On the night of April 7, local promoter Jamie Lenfestey paced nervously while he monitored those in line to see legendary punk band X. Mere days before, the event had been booked at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, but due to a miscommunication about the group playing an acoustic show—they weren't—Lenfestey chose to move everything to Skylight to create a better "rock show" vibe. Facebook rabble-rousers, those who hadn't even planned to attend and, no joke, those standing in line that very night bitched about the change and claimed the move was a bait-and-switch ploy to confuse the price point. The truth is much simpler, however: The Lensic wouldn't have been a good fit.
"It was the last Heath [Concerts] show, and I had hoped to go out in a blaze of glory," Lenfestey says. "Instead, it was more like a slow sizzle."
The words "last show" sound as if the longtime promoter behind some of the biggest shows in recent memory (Al Green, Bonnie "Prince" Billy and David Byrne, to name a few) might be done with the local music scene, but Lenfestey is actually leaving his nonprofit Heath Concerts (a successor has not been named but Heath, he says, will live on) for greener pastures as the director of the new Santa Fe office of Albuquerque-based AMP Concerts, a move that he assures means big things for local live music.
"New Mexico is widely renowned as one of the most difficult markets in America to book concerts, and it's even more difficult when there are the two markets of Santa Fe and Albuquerque," Lenfestey tells SFR. "They're only an hour apart, but they're treated like completely different entities, and we now have a chance to build on both as one market."
He's right. As any Santa Fe promoter can tell you, it's heartbreaking to learn a band you've just booked will also play Albuquerque, since it generally means fewer numbers as audiences begin to split. Add venues that compete over crowds in order to pay ludicrous rent and liquor license costs, an increasingly demanding populace and events like the free summer Bandstand, and it's harder than ever to ensure decent numbers.
"Everybody wants a downtown club, but the costs are insane, and though the Bandstand can be great, one caveat is that it can actually hurt the traveling scene, as it's hard as a promoter to be up against a free night of music," Lenfestey points out. "To my way of thinking, I would do fewer events but make each one bigger and better."
Following that vein, the promoter, alongside AMP's executive director, Neal Copperman, will have the opportunity to book in both cities—which could foster much-needed cross-pollination—with the added benefit of being on top of the required marketing from square one.
And though Copperman has thus far been known for booking what could most efficiently be described as world music, the addition of Lenfestey will widen the scope genre-wise and, if we're lucky, provide for broader audiences by including acts that in the past may have only played one town or the other.
"I have more experience in this business than Neal, but he's built up a great reputation over the years, and we have a very similar take on music," Lenfestey says.
This doesn't mean there won't still be challenges, and while Lenfestey cites right now as the most promising time for local music since the '90s, he remains cautious.
"We have a small population and an economically challenged one at that, and yet Santa Fe wants world-class music and entertainment…for the last 15 years, we've kind of been spinning our wheels trying to find that next thing," he says. "And though we'll be bringing bands like Red Elvises and Metalachi, on any given night, you're lucky to have 10 percent of the population going out."
Santa Fe bands could certainly benefit from some Albuquerque infiltration and vice versa, and larger audiences translate into larger bookings. Let's just hope that AMP Concerts' purview includes the little guy; a lot of them would probably do well if they could get outside the barroom.