“I’m always dreaming of music, so I keep a recording device nearby so I don’t lose anything when I wake,” Ronald Roybal tells SFR. “Sometimes it takes years to figure out on my instruments what I -actually dreamed of.”
After 22 years performing at the Hotel Santa Fe and with a new album titled High Plateau in hand, Roybal is looking back over his career.
Originally from San Luis, Colorado, Roybal’s roots are very much sewn into the American Southwest.
“San Luis isn’t that far away from Taos, as a matter of fact,” he says. “My mother’s family are descended from the Spanish colonizers over 400 years ago, and my father’s family, of the Tewa Pueblo, were there to meet them.”
As for Roybal himself, he studied anthropology and psychology at the University of Southern Colorado and graduated in 1980, but it wasn’t until his 30th birthday, when a friend introduced him to the classical guitar, that he had his great epiphany. Roybal began teaching himself classical, flamenco and rock guitar.
“Guitar to me is like a puzzle,” he says. “It calls upon the musician to look at the fretboard intelligently.”
By the time he moved to Santa Fe in 1997, Roybal had learned the Native American flute, released a couple albums and become a best selling independent artist for outlets like Barnes and Noble—plus nominations at the first-ever Native American Music Awards for Best Instrumental Album and Best Flute Player.
Wanting to be closer to his Spanish and Native heritage led him to settle in Santa Fe permanently, but when it came to the -performance circuit, Roybal hit the ground running, picked up his -signature Friday night gig at Hotel -Santa Fe and became a staple in similar rooms at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi and La Posada from 1999 until 2008. The ’08 housing crisis drastically cut down his gigs, but, he says, “For a solid 12 or 13 years, I was pulling 300 shows a year. I’ve never even needed to tour.”
Looking to the present, Roybal says his new album carries multiple meanings and is not only a testament to the high desert he calls home, but a declaration of his more than three decades of experience.
“This is a culmination of the -later half of my life as a musician,” he explains.
So he didn’t pull any punches. High -Plateau took three years to complete with Roybal handling the bulk of writing and arranging duties. There are special contributions, like from Santa Fe guitarist Ruben Romero, who Roybal says is a longtime musical influence.
“I had recordings of Ruben and I jamming together, which were well over 20 years old,” Roybal tells SFR. “Thankfully I had them saved on a digital medium and incorporated them pretty seamlessly.”
Roybal’s solo songs, however, wound up more complicated than ever. Some of the compositions required him to step up his proficiency on -instruments like the piano.
“Some of the songs are more complicated than what I’m able to play at the time, so it takes a lot of practice,” he says. “The piano accompaniments took me months of mastery alone.”
As such, Roybal considers the album a career high, but says he’s not sure how much longer he’ll write and -perform. Age, he says, plays a factor, and a diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia—a neurological disease that can result in mixed -messages between the face and brain and sometimes cause extreme pain—has slowed his flute playing. All the same, he has no regrets.
“I get paid to load my gear into my car, transport it, and unload it at the performance space,” Roybal says. “I don’t get paid to play. That’s strictly for the love.”
7 pm Friday Nov. 29. Free.
Hotel Santa Fe,
1501 Paseo de Peralta,