'Tis the season (so the rumors go) when tourists in Santa Fe exceed the residents. With thousands of hotel rooms bulging to capacity, it falls to the locals to provide the entertainment.
So, while Santa Claus is making his list and checking it twice, the hotel musicians are making set lists and checking them…well, probably not even once. Most of them are "seasoned" veterans who have been playing variations of the same set lists for years, while also pursuing their musical careers in other groups and venues all across town.
Several hotels in Santa Fe offer live music, but not enough to do it consistently. The Eldorado, for instance, ended their live music bookings last fall when, according to spokesperson Carol Baetzel, "overflow into the lobby became somewhat disruptive to paying hotel guests." They plan, however, to bring live acts back in early 2013.
What follows are profiles of the three hotel venues that most regularly offer live music:
La Fiesta Lounge at La Fonda
Pros: The quintessential Santa Fe hotel bar; dark, kind of sticky, historic, with a good balance between locals and visitors.
Cons: Dark, kind of sticky…and though they brag about their "sensational" margaritas, it has been awhile since I've received one that didn't remind me of a limey Shirley Temple.
Music: On Dec. 8, the lounge was packed with couples of all ages dancing enthusiastically to the diverse music of Wise Guys. Wise in the ways of crowd-pleasing, these guys mix the sounds of northern New Mexico with the classic rock hits of yore.
The rest of La Fiesta's lineup is comprised of a solid list of regulars (Zenobia, Bill Hearne, Syd Masters, etc.) who don't necessarily try to wow with musical innovation, but are masters of getting people out of their chairs to dance off their margarita sugar-highs.
Low 'n Slow Lowrider Bar at Hotel Chimayó
Pros: A relative newcomer to the scene, this Heritage Hotels and Resorts-owned bar manages to avoid being too touristy by incorporating the authentic and truly awesome lowrider photography of Jack Parsons.
Cons: Expensive drinks (but hey, it's a Santa Fe hotel bar); near-perpetual emptiness, at least during the off-season.
Music: Tony B, who wears many hats and performs in different groups all over town, hosts a weekly session at Low 'n Slow. On a recent Saturday, he was relaxing with friends in one corner, mic in hand. By relaxing, I mean belting out funk and soul hits and engaging in impromptu duets with Gwen Spatzier, who stopped in to say hello. Little Leroy (big on talent) was on the guitar.
Aware of the fact that the number of musicians (three) at times threatened to surpass the number of patrons, Tony B laughed about how this time of year "gives us room to experiment." Tony and company took advantage of the opportunity to create the atmosphere of a jam session amongst friends, where the friends are all professional musicians.
Staab House Lounge at La Posada
Pros: Opulent, in a haunted-mansion sort of way; cozy.
Cons: Not particularly interested in courting the local crowd; when even mildly crowded, it's hard to find a seat where you can hear music.
Music: Wily Jim, who plays twice a week, is reminiscent of the narrator of The Big Lebowski (the Stranger), complete with cowboy hat and white horseshoe mustache. Unafraid to reinforce stereotypes, he played a spot-on rendition of "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" during his Dec.12 set.
Beside Wily Jim and his country classics, La Posada mixes it up with a nicely diverse series of regulars that includes Savor and Pat and Whitney Malone.
Visitors and locals alike will find it's worth stopping by at least one of these places during the holiday season, even if just to rub elbows with strangers from far and wide in the crossroads of a hotel bar, while listening to the musical ambassadors of Santa Fe.
Remember, while most of us are enjoying an end-of-year vacation, this is the busiest time of year for a hotel musician (and Santa Claus), so don't forget the cookies and milk—or the tip jar.