From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, independent artists and musicians (whom we’ll just think of as independent contractors) were among the hardest-hit workers in the state. It has been, frankly, a nightmare for those who depend on congregation to make a living, and no amount of streaming—be it from a bedroom or an emptied-out bar—seemed to soothe the itch we all developed for live music events. And yet, no matter how much civilians missed rocking out, dancing or even just having some yahoo with a guitar make gross eye contact while singing about sadness, for the purveyors of jams, 2020 was much harder.
“If I had to sum it up, it was eye-opening and exhausting,” says singer-songwriter Eryn Bent. Bent splits her time between local shows and small, regional tours, and says she’d been working nonstop right up until March of last year when she says she got the call that was like, “Hey, all your shows are canceled.’” With her shows reaching into October of 2020 kaput, Bent phased to livestreaming like so many others, but she quickly realized something felt wrong.
“I feed off of playing live,” she tells SFR, “and there’s a double-edged sword of the livestream, because even if you can reach people in other countries who might never have found you, it’s hard to fully engage and be fully present. It was more nerve-wracking than playing live—it’s a ring light and me and...maybe my dog.”
Cut to March 2021, and venues and artists began cautiously returning to work. Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery built an outdoor stage and started selling limited tickets to shows featuring honest-to-goodness bands like David Berkeley and Nosotros; solo artists and smaller bands started setting up on patio corners; DJs played in nontraditional spaces (like literally on the street) and Bent took her first working gig in over a year at the Corrales Bistro in Corrales.
“The venues I’ve been talking to have been supportive,” she says, “and I’m not really nervous. I’ll be fully vaccinated in a couple weeks, and my mindset is that I’m going to be playing places I’m familiar with, and these are places that have kept their businesses going because of their COVID practices. I do feel like people are feeling that spring fever. We’re allllllllmost there.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Raashan Ahmad, celebrated DJ and MC and arguably one of the bigger-name artists living in Santa Fe. Ahmad’s Love and Happiness DJ party at the HIPICO equestrian center just outside town was easily one of the biggest shows of 2020, and COVID-safe practices developed by local promotions outfit AMP Concerts helped with the logistics. Ahmad says he has a few local things cooking for the summer he can’t divulge just yet, but that he’s still feeling a tad nervous and choosy when it comes to live performance.
“I think what I’m missing most is the interaction with people, and that kind of thing usually happens indoor on a stage, in a packed and sweaty room,” he says. “I would be traveling outside the country; this would be festival season, and I’ve been offered some shows in California, but no, I don’t have any shows booked right now. I realize that’s a privilege, also. I’m not at a place where I have to do this, I just want to. It kind of hurts my heart—this is what I do, and I think for a lot of us, it’s this other side of ourselves, maybe even a true side...the place I can be most expressive and free.”
For Dominick Gonzales, aka DJ D-Monic, the shows can’t come soon enough. Through 2020, he performed at Love and Happiness, some small private gatherings and embraced the streaming model, but that, he says, that last one was mainly about keeping his audience.
“I’d never even heard of Twitch or streamed to Facebook Live, but I was worried about losing relevancy,” he tells SFR. “I also knew I had to do something that brought a good product to people.”
Now that he can book shows more freely, however, Gonzales is hoping to up the ante. He’ll appear at Albuquerque ArtWalk events on the first Friday of each month, but he’s also working with the Rockin’ Rollers roller rink to host DJ events. He also says he’ll begin a monthly residency at downtown subterranean watering hole The Matador, plus the usual weddings, graduation parties, birthdays, etc.
“Once things started with the state’s color-coded tiers [for gatherings], my phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” he says, “but it’s not can we do these events, it’s do people feel comfortable coming out?”
Any way you look at it, that’s a loaded question. So to sum it all up, yes—live music will return in a big way this summer in Santa Fe, but like most other things we do now, much of the responsibility falls on the audiences to stay safe, mask up and tip huge.
“People want to do stuff, but I feel that for us to get back to a place like it was pre-COVID, 2022 is going to be a much more realistic goal,” Gonzales adds.
Stay patient, Santa Fe.