I predict hurt feelings and an epic backlash, but I'm just going to say it: Eldorado spooks me out.

The whole thing smacks of Levittown, NY, is as far as hell and has no trees. I often wonder what the residents do with themselves if they don't feel like a 20-minute drive to see live music. It seems that Iowa/Texas ex-pat Mike Engeldinger shared similar feelings when he conceived of Mike's Music Exchange in the summer of 2009.

"I started on a business plan that put the idea into a form that would let me build a physical location," Engeldinger tells SFR. "Coincidentally, just about the time I was completing the plan, I got word that the long-dead Eldorado commercial complex formerly known as The Village had new owners…within an hour of talking with them, I was completely sold on moving the concept into reality."

The small-scale music venue opened last December and, in less than a year, has quietly yet steadily grown into a triple threat. In addition to live music, the space also houses a recording studio and custom guitar shop. The other aspects help Engeldinger "break even" so that he can support his vision for live music.

"I've always been a big fan of live music in small venues since my days in Dallas," Engeldinger says. "As a result, I saw some fantastic bands and developed a great respect for the artists."

Originally co-founder and technical director for video game company Paradigm Entertainment, Engeldinger wound up in Santa Fe after his company was absorbed and eventually shut down by gaming publisher THQ.

"I had been working remotely from Eldorado since 2001 and found it a great opportunity to take a year off and contemplate what to do next," Engeldinger says. "I was looking for a way that I could help out the community here in general, and it just didn't seem right to see great bands fighting for attention over the video screens, and playing to people's butts in the bar."

Operating in an alternative venue, however, does require him to set ticket prices higher than expected, given that many of the acts are not well-known.

"We're not a bar or restaurant, so we can't leverage guarantees to the artist based on food and/or beer sales," he says.
Another significant difference from standard venues is that artists book themselves to play at Mike's. (The space rents for $150 Sunday to Tuesday and for $300 on weekends.)

The shows at Mike's Music Exchange are all-ages, although Engeldinger acknowledges teens are not his main audience.

"I'd say I've seen a couple kids here and there," he says, but they're usually with their parents.

Mike's so far has attracted a variety of local and national acts. This week, Santa Fe musician Jono Manson's The Whateverly Brothers plays there. Several other bands from elsewhere—none of which I had heard of before they booked Mike's—also have made the journey to Eldorado (The Ben Miller Band, Byrd and Street, and The Mike Rood Communion, eg).

Despite all it has going for it, Mike's still faces the challenge of its location, and Engeldinger knows it.

"If I had it to do over again, I might have done it in town. We have that 20-minute barrier that has constantly been a factor," he says.

Nonetheless, he adds, more people  "are realizing they'll be out here a couple hours, and more are becoming interested in it as an experience."

Overall, Engeldinger says, he's "pleased with how things have worked out so far" and "extremely grateful to the artists that have come to perform."

Perhaps it’s time to give Eldorado another shot.

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