So I made the trip up to Jemez Springs, NM. After a little over an hour I arrived. I was a little underwhelmed at first. I was expecting scenic views. The truth is, there were scenic views, I’m just spoiled now. I’ve had the fortune of seeing many of North America’s geographical wonders. I’ve even seen some of South America and across the pond in Europe and North Africa. The drive down to La Ventana put it all to shame. Ok, not really, but kinda. The drive down to La Ventana was like a big show, each act bigger and better than the one before it. Just when I’d start to think it couldn’t get any more magnificent, I’d round the corner smack-dab into another shockingly grand and gorgeous landscape.
Jemez Springs was not that. It is a tiny community wedged between some plateaus. As you can see, it is a pretty landscape.
I sat out here and practiced for hours. There were people hiking around on the rocks to check out the miniature waterfall. Everyone passed me by without a word. It’s curious how people respond to music in different settings. If I practice at the beach, people are much more likely to engage a conversation. Finally a family sat down not too far from me to gaze at the view and take in the music. It was a modest Spanish speaking woman, her modest Spanish speaking family, and her husband, a chubby country white man with long wispy grey hair, a T-shirt tucked into belt-less jeans, and a cowboy hat. The man threw a compliment my way accompanied by light applause from the family after I finished a song. Before too long he started a conversation.
It turned out that he was a songwriter too. He didn’t really get out to see the sights much, and he neglected to bring his guitar even though his wife suggested it. I let him use mine. He mentioned he almost never plays outside his room. Despite being more toward the novice end of the spectrum, he had a nervous ego. He played three songs. His first two were plain, uninspiring, but works of passion nonetheless. His third was a good song, and when he talked about it, I could see he did have some songwriting prowess. His dream was to pitch one of his songs successfully to a performer like Martina McBride or Jason Aldean.
Later, I went to Los Ojos, the bar & restaurant recommended to me by Kurt from Albuquerque.
I’d never been a place quite like it. The handle on the entryway door was a bone or antler (I can’t remember). The inside was covered with taxidermized animals and guns. I met Kurt’s friend Howard (Howie).
Howie is a strong vocalist and capable guitarist. He had a slapstick off the cuff style of banter and conversation. He started the music off open mic style. Three of us took turns playing. A couple to stage-right said I reminded them of Michael Bublé. I’d never had this reference before and I burst out with my biggest laugh of the night. While it was a strong compliment, I’m not exactly a Bublé fan! I sold a few CDs. The bartender bought me a beer as a way to compliment my performance. Overall, it was a successful night on the performance front. And then the night took a turn that made it really special.
Howie decided it was time to start the jam. I thought he and I and the third performer would all jam on stage. Nope. It was an acoustic jam that took place right on the floor in the center of the restaurant. The restaurant was quite filled with diners, and we just formed a circle right in the middle. I got my djembe drum from the van, a middle-aged woman plugged in a keyboard, a number of people sat around with guitars, and we cut loose and jammed.
While this might not seem so inspirational, it was to me and here’s why. After spending years now learning about venues, stages, performance, music, environmental dynamics, etc., I’ve never seen something like this. Allow a metaphor! Writing a song is like shaping a diamond. When you write or learn a new song, it’s often dirty, misshapen, and uncomfortable. Stages, no matter how big or small, are intentioned to be places to show polished diamonds, or at the very least undergoing the polishing process. Stages also separate the audience from the performer, creating a certain kind of almost teacher-student relationship. When people spend money at an establishment, they tend to expect a certain quality.
Howie broke these “rules” and boundaries. We were equals and all part of the same community, and the diners enjoyed it as much as the jam participants. We dove head first into a jam that had its moments of brilliance and its share of slop, and it flowed as natural as the waterfall just up the road.
Onward to Corpus Christi.