Despite high attendance hopes, a recent meeting with Santa Fe's Occupancy Tax Advisory Board (OTAB) and concerned citizens to discuss diminishing nightlife was a rather sedate affair.
Of the 177 community members who had pledged on Facebook to be there (which we don't, like, take as any sort of legally binding thing, but still), only around 60 showed up to take part.
Following normal business, the floor was opened up to Shannon Murphy, a young woman involved with local collectives MIX and the After Hours Alliance, who is, in my opinion, one of our best hopes for a vibrant and youthful nightlife in Santa Fe. Murphy informally presented data pulled from surveys taken various MIX events over the past two years.
"The one thing that continually comes up is lack of music and lack of venues," she said. "The qualities that make a person want to live in a place are the same qualities that make a person want to visit there, so if locals are complaining about these things year after year, something must be done."
Murphy went on to describe the obstacles facing venues and promoters in Santa Fe (small population and scarce resources, just to name a couple) as well as highlight some of its successes—last year's hugely popular AHA Fest, for example. Murphy concluded by offering to help OTAB pinpoint ways to improve local nightlife.
Next was RJ Laino, a local who made a name for himself working with Santa Fe tourism in the '70s and '80s, and for the recent transformation of local restaurant Vanessie from piano bar to live music venue. "Back then, people came to Santa Fe because it was cool, because there were things going on," he told the board. "This town rocked in the '80s." Laino went on to outline the areas that need improvement, from encouraging local hotel and waitstaff to "up-sell their town," to emphasizing public transportation and media support (I guess that's me, but I still say it's not my job to "support" anything).
Laino made many good points and spoke passionately, referring to Santa Fe musicians as "world-class." "Part of the reason nightlife is sinking is because we've been focusing on an older group," he said. "You can't just market a nightlife; there has to be one."
While I agree whole-heartedly with Laino's comments, I do wonder who the city should actually be focusing on when we talk about the reinvigoration of nightlife. OTAB obviously has a vested interest in the so-called "heads in beds" policy, which is to say that whatever organizations, collectives and/or services receive money must, at the heart of it all, attract more tourism to our city.
However, is there some absolute truth that people aged 35-56 are the only ones traveling? Most nightlife events in Santa Fe skirt right on by the DJs and punk bands and indie rock acts for 40- or 50-something-friendly music played by 40- or 50-somethings themselves. And those of us who are entering our early 30s and looking to travel certainly aren't on the lookout for a blues festival or a town full of cover bands.
Look at the South by Santa Fe fest. By siphoning off bands headed elsewhere, we're afforded a week of music aimed at younger people—and attendance numbers have been high. Is there any reason we couldn't do the same with Fun Fun Fun or Punk Rock Bowling? Not only would this bring new events to town—along with folks staying in hotels—Santa Fe might actually have something for its younger denizens to do…imagine that.
Toward the end of the meeting, a motion was introduced for the formation of a nightlife and entertainment task force. This is a great first step, and while I encourage OTAB to tap into whatever help people like Murphy and Laino are willing to give, there's still a long way to go.
It's time to think even younger, Santa Fe, because without some real change around here there's going to be a whole hell of a lot of us looking at Portland and Austin as very real possibilities.