Arts

The Low-Key Magic of Sean Healen’s “Beer Phones”

A refreshingly unpretentious affair

AC Wendy Sundleaf-Healen and Sean Healen want to connect with you via Facebook. (Courtesy Sean Healen)

As our choices for virtual distractions proliferate, seasoned Santa Fe singer-songwriter Sean Healen has tapped into an archetypal appeal—the desire to spend time with folks who feel like old friends.

Healen has carved out a unique online niche by masterfully blending music, -candid conversation, the occasional joke and, of course, the pleasures of imbibing a drink or two. Without missing a single Friday night broadcast over the past four years and 212 episodes, Healen’s weekly Facebook live-streamed show Beer Phones has helped him organically cultivate a devout following from around the globe; Beer Phones has become a high-tech watering hole for kindred spirits.

During the depths of the COVID-19 -pandemic, Healen found himself in an all-too--familiar situation for artists at the time: After performing hundreds of shows a year, many with a blue-chip roster of industry -legends, opportunities for live—and paid—performances completely dried up, leaving him without a steady source of income. Instead of resigning himself to isolation in his small Northern New Mexico cabin, Healen took matters into his own hands and launched Beer Phones.

Local microbrewery Santa Fe Brewing Co. was the first sponsor to sign on—hence Beer Phones’ spirited moniker—with master luthier Steve Davis Guitars quickly following. Peter LZ Photography, Mongata Healing Center and Radio Free Galisteo have also since jumped on board to support the undertaking.

“It’s not about trying to make a million bucks or being famous,” Healen remarks. “It’s about creating something that means something to people. If that means I just play for 15 people on Facebook, that’s OK, too, because that’s what it’s all about—connecting with people.”

That sentiment underscores the overarching Beer Phones philosophy, and positions Healen’s show as a counterculture antidote of sorts to an increasingly impersonal and -commoditized world.

“It’s become a cool community where -people know each other,” Healen notes. “It’s never a huge crowd, but I leave the videos up and they’ve had almost 60,000 views.”

Relationships have formed as disparate people become united by Healen’s affable presence and the show’s you’re-among-friends vibe. As closeness suffered during lockdowns, Beer Phones helped foster a sense of community and human connection when it was desperately needed.

“It’s kind of like sitting around in the 1930s listening to the radio with the family,” Healen explains. “Some of us have never met in person and maybe never will, but we’ve all bonded through the shows.”

And at the heart of it all: the music. Never one to follow trends or conform to industry standards, Healen’s musical offerings can vary wildly from country or blues-inspired tunes to the occasional metal number.

“I have a lot of songs, so I tell people, ‘If you don’t like a song, wait five minutes because it’s gonna be dramatically different,’” Healen quips. “I perform between 20 and 30 of my original songs in each show.”

Healen’s ever-expanding catalog of more than 2,600 songs showcases his unwavering commitment to originality.

“I don’t believe in people doing cover songs,” he asserts. “I don’t think you’re paying homage to the songwriter at all. If you’re an artist, you’re compelled beyond all reason or monetary gain or whatever you think you’re gonna get. I do this because I have to, but it’s taken me a lifetime. People ask me, ‘How long did it take you to write that song?’ Well, I’m gonna be 54 here in a month, so it took me 50 years to write that song. As an artist, you wanna start to sound like yourself, and that takes time.”

But Beer Phones is not just the discourse of a lone troubadour. Healen’s wife Wendy Sundleaf-Healen shares the spotlight in what are often three-hour transmissions.

“Wendy has this wonderful question-and-answer segment on the show called Wendy Wants to Know,” Healen says. “So when she comes in and asks a question...it brings the community together. Sometimes it’s deep; sometimes not so deep. But believe me, more than one tear has been shed on this show.”

It’s a two-way street, according to Sundleaf-Healen.

“I look forward to each Friday afternoon,” she says. “It’s something that really keeps me connected to what’s important and dear to me, and to many of us, I think.”

The show’s format may be casual, but its impact is undeniable. Whether it’s raising funds to help a listener repair the damages from a house fire or chipping in to buy a glove for a young baseball player, the Beerphonians epitomize the power of community spirit and compassion, and they do so in tangible ways.

As Healen puts it, “It’s helped sustain a lot of people through incredibly dark times.”

So raise a glass to Sean Healen and the Beerphonians for reminding us that even in the darkest of times, there’s always room for a little humor, some human connection and a whole lot of music.

Join Sean, Wendy, Sonus the Wild Mustang (the Healens’ literal horse), and the Mighty Beerphonian community every Friday evening streaming at 4:30pm MST on the John Sean Healen Deere Facebook page (facebook.com/John-Sean-Healen-Deere)

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