On the first Monday evening of 2014, James T. Baker was crooning a bluesy original about whiskey, wine, and women at Duel Brewing. The capacity audience did not seem to mind that beer was not on Baker’s lyrical list — there was plenty of that arrayed on the tables and bar in the taproom, which opened last summer.
Duel’s Belgian-style beers pack a punch. A number of them are named after painters (Goya, Titian, Duchamp, Grünewald), which speaks to owner Trent Edwards’ career as an artist. Given how extensive Duel’s live music offerings are, one might be surprised to learn that Edwards’ initial artistic program was limited to a weekly life drawing group. That group continues to bring in a live model every Sunday at 11 a.m., but now Duel’s calendar includes music an average of five nights a week.
Reflecting on how his vision for the burgeoning business has solidified, Edwards said, “I want this to be a great venue for the arts, music being one of them.” The owner (who is prone to the well-placed aphorism, such as “Art is supposed to open your mind, not your wallet”) spoke at length about the importance of being flexible when creating both art and a business model. Pointing out that he started hosting music on a whim, in response to a pair of touring singers from Austin who asked at the bar if they could perform the following night, he said that the variety of genres represented is now integral to the series. Besides Baker’s weekly “Blue Monday” residency at Duel, the venue’s lineup for the next few weeks includes a number of diverse acts, including Müshi (groove jazz, Saturday, Jan. 18), Edmund Gorman (Celtic/folk, Jan. 25), and Rumelia (Balkan/world, Feb. 1).
“I don’t like boundaries. They don’t really help creativity. If somebody is honest and passionate about what they’re doing and they convey that to me, I’ll say, Let’s give it a whirl and see how the people respond to it,” Edwards said. “We had belly dancing New Year’s Day when Müshi was playing. It was fantastic!”
Müshi is a good example of a band that steers clear of boundaries. Composed of bassist Ross Hamlin, keyboardist Robert Muller, and drummer Dave Wayne, Müshi plays all originals instead of the standards common to many small jazz improv groups. “We’re definitely jazzy, but not too heady and not too exclusive,” Hamlin said. “A lot of people have a problem with jazz where the musicians go off and foster these musical inside jokes and leave the audience 10 years behind.” Hamlin emphasized that his group always receives a warm reception at Duel. Joking about the sometimes limited imaginations of those who are intimidated by the sight of his upright bass, he added, “It’s amazing how many people have used the word actually when they say they like us.”
Though the brewery’s serving area was not designed with music in mind, the acoustics are surprisingly tolerable for two converted live-work spaces with concrete floors and high ceilings. Belying Duel’s warehouse-like exterior, the inside is warmly decorated. A mix of Edwards’ large canvases adorn the high walls of the pub, and the walls and woodwork reflect the deep ambers, golds, and blacks of the beers on tap. Television sets are nowhere to be seen, and advertising is limited. “I don’t like a lot of signs — I don’t want to blast people with advertisements,” Edwards said. The understated tranquility thus created transfers over to the musical performances, during which audiences tend to actually listen to the music (as was the case during Baker’s set). Edwards said that one singer-songwriter confided after his performance that he had been unusually nervous, not being in the habit of playing in front of people who were really paying attention.
Now that music has become a central part of Duel’s future, Edwards plans to build a proper stage in an adjacent building. The hope is that a designated performance space with good lighting and acoustics will create “a little mystery and a lot more excitement.” It will also allow for more complex shows and theatrical productions. He said the nearby Teatro Paraguas Studio has expressed interest in staging previews at Duel. One man approached him about using the space for performances by his Shakespeare group. “My mind is quite open about what’s possible in this space. When the guy mentioned Shakespeare, it made me think that originally during Shakespeare’s time, people were probably drinking beer during the plays. It just makes my DNA kind of shake — it’s very fundamental.”
In fact, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre did supply audiences with ale, mead, and wine. When the original structure burned down in 1613, an eye-witness account reported no casualties: “Only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broyled him if he had not, by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with bottle-ale.” Whether Duel establishes itself as “the Globe of Santa Fe” remains to be seen. But it seems safe to assume that Duel’s ale is superior in taste to the kind that saved the life of one quick-witted 17th-century Englishman. At the very least, it’s more likely to serve as an extinguisher of anxiety (with musical accompaniment) than an extinguisher of flaming breeches. ◀
Duel Brewing is at 1228 Parkway Drive; 505-474-5301. Visit www.duelbrewing.com for details on upcoming events. There’s no cover for live music; Sunday life-drawing sessions cost $25, which includes a beer, a waffle, and two hours of drawing with a live model.