Rockin’ In The Free World: Live At Kit Carson Park

Love it or hate it, music in the park is here to stay!

The stage is set (literally and figuratively), and we are being blessed with amazing music all summer long aqui en Taos.  Over the July 4th weekend, locals and visitors got a taste of the great vibes and unique venue Kit Carson Park provides; beneath the sacred mountain and starry skies – rain or shine, Taos rocks!

A few great acts graced our (permanent) stage that weekend, some very famous, a couple still on their way up, and yet others,  not quite household names, but getting there. Mitch Miller partnering up with AMP (and in the not to distant future, again with AEG), has created a burgeoning new music scene here that promises to include Taos on the (Road) Map for touring acts, going forward.

Beginning with bringing Alabama Shakes to the park a few years ago, Mitch and the Town have collaborated with outside promoters to cultivate Taos’ inevitable inclusion as a music destination, and it has worked. Last Friday, Conde Naste’s Travel & Leisure voted us the 12th best “city” in the States. Now the term “city” may still be a bit far-fetched but we know the rest is a given; there’s no question we live in a paradise up here, in High Country.

That said, why wouldn’t touring musicians (and their fans), want to come here?

And how great is that for the economy of a small town in America that struggled to keep afloat off and on for decades? When I say off and on, I’m referring to eras of spendy consumption that included keeping up with trends in fashion (Native jewelry and crafts), and Art. Those days are behind us now, The world has changed; Instagram killed Print Media and the way Commerce drives Trends.

And in a world hurtling faster and faster toward the unknown, one thing remains constant; people want (and need) to eat, drink and be entertained. 

Several acts took the stage over the July 4th Weekend, culminating with the headliners, Los Lobos and The Mavericks who played in a downpour to an audience who didn’t seem to mind – umbrellas swayed and the mud did not deter dancing feet! 

The first day was free to an appreciative public. Over 10,000 people attended. Take that complainers! War were the headliners, chosen by Mitch Miller after he saw the response to Sly&The Family Stone last year, and decided a band for all ages was key on this family friendly day.

He was right. The crowd itself was all ages and as diverse as it gets; every culture up here was represented and then some. Bravo Town of Taos!

Day two was in my opinion the best, showcasing a few of the most interesting young acts out there. The park was not as packed with people, enabling one to move around freely from the various vendors to the lawn, the weather was ideal, and the music was perfect for a balmy summer night.

After Taos faves David Garver’s Bones of Romeo warmed up the crowd (preceded by a Flamenco/Belly-Dance hybrid act that included Gemma Ra-Star and Taos’ own Flamenco star, Catalina Fernandez), that def gave the gig a decidedly New Mex accent, Beat Root Revival,  a multi-instrumentalist rootsy folk duo, took the stage on Friday evening while the sun was still shining and the park still filling with people coming after a day of work or play in our great outdoors!

Combining elements of Folk, Blues, Country and Rock,  Andrea Magee and Ben Jones sound bigger than the sum of their parts! Both are amazing vocalists whose melodic harmonies drive their percussive sound.

With just a guitar, a Bodhran and their awesome harmonies and songs, they slayed the crowd and got many up front to dance. A big screen enabled people who wanted to stay on their chairs or blankets, not to miss a beat – sorry for the pun.

Originally from England and Ireland, Ben Jones and Andrea Magee came to the States looking for a new life and to share their music “far and wide,” and Austin, Texas became their adopted home. After Mike Hearne met  them and invited them to play his Big Barn Dance last year, Mitch got their number.

The duo continue to develop an ever-growing fan base while gigging regularly and still writing prolifically.

On Friday they closed their set with Buffalo Springfield’s Counterculture Classic; For What It’s Worth. As the lyric rang out loud and clear – It’s  time we stop, hey, what’s that sound.Everybody look what’s going down – one was reminded that the song remains an anthem for these times too, and until we rise up against the institutionalised insanity that runs our society, Independence Day is still far away.

Most artists have one defining album or performance, but for ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, his entire career has been marked by huge achievements.

Since he first came to the world’s attention with his beautiful and unique rendition of  George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in a video that went viral on YouTube in 2005, the Hawaiian-born Shimabukuro has virtually reinvented the four-string instrument, and being dubbed “the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele. His music combines elements of jazz, blues, funk, rock, bluegrass, classical, folk, and flamenco.

Shimabukuro’s numerous original compositions  include the soundtracks to two Japanese films, Hula Girls (2007) and the Japanese remake of Sideways (2009).

In 2012, an award-winning documentary was released tracking his life, career, and music, titled Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings; it screened at several festivals, and has aired repeatedly on PBS, and is available on DVD.  His newest record The Greatest Day, was released to critical acclaim.

Jake and his band took the stage and within minutes the audience were on their feet. The park was filling up and people were ready to party. Shimabukuro’s funky sound rang out through the center of town, where no doubt a few folks were dancing in the streets!

The headliners, Lake Street Dive are a band of highly accomplished musicians  from Boston, Massachusetts. The band’s original members are Rachael Price (lead vocals), Mike Olson (trumpet, guitar), Bridget Kearney (upright bass), and Mike Calabrese (drums). Akie Bermiss (keyboards) joined the band on tour in 2017 and is on their latest album.

Lake Street Dive started at the esteemed New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where the aforementioned original players were students. The band was named after a street filled with dive bars in Olson’s hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a seeming breeding ground for great musicians. These days the band tours all over North America, Australia, and Europe from their base in Brooklyn.

The band’s influences are notably classic pop and swing era jazz. “We want it to sound like the Beatles and Motown had a party together,” they’ve said, and it’s their combined love of the Beatles ( Kearney wrote “Hello? Goodbye!” and the band plays “Don’t Make Me Hold Your Hand”, both referencing Beatles tune), that stands out above the rest. As do the truly incredible vocals care of lead singer Rachel Price! A voice that elevates Lake Street Dive to another level of musicianship. 

Rachael Price was born in Australia and grew up in Tennessee. She is the great-granddaughter of Seventh-day Adventist leader George McCready Price, the granddaughter of Hollywood actor John Shelton, and the daughter of composer and conductor Tom Price.

At nine years old, she performed with the Voices of Baha choir with her sisters Emily and Juliette. At twelve, she was a soloist. The choir toured all over the world. She was attracted to jazz at the age of five when she first  heard Ella Fitzgerald. 

She recorded her first album when she was 17.  In 2003, Price received an honorable mention at the Montreux Jazz Festival’s International Jazz Vocal Competition. In 2004, she was a semifinalist and the youngest competitor in the history of the Thelonious Monk Institute’s Vocal Competition.

In August 2004 she made her U.S. jazz festival debut at Yale’s Jazz On the Green, where she opened for Joshua Redman. She won the 2006 Independent Music Award for Best Gospel Song with her recording of “My God, My Adored One” with the Boston Praise Collective. She has appeared in concert as a featured vocalist with the T. S. Monk Sextet.

After the band played on Friday night, people were blown away (and rightly so), by her voice. “That girl has some pipes.” One of the security guards said to me as I left. I couldn’t say it better.

On Independence Day Weekend, Taos was blessed with world-class sounds in a bucolic setting unlike anywhere else. Last weekend in another park across the pond, two old rockers packed the lawn where on July 5th, 1969, the Stones headlined a free concert, at which Mick will forever be remembered for wearing a dress. Then (as now), music was the message. This past weekend, Neil Young and Bob Dylan shared that stage in Hyde Park, and Neil aptly closed his set (opening for Dylan), with Rockin’ In The Free World!

I’ll toast to that! And to the great team at the Town of Taos! Aside from bringing fabulous music to our doorstep, they are boosting our economy and reputation in so many ways; two of our oldest and most run down hotels have been sold recently. The Kachina Lodge and The Indian Hills are both on the fast track to renovation and restoration, preventing the need for building any more lodgings for the time being. Four story or otherwise.

Now that’s sustainable.

Heather Lynn Sparrow took the pics you see here throughout the July 4th weekend. 

For info on more great sounds coming to Kit Carson Park this summer, please visit the site linked below.

For more about the bands I covered above, I’ve linked to them as well.


All photographs by Heather Lynn Sparrow