After Hours Alliance founder Shannon Murphy’s realization was triggered by a crowdsourced question during a monthly meeting held by MIX (a networking group that focuses on arts and culture initiatives): How can local nightlife be improved?
Her idea was fairly simple. “The way I saw it is that music promoters were the entrepreneurial force behind the nightlife events. You’ve got bands, the creative force, and then these people who are actually trying to start businesses.” So why not organize a coalition of young industry entrepreneurs — “and by young I mean under 50,” she laughed — and establish regular meetings for them to talk more seriously and less abstractly about ways to address nightlife deficiencies? She won $200 for this idea from MIX, and in true community volunteer form, she quickly blew through it on snacks for the meetings.
“In the beginning, it was just strategic planning. At the time we were really asking, why do all these venues go out of business? Why is it so hard to become a successful band here? And why do people tend to leave Santa Fe when they’re on the verge of success?”
Paradoxically, the group’s most concrete initiative for bolstering nightlife has turned out to be primarily a daylight affair: a large-scale annual festival intended to raise awareness about the activities of artists and performers, both diurnal and nocturnal. Now in its third year, the AHA Festival takes place at the Railyard Park on Sunday, Sept. 15.
“Everyone has their big event in Santa Fe — Spanish Market, Indian Market, the Bandstand — but there was no big annual event for young, emerging, progressive artists and musicians, for people who aren’t so interested in doing the traditional stuff, not that anything’s wrong with that, but are instead creating new forms of art and new forms of financial viability. We were looking at the people like us and realized there was no major venue, so we decided we had to create it.”
Exemplifying the type of music AHA wants to showcase is Luke Carr’s Storming the Beaches With Logos in Hand, a large-scale percussive opus. After providing Pasatiempo with a novella-length description of the project, Carr was persuaded to condense it to a more tweetable sentence: “It’s a sci-fi rock opera that poses an advanced Native American culture against a defiant colony in the war over the myth of ‘Pigrow.’” (In turn, he describes “Pigrow” as a color whose power has been harnessed by the native culture that rules the dystopic future he imagines.) Until recently, Carr had been focusing on solo work and performing as a one-man band, looping drum patterns that he would then play guitar and sing over. For this project, he continues layering rhythms, many of them inspired by West African and Haitian drumming, but with a small army of percussionists helping him out.
“For the performance at the AHA fest, there may be 11 or 12 of us, I’m not sure exactly. But essentially that includes about six drummers doing different percussion pieces on top of guitar, bass, voice, and violin. And there will also be horns. So it’s kind of a miniature orchestra that is very percussive, kind of old world and new world — a balanced sound for sure — like post-punk with African rhythms.”
Carr is scheduled to perform at 7:30 p.m. “It’s going to be really cool to present this to the community at the biggest show for progressive arts that there is in this town,” he said. He sees it as a rare opportunity to generate interest in a nontraditional project, adding that he hopes to develop it into a full recording and touring project through a currently active Kickstarter campaign.
Murphy said other highlights from the festival range from instrumental rock and electronica act D Numbers to a Phoenix-based drummer named Peter Breslin. “His is maybe one of my favorite concepts. We’re giving him a booth, like we would with the visual artists, and he’s scheduled 10 to 15 minute sets with about 10 Santa Fe musicians that he contacted on his own. He’s also going to have a sign-up sheet where people in the audience can sign up for a duet and perform with him, completely unrehearsed and unplanned.”
She singled out Breslin because she thought his project “really invites what we aim for with the festival always, which is that spontaneity, where as an audience member you’re also a participant.” As a whole, because the festival incorporates nearly 40 artists and musicians within a broad spectrum of media, there’s bound to be something for everyone — those who demand extremity, for example, can visit the festival’s “harsh noise listening station” provided by Heavy Metal Vomit Party.
While Murphy is more aware than most people of the standard criticisms leveled against local emerging arts and nightlife, she also recognizes a unique convergence of opportunities at the present moment. She expressed surprise at how many talented people are approaching the same challenges, saying that many of these people share a similar set of qualities.
“For a certain type of person, you’ll see something lacking, and you’ll realize stepping up and taking responsibility for creating it is the fastest way for you to feel complete about your life and the place you live.”
Reflecting on this type of person, she had another realization, this one more Zen: “What you see as missing is a reflection of who you are, just as the thing you see missing is what you’re destined to create.” ◀
AHA Festival takes place at the Railyard Plaza (corner of South Guadalupe Street & Paseo de Peralta), from noon till 9 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15. No charge. Visit www.ahafestival.com.