Sad news out of Santa Fe this week as longtime local musician, poet, educator and community pillar Chris Abeyta died on Tuesday. He was 72.
Perhaps best known as the co-founder and leader of Chicano rock act Lumbre Del Sol, Abeyta was also a Plaza Bandstand series mainstay and organizer, Vietnam veteran, DJ at local station KSFR, a former Santa Fe Community College board member and city arts commissioner and so many other roles in the community.
Lumbre Del Sol exploded onto the scene in 1973, and Abeyta would continue with that band for the rest of his life. He graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1996 with his bachelor’s in art and, throughout the 1990s and 2000s, served across a variety of platforms, including as a math and guitar teacher in elementary schools. He also provided guitar lessons for incarcerated youths through the nonprofit Outside In, the organization behind the original run of the Santa Fe Bandstand series. Some might even know Abeyta as the songwriter behind the iconic song, “Santa Fe, Nuevo Mexico.”
In short, many say, Chris Abeyta lived and breathed Santa Fe.
“I don’t know a man who had more pride in his city,” Chris’ son, Amado, tells SFR. “He was always about his music and performing, and also serving his community. There were elements of Santa Fe in everything he wrote; his music, his poetry, everything he did.”
Amado and his brother, Buddy, eventually became Lumbre Del Sol bandmates, which Amado describes as, “a dream come true.”
“Ever since I was 3 years old, that’s all I wanted,” he says. “It was always such an honor to get to share that stage with him—but he never pressured us to be musicians, never said ‘do it this way or that way.’ It was always about feel and what was in your heart and spirit.”
Abeyta had been ill for some time and was under hospice car. Numerous other locals are reeling in the wake of Abeyta’s death.
“With his passing we lose a piece of the old world, the old Santa Fe,” says musician and producer Jono Manson. “We must always remember his timeless lessons—he was a good neighbor, and always treated me with kindness, even as a newcomer here 30 years ago.”
Current DJ and retired journalist Steve Terrell remembers Abeyta as a friend.
“I first met Chris in the early ’80s when I had a job with a little podunk paper called the Santa Fe Reporter,” Terrell says. “I got to know Chris and I’d see his band every so often. Then, in the ’90s when he and his brother started a show at KSFR, his slot was before mine, so it was good to see him regularly. He was really idealistic. He said, ‘If I can help one kid stay away from crime, do something they love and be proud of themselves, that’d be great.’”
Musician Busy McCarroll remembers meeting Abeyta in the ’70s when she was new to the area. They grew closer over the years, but connected on a deeper level when McCarroll produced a 1986 New Mexico-themed Christmas album, for which Lumbre del Sol recorded a version of “Jingle Bell Rock.”
“I have a lot of good memories and a lot of stories,” she says. “I can’t even imagine Santa Fe without him. He felt like a brother; I don’t have a memory without him.”
McCarroll’s husband, musician and engineer Baird Banner of Cerrillos’ Kludgit Sound Recording worked on that record, as well as both of Lumbre Del Sol’s full-length albums, Power of the Moon and Cambios.
“He was just pure music,” Banner says of Abeyta, “and anybody who listened to his music knew he loved it.”
Truer words and all that. For now, the wound is fresh, though, Amado says, he and his brother Buddy plan to keep the Lumbre del Sol name alive and they hope to perform in honor of their father in the coming months.
“The Plaza was his favorite place to perform,” Amado says. “That’s where he shined, that’s where we’ll honor him through music.”