Just because it's local doesn't mean it's good. But don't tell anyone.
Thanks to some reader comments, I recently discovered that I am, apparently, an unsupportive monster. It seems that questioning the quality of local bands is unacceptable. To let a week go by without mentioning as many musicians and music organizations as possible is unforgivable. This sort of aversion to criticism is dangerous to the quality of the music scene in Santa Fe, and I'm not the only one to notice.
"I've heard Santa Fe musicians say that supporting local music is the same as supporting local farming, but that's total bullshit," local promoter Red Cell tells SFR. "If I go out to my local farmers market, I'm going to buy the good produce…I'm not going to buy someone's rotten head of lettuce simply because they're a local farmer, and I'm not going to support crappy music with my time and money simply because it is local."
For that matter, if a farmer were to continually show up with sub-par consumables, the farmers market would boot him to the curb, no matter how locally sourced his vegetables are. To keep the metaphor going, wouldn't you want the best produce, not just a passable carrot?
Yes, it's important to support local music. Having a city that's open and accommodating to local musicians creates a vibrant, sustainable scene. There is, however, a difference between support and blind acceptance, which can be more damaging to musicians in the long run. If bands don't feel a need to excel or change, they stagnate. They'll play the same songs in the same bars every other night, and everyone will lose.
Local artist JC Gonzo says it best. "For a musician to say, 'Support me because I'm local!' seems like an excuse to be mediocre to me…like a free pass or something," he says. "If people really want to cultivate a quality local scene, they should be saying, 'Support me because I'm good!'"
Too bad there isn't some sort of system of checks and balances to keep musicians working hard at advancing their craft—oh, wait: the fans. It's our job as fans (and music critics) to give bands feedback, good or bad; to attend shows or not; to buy their albums or buy someone else's. How else can bands gauge their performances?
Bands should want fans who clamor for their music, not their geographical origins. I'd find it unbearable to not know whether people actually love what I do or "support" me because I'm from Santa Fe.
The best local acts understand there's more to music than being local. D Numbers and Venus Bogardus didn't become touring bands for nothing. They are constantly evolving and cultivating their sounds. They're on par with (if not better than) many of the national acts that come through Santa Fe. And they don't badger anyone to like them.
But if you're the kind of person who is going to lose your shit when people don't respond well to this very public thing you've chosen to do, maybe playing songs ain't the right plan for you.
At the end of the day, our standards for local and nonlocal acts should be alike. The exchange of good music for a positive reception by enthusiastic fans is the incentive to build a better scene. So how about we all spend a little less time worrying where musicians are from, and a little more time thinking about where they're going.
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