Lasting for two months in the heart of Santa Fe’s Plaza, the Santa Fe Bandstand concert series is a yearly staple of Santa Fe’s summers. A year ago, still new to the city, I only managed to attend a pair of the concerts. This year, it became a piece of my life as I was honored with the duty of documenting the series with my camera.
I didn’t really know what to expect. I only recognized a handful of performer names on the schedule, and random murmuring amongst my peers had labeled the series as a snoozefest featuring the same acts year after year. I was intrigued, and looking forward to forming my own perspective, free of the cynicism that can often plague me.
On opening night, as I waited for the first act to take the stage, I stood leaning up against a lamppost. A man approached me, and asked me if I wouldn’t mind moving from my spot. Referring to himself as a “creature of habit,” he told he that this had been his usual spot to sit for years. Sure enough, he’d be in that same spot all summer long.
At the time, I remember being a little apprehensive. What gives this guy the right to ask me to move? Was he really calling dibs based on previous history? The Plaza was still far from crowded at the time. There were plenty of other places he could have sat that would have been just as comfortable.
Over time I began to see this moment as a metaphor for the entire concert series. Over the years, Santa Fe Bandstand had become a nightly fixture in the summer plans of thousands of locals. This event was created by them, for them, and I was little more than an outsider who’d only be able to see glimpses of what makes it so special to them.
There were undoubtedly performers who supported the claim that Bandstand was a snoozefest, but they were few and far between. Every night would be different—different musical styles, different caliber of performers. Some nights, there’d be a Grammy winner on the stage, and others it’d be a beloved local act who’d be unknown outside of the region. Performers made there way from more distant cities such as Paris and Seattle, with Mamadou Kelly coming all the way from Mali. And yet with the variety, hundreds of regular could be found in the crowd each and every night—some seated in their camping chairs, others dancing along to every song regardless of style.
Bigger cities will draw more substantial performers, but the tradeoff is that similar festivals in bigger cities usually lose any semblance of what makes that event an important piece of the distinct local culture.
There’s always room for improvement, but a perfect version of Santa Fe Bandstand will preserve its identity by continuing to acknowledge the strong feelings the community has towards celebrating their own performers.
Highlights of the 2016 Season:
There was an effervescent joy within every second of Mamadou Kelly‘s performance. In conjunction with International Folk Art Market, the crowd was as multi-cultural and peaceful as it gets. As disheartening news came out of Louisiana and Minnesota in regards to police shootings, the peaceful atmosphere was a reminder that the world still has much good left within it.
When I arrived on July 19th, there was a nervous energy amongst Bandstand employees and volunteers. The headlining band, Polyrhythmics, had not yet arrived from Seattle. After several delays in the flight to Albuquerque, the band had just arrived at the airport and would be driving to Santa Fe as quickly as possible. Nightly host, Chris Abeyta did his best to stall things after the opening band Jaka finished. he told jokes, and rambled on with anything he could think of to fill time. When the band finally arrived, the 8 piece afro-beat/funk band set up at a rapid pace. And within the first song, it was clear that the band was well worth waiting for.
On July 22nd, with possibly the biggest crowd of the summer Lumbre Del Sol and Sol Fire, the night felt more like a huge community family gathering than a concert. It was an atmosphere I’d never really experienced in New York City. Part of it was that opening act Sol Fire featured the sons of Lumbre Del Sol frontman Chris Abeyta, but the amazing community feel also came from Lumbre Del Sol being such an entrenched part of Santa Fe’s culture and especially Bandstand. Also, the night’s sponsor Santa Fe Goldworks supplied a seemingly endless amount of free pizza and watermelon for the crowd.
The following Tuesday, July 26th, Ginkgoa came all the way from France to provide the most fun set of the summer. Infusing Parisian jazz and pop with the energy of dance music, Ginkgoa had the Santa Fe crowd in the palm of their hands.
While I knew what kind of magic to expect from locals such as Greg Butera, Lone Piñon and GRYGRDNS, I had no idea just how good The Sticky would be on August 4th. Like any good funk band, The Sticky embraced a mix of power in numbers, charisma, and style. While each of the ten members seemed to have their moments in which they shined brightest, it was new member Ebony Isis Booth who stole the show when she stepped out of the shadows as a backup singer and into the spotlight as the lead singer.
No one really knew what to expect when art collective Meow Wolf took over Bandstand and Plaza for their “Monster Battle”. It was assumed that many of the older Bandstand regulars would sit the night out in favor of the younger crowd. Instead, it was a multi-generational gathering of locals joyfully embracing the weirder side of life while beats pulsated from the DJ booth on stage. It was a scene completely unlike any other during the summer at Bandstand.
The crowd was often as entertaining as the performers…
…And there was no shortage of dogs…
See you next year…