It's one of the first sunny spring days on the Plaza, and Pedro Romero is out once more, serenading anyone who has the time to stop and listen:
"I dreamed I was in the White House; I was sitting in the president's chair. He came and shook my hand, said, 'Pedro, I'm glad you're here!'"
He finishes to scattered applause from those who've gathered around (many eating fajitas from the nearby food cart). A few of them toss bills into his open accordion case.
"Blues!" he exclaims, "On the accordion, baby! That's an old song by 'Big Bill' Broonzy."
It's just one song in the pro's vast repertoire. "I'm a professional, not an aficionado," he says when I introduce myself, referring to an SFR event listing that labeled him the latter. He explains that in Spanish, "aficionado" means amateur.
During a setbreak, he refers to his instrument as "really versatile."
"I can play a song from at least 25 different countries," he says. "From just the gypsy region alone, the Roma, I can play [songs from] seven different countries."
Gypsy music in particular speaks to Romero, who considers himself a "neo-bohemian." He also points out that for him, music is a family affair.
"My mom was a professional singer in North Africa," he tells SFR. "My dad is from New Mexico, and he was in the Navy. The first time he saw my mom, she was performing onstage. That's how they met."
"That should be a movie," a Plaza listener interjects. "Yeah, really," he laughs, continuing, "They got married and honeymooned at the Europa hotel in Kenitra, French Morocco, and that's where I was conceived."
Perhaps music was in the air that magical night, because before long, young Pedro was enrolled in an "accordion school, starting in like third grade and going up to 10th grade," in the town of Pueblo, Colo., where he grew up.
"But," he stresses, "I'm mainly trained as a visual artist. I have a masters in fine art from [University of Colorado] Boulder."
Romero's gypsy-like wanderings brought him to Santa Fe some 25 years ago, where he continues to paint murals, sculpt and create multimedia works.
"I have to turn myself away from the studio to come down to the Plaza," he says. "I'd definitely rather be in the studio. All the time. But sometimes, it's good to break out some tunes down here."
Over the last two and a half decades, Romero has broken out plenty of tunes at a wide variety of venues.
Besides being a Plaza fixture for many years (some locals will also remember his longtime canine companion, Sarah), he's had regular gigs at Collected Works Bookstore, the Farmers Market, Los Mayas Restaurant and the Bell Tower at La Fonda.
He recounts one memorable night at the Bell Tower several years ago. After he and a violinist finished their set, a pair of younger listeners urged them to play a few more songs: "One guy pulled out a giant roll of bills and peeled off a $100 bill and threw it in the accordion case. I don't know if they were coming back from the casinos or were drug dealers or what, because they were younger guys...[but] we ended up playing about five more songs for them, and came out of there with $300."
He doesn't see those kinds of tips, or "donations" as he calls them, down at the Plaza, which is part of the reason he prefers his current biweekly gig at Taberna La Boca. ("I'm getting paid good," he says. Plus, "they feed me.")
The restaurant gig also provides a good break from the increasingly competitive street-performer scene on the Plaza. These days, he says, "I feel like I'm just adding to the pandemonium, and it's not about music anymore. It's about drowning out other people's music."
For the time being, though, Romero will keep doing what he does—partly out of a lifelong love for the music, partly to help support his visual-arts career, and partly to find out when the next $100 donation will arrive.
7 pm Friday, March 12 and alternate Fridays. No cover.
Taberna La Boca, 72 W Marcy St., 988-7102
See Romero's art at romerolandia.com