These days, summertime in Taos means concerts in the park, on the mesa and the mountain!
It’s as if the entire county has decided that Music and Tourism go hand in hand and suddenly, like the mushrooms that spring up in our alpine meadows during monsoon season, musical events are multiplying as if fed by those same summer rains!
Truth be told there has always been music in Taos. Country Music has always been strong in Taos. Michael Martin Murphy’s West Fests and Michael Hearne’s Barn Dances are testament to its thriving presence here. In the 70’s and 80’s John Brown brought a stream of musical (mainly Blues legends), greats through town most weekends almost year round; everyone from Taj Mahal to Howlin’ Wolf played the Kachina Lodge thanks to John.
Other fly-by-night promoters got in on the action too. The Old Martinez Hall, the scene of many a boogie (and occasional bang up riot), hosted the likes of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and other big name acts passing through town on the way from somewhere to somewhere else.
Then we had years of Reggae (the Wailers have been frequent visitors to Taos), and the short-lived Ramona’s where the likes of Etta James, Sheryl Crow (who more recently played a private party in Taos Ski Valley), Rick Danko, Townes Van Zandt and others played for pennies compared to the ticket prices comparable acts charge these days, even aqui en Taos!
Finally we had 15 years of the Taos Solar Fest, (in the park), which set a precedent for shows like this weekend’s big bash – then Mumford & Sons (which inspired the Town to purchase its own stage), and last year’s Alabama Shakes, which put Taos on the map as a Music Destination.
After Ramona’s closed (I’d been pulled in too late to save the sinking ship), I booked a few great shows at the old Angladas Building – Alejandro Escovedo, James McMurtry, Townes and Guy Clark, and a few others played to a mostly empty house. (It’s always been easy to get musicians to come to Taos, the hard part was getting Taoseno’s to pay for the music!) A three-day festival in Angel Fire with Blues Traveler headlining, fared better, but after that I was done with Rock and Roll, having spent the better part of my adult life in its trenches.
Last year my old pal Jarl Mohn came up to Taos and spent an evening with me and my kids. He was in Albuquerque on a road trip visiting NPR Stations across the States. Jarl is the current CEO of NPR. When he was the best man at my first wedding to the father of my son Joshua, he was a Top 40 Radio Jock who went by the name of Lee Masters. He went on to become the GM at MTV, started E Entertainment Network and is now changing the face of NPR.
Lee, now Jarl, asked me over dinner, why I backed away from the biz, my rote answer is that I felt Rock and Roll was an undignified profession for a woman entering her forties (which i was at the time that I unceremoniously quit), but that’s not quite the truth. The fact of the matter is that Taos wasn’t ready for what iI had to offer (back then) and frankly, my kids were more important than bringing a stream of rockers to High Country.
My accidental career (I was an artist, a painter), had begun in earnest with my marriage to a DJ who went on to become one of the foremost Program Directors in FM Radio during the 70’s. I fell into the Industry as a writer first then after my marriage, as a sometime on the air personality and a publicist. I too used another name (the name my husband used on the air, Allen.) Sometimes Rock and Roll is a family affair. When Lee Abrams, the founder of XM Satellite Radio (pre the Sirius merger), hired my son as one of the first Music Directors there, I sent Joshua a photograph of myself, his father and Lee (whom we worked for at the time), with Rod Stewart. It was taken in Atlanta at 96 Rock in 1977, shortly after he was born.
Josh placed the framed print on his desk and it was immediately noticed by Lee.
“Where did you get that?” He queried.
“That’s me,” Josh said, pointing to a tiny basket (on the studio floor), where he had slept straight through the interview with Stewart.
Lynne Allen is the name I used for all my Rock and Roll purposes unless I was doing two pieces for one publication at the same time, in which case I used Freddie Bendrix. It sounded dangerous.
Lynne Allen’s Interview with Bob Dylan for Trouser Press in 1978, appears as the last interview of the 70’s in Younger Than That Now; The Collected Interviews With Bob Dylan (Thundermouth Press/Avalon Books).
Lynne Allen was also (together with her husband at the time, Keith Allen), awarded (a gold record) for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers breakout (in the US), single, Breakdown..She was backstage at more concerts than you could imagine (including Live Aid), hung out at all night parties with everyone from Zeppelin to the Stones and arrived in Taos at the end of 1990, a former manager of several indie artists who are still out there and not so indie.
Needing a job, I applied at a local radio station and was looked at like a crazy lady when I mentioned my references. I didn’t get the job. For years I heard that people thought I ‘”made stuff up,” For several years I hosted a popular open mic at various cafes in town, and except for the brief retrograde into booking bands, I quietly got on with my life and kept writing. Writing about art mostly, then I wrote a play and joined Facebook and started blogging. Social Media enabled me to reconnect with the vast network I’d left behind when I came here toward the end of the last century.
By then I’d divorced the DJ, remarried (and divorced), a talented musician who fathered my two daughters. When I met Sonny Boy (Robinson), I was working on mad installations at the infamous Mudd Club and he had a band – called The Lords who played at Max’s and CBGB’s – with Danny Oppenheimer the son of the late writer and Village Voice Editor, Joel Oppenheimer and Rena Rosequist who owns the Mission Gallery here in Taos. Rock and Roll was in my blood, no matter how hard I tried to leave it behind.
Which brings me back to this past weekend in Taos, when I found myself running from one venue to another – the millennial hotspot on the Mesa to Kit Carson Park in the heart of town – to cover the biggest musical weekend of the summer season up here in the High Desert.
I met my daughter Genevieve at the Cellar right before she closed. Gen and I have been going to concerts together for a long time. Mostly I go and see old friends play in Colorado or Albuquerque when they tour the region. Sometimes I take a friend, but usually I take my daughter because I know she’s cool, never starstruck and we travel well together. On Friday night, we didn’t have far to go.
As we pulled up to the Mesa Brewing Mothership, we laughed as we remembered the last Dylan gig we’d gone to. That Dylan, that night, had been off rather than on, and after five songs, we looked at one another, got up and quietly left the venue. His voice had been left behind somewhere on the long and winding road, and only die-hard fans remained in their seats while he croaked out unrecognizable versions of his greatest hits. As we left the auditorium, three owls circled high above the stage.
We took it as an omen.
We said “never again” after that show but here we were, about to see his youngest son Jakob Dylan, and his band, the Wallflowers.
They were already onstage when we got inside – the gig had been moved from the outdoor amphitheater due to rain – and the place was jam-packed. We ran into my son Joshua and soon to be son-in-law Lee, who were hanging out near the bar. I left the kids and made my way up to the side of the room, in front of the sound booth. From there I ducked outside and around to head upstairs to watch from the semi-secluded balcony.
An irate Road Manager attempted to stop me to no avail. I’m a pro at this game. From above the stage I had a bird’s-eye view of both the band and the audience who were clearly giving one another the energy needed to turn a gig golden.
The Wallflowers are a great little rock band. They are a hard working and very well oiled touring musical machine. It’s easy to try to compare Jakob to his dad, especially because he stares out of the same, blue eyes, but that is just too unfair. A talent like (Bob) Dylan comes around once every century, if that, but Jakob is no slouch. He holds his own. He can write and he can play and unlike his father, he’s approachable and engages easily with the audience, and on Friday night, the crowd at the TMB Mothership, loved it
Hundreds of bodies crammed into the cavernous venue, pushed up against the stage, singing along with familiar songs (both originals and covers), as the band rocked hard, bringing down the house.
As we drove home, an owl flew past the windshield.
We took it as an omen.
The following afternoon, armed with an official looking pass which allowed me to skip straight to the front of the line that snaked up Kit Carson Road all the way from Will Call – I headed to Kit Carson Park to check out the Dwight Yoakam and The Mavericks concert.
It was Honky Tonk Heaven in the shadow of the Mountain, people were already setting up camp – deck chairs and blankets – forming rows in front of the Town’s stage. The first opening act ( The Last Bandoleros) were getting ready to go on and although the clouds above looked threatening, no rain would fall until after the show was over. This year it seems, the Gods smiled on Taos.
By the time the popular Mavericks hit the stage, the park was packed. Over 7000 bodies had gathered to hear one of Country Music’s favourite sons. The Mavericks got the crowd warmed up and when they finished their set, the audience was more than ready to keep the party going!
When Dwight Yoakam first broke onto the scene, he’d been playing his Honky Tonk tunes alongside Punk acts like the Blasters – in fact for years, he’d call his music “Urban Country” until it became clear, that he was as much of a purist if not more so, than the headliners at the Grand Ol’ Opry. His 1986 debut album (Guitas, Cadillacs etc. etc.) produced by Yoakam’s then lead guitarist Pete Anderson, was the result of a collaborative partnership which would last 15 years, with Anderson building Yoakam’s songs around his heavy, blues/rockabilly guitar riffs, producing a sound combining hard rock with hard country. Yoakam’s bluegrass-influenced vocals combined with his Rock Star stage moves, reminiscent of an early Elvis, won over a younger, crossover audience.
Country Music Magazine called him “a singer approaching George Jones, a songwriter approaching Hank Williams.”
His legacy as one of Country’s great singer/songwriters, accomplished musician and interpreter of songs ,by Elvis, the Grateful Dead, Buck Owens, and, on his seminal album, Swimming Pools, Movie Stars, even Prince. is at this point, a given.
In early interviews, he claimed that he went to Los Angeles because he could not find anyone in Nashville who wanted to record traditional Country Music. He later confessed he went there to pursue a dream of becoming both a singer and an actor. His acting career got a more than significant boost after he received rave reviews from critics for his role as the darkly abusive Doyle Hargrave in Sling Blade.
These days Yoakam is revered as one of the great voices of his genre. No longer Country’s newest bad boy in tight ripped jeans with his hat pulled down low over his eyes – these days he fills out those jeans a little more and the hat distracts from a receding hairline rather than hides his gaze – the man Yoakam has become, more than deserves a place in Country’ Music’s Hall of Fame. And in Kit Carson Park on Saturday night, he did not disappoint.
Backed up by a stellar group of musicians, Dwight Yoakam reminded us why he matters; his singular voice and singular style sets him apart from the rest and marks him as one of the great musical purveyors of true Americana. With a nod to Merle Haggard, early in his set, Yoakam acknowledged that even he, with his unique sound that was born from the unlikely confluence of Punk Rock and County, stands on the shoulders of giants.
He and his band (outfitted in glittering rhinestone studded Nudie of Hollywood suits), rocked solid for more than two hours. My daughter and one of my grand daughters had joined me as the sun began to set, and we skirted the park perimeter, avoiding the crush. For part of his set, we watched from backstage, near the busses, and then from outside the venue, in the old Kit Carson cemetery where a few locals from the neighborhood, had gathered
As the music rose to a crescendo, a couple danced among the grave stones, lit by the half-moon and the stage lights.
“We can’t go on together with suspicious minds …” the singer intoned in his encore (and tip of the hat to the King), as the lights got brighter and the crowd began to spill out onto the streets… “And we can’t build our dreams on suspicious minds…”
As Genevieve, Tatyana and I cut through the alley next to the Mission Gallery, back to her house on Quesnel St., I reminisced about meeting Dwight some twenty years or so, ago at Taos Pueblo, when he’d come to Rhoda Concha’s house with Dennis Hopper and Robby Romero. on one of the Feast Days.
For a moment I imagined I heard a screech-owl in the old cottonwoods around the Couse compound. Maybe my mind was playing tricks on me, but I took it as an omen that music in Taos is not only here to stay, but is just going to keep on getting better!
For more information about Musical (and other), events in Taos, please visit Taos Mesa Brewing’s site and Taos.org’s Event page listed below this post.
Top Photograph Dwight Yoakam stock files. All other photos (of DY), taken on mine and my daughter’s iphones. The shots of Jakob Dylan and The Wallflowers,onstage at TMB, thanks to Charles J. Cox. (Photo taken from the balcony by me.)
Thanks to Hotel Luna for shelter from the storm