your own adventure book, loved Star Trek and its various generations, owned a Commodore 64, played Dungeons and Dragons, honeymooned at Comic-Con and were (or still are) a socially awkward dude, probably a little overweight and unquestionably smarter than most people around you, then…if you’re anything like me…you probably love the band Rush. More succinctly, you love the band’s idiosyncratic drummer Neil Peart and can pronounce his name correctly (Peer-Yurt). And for those of us who love the shit out of Rush, there was no way in hell that we would miss the 2011 Drum Battle at the Candyman Strings in Things.  Three categories: Youth, Amateur and Pro… drummers dolling out their freshest 3 minute solos for prizes including cymbals courtesy of Zildjian. BTW: who the hell would have guessed cymbals were so expensive? Dang.   

Baja Tacos selling Frito pies, streaming the event live to the world, families and loved ones cheering on their favorite drummers…it was a great afternoon in that “this is why I love living in Santa Fe” kind of way.  Andy Primm won the pro division in a tie-breaking drum-off with Mike Chavez.

November is International Drum Month and the Candyman did its part, with the 2nd Annual Drum Battle, to support and raise awareness for the percussive arts in Santa Fe. The battle was also produced in part by the Candyman’s Rock School, which features over 30 instructors in any instrument you can think of. Best of all, instructor are local musicians teaching the classes.  So, if you want to unleash your inner Tommy Lee, you’re only one year away from Drum Battle III.