We have to talk about Gatas y Vatas, the annual Albuquerque-based arts and music festival comprised of badasses who took a look around in 2010, realized straight white dudes dominate the music industry and festival world and decided to do something about it with an intersectional event featuring women, genderqueer, trans and non-binary performers. "It's really grown beyond me," founder Marisa Demarco says. "It's much bigger than anything I can handle myself and … after the first one, we planted a flag and people really gravitated toward it."
Traditionally, Gatas has been an ABQ-only affair, but with the rise of Eliza Lutz' Matron Records and the accompanying DIY space Ghost, it heads to Santa Fe this week for the first time ever. "I think working with Eliza has been huge," Demarco says. "Having that connection, having another person up there hustling so hard who maintains a lot of the same values as the festival, it's huge."
It is huge, especially since a connection between towns hasn't always been easy.
"Something that comes up a lot is that there's this weird artistic divide between Albuquerque and Santa Fe," Gatas organizer and performer Cecilia McKinnon says. "But I think the partnership with Matron is an amazing bridge." The divide to which she refers is at best a minor annoyance, and at worst a sometimes-ugly mishmash of preconceived notions and hearsay.
But why? The towns are a mere 60-ish miles apart and both can boast phenomenal arts and music. Though there has been much talk about unification over the years, Gatas y Vatas might be the first step in a good long while to making sustainable inroads. For McKinnon it's surely about that, but also instrumental in her own artistic evolution. Her own project, Star Canyon, brings textured fuzz and drone to the solo singer-songwriter milieu for a beautifully raw indie sound.
"As a woman playing music, having a community of other women who push you and challenge and teach you is something I can never take for granted, and … having this community to bounce ideas off of and watching women around me set the bar higher for themselves, I've developed a lot in my own music." McKinnon, who is also a visual artist, recalls getting into DIY and punk scenes when she was younger and living in small-town Solvang, California. "I spent a lot of my teenage years driving an hour or more to get to the only house shows that existed within a hundred-mile radius of where I lived," she says. "My teenage notion of what music and community looks like is—well, I mostly lived in show houses on and off for years."
The house show and DIY ethos, when applied to a coming-together such as Gatas y Vatas, resides at the heart of the yearly event, and not just in a friendly band-exchange sort of way. Many scheduled performers will take the stage for the first time ever this year alongside longtime participants and, with the understanding that it's a safe and supportive space, will push themselves to produce material and experiences they might otherwise have not. "When you experiment," Demarco says, "there's always that risk it might not work, and that's OK."
For musician Lazarus Letcher, this rings especially true. A former classical musician, Letcher performs at Gatas for the first time this year, having come to the world of rock, punk and freak-folk only recently. "I had a pretty tough breakup with classical music," they say, only half-joking, "but I've been involved with the women and non-binary and trans art scene in [Albuquerque] for almost three years. I came out with my EP a little less than a year ago and have been pushing myself to perform more and harder [with the music]." Letcher still plays the viola with their classical know-how but has added guitar into the mix. Also a member of ABQ folk act Eileen & the In-Betweens, their solo style has erred more toward that genre, though with loops and effects layered within the songs for an experimental edge. After Letcher left music school, unsatisfied with the strict and methodical regimen, they lived on an artists' commune in Ghana, West Africa. "It was the first time I made music without sheet music," they tell SFR; "the first time I learned how notes resonated within my body."
Of course, there is much more to enjoy from performers like Scissor Lift (Lutz' new project), Oakland's Danishta Rivero, Denver's Midwife and many others. Additionally, organizers are collecting coats for donation to the Navajo Nation and will waive the cover for those who bring items such as tents, tarps, kids' clothes, batteries, first aid kits, etc. for Ayoyotes on the Ground, an ABQ grassroots group that provides aid to post-earthquake Mexico. All monetary proceeds go to paying performers both local and not (also toward making cool merch) and everyone involved with putting together Gatas y Vatas works on a volunteer basis.
"One of the things I've learned over time is that I care as much or more about the individuals as I do about the fest," Demarco adds. "I didn't set out to be an administrator, but in those moments when I'm feeling the weight of that bearing down on me, I just have to check out the music people submitted or play, check out the artwork, and I get excited all over again."
Gatas y Vatas 7
6 pm-12 am Thursday Oct. 12
Ghost, 2899 Trades West Road