(I'm posting this on both Djangobooks and the GypsyJazzGuitar sites to ensure maximum visability. It was a great festival and deserves to be known... A.E.)
The southwest has a way of taking what comes along and re-sculpting it into its own identity. To me green chile and blue corn tortillas are the mark of New Mexico, the music just as spicy and ethnic as mariachi trumpets blare, violins and guitars wail, mandolins rat-a-tat with drums, and a mix of Tex-Mex tinges the air. Now thanks to John Sandlin and the Le Chat Lunatique, a new sound -- Gypsy jazz -- has found a welcome home in Albuquerque, N.M.
The second annual New Mexico Django Fest was held Friday thru Sunday, Oct 19-21, 2007 in various locations in Albuquerque. Building on the first NMDF held last September in Santa Fe, the 2nd NMDF featured a dozen bands and acts from New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Even top act Howard Alden is a Californian ex-patriot living in NYC. Clearly, excitement was in the air knowing that this event represented our Western take on the Django sound.
The grand-daddy of all, seven-year old DFNW at Whidbey Island, has done well over the years with Nick Lehr bringing in international acts and expanding its outreach. Graybeards like me, however, remember how the first Djangofest was essentially a representation of NW Gypsy jazz acts from Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. Robin Nolan’s trio brought in the international texture; meanwhile, local Seattle legends Pearl Django helped ensure ticket sales from the North-West audience. At the first DFNW, the Langley folks were curious and bemused by us guitar-welding Gypsy jazz fans. In short order though, they were able to appreciate the little golden egg Nick had laid on their end of summer island weekend.
Albuquerque has the makings for such events as well. The city is very different from Langley but it offers plenty in terms of show space, jam sites, food and lodging. And unlike DFNW, where the shows are essentially confined to “stage” shows at WICA or the high school, at Albuquerque half the shows were in a fine restaurant setting and the other half in a funky bar with cutting-edge partiers. The result was Lindy hoppers jamming it up with belly dancers as a Roma band from Colorado played traditional party music from halfway across the planet. There was little room for concerns about whether Sweet Georgia Brown was being played in the right key or if someone was using a Selmeresque guitar. The people weren’t there to ape Django Reinhardt’s solos note for note, they were there to party and play music in his name. And this is a party I think Django would have dug.
I believe this idea of playing music “for” Django rather than “like” Django, is part of a good trend. I’m sure it will come and go like ebbs and tides, but for me it’s a welcome change. Even at this year’s DFNW there were a surprising number of styles from Nuevo-Roma bands to Gypsy jazz shredders to straight-head jazzers. They all shared the stage and it was fun to see the different styles mixing it up. This inclusive approach opens Django’s music to new audiences, minimizes creative stagnancy, and enlarges our ears.
At Albuquerque, our ears were enlarged for sure as we were exposed to the smorgasbord of sounds from…
--- Hot Club of Santa Fe:
They provided enthusiastic, tightly arranged Django music with a lineup including guitar, mandolin, bass and violin. It’s clear to see why this band is a favorite in the Santa Fe area. Their sound demonstrated how local western musical elements fit nicely with the hot club style. They accented Django’s music like a dash of hot sauce in a cup of soup d’jour. In addition to their tasty performances at St Clair Winery and Bistro, they were warmly received Saturday morning at a Grower’s Market across the street from the Hotel Blue (where most visiting band members were staying). Their performance spread the word about the Django Fest and provided a chance for other musicians to meet, talk, and drink coffee on a perfect New Mexico morning. And we liked the guitarist, Pat’s hat.
--- Hot Club of Phoenix:
This is a great power trio in the tradition of Moreno Winterstein, Raphael Fays, or the Rosenberg Trio. Chuck Hulihan (??) was power-hunkered over his Shelley Park guitar, developing unique and personal solo ideas into well-crafted songs with the accompaniment of a solid, pumping rhythm section. He is the ‘71 SuperBee Mopar-powered muscle car of Gypsy jazz guitar. They were a bottomless well of energy and ideas, keeping the listeners engaged from first note to last. And we REALLY liked Chuck’s hat.
--- Felix y Los Gatos
is a local favorite in Albuquerque. He brought a cajan-tex-mex-foot-stompin-thank-each-band-member-after-every-song sort of vibe to the festival. These fellas loved to play and the crowd loved to dance. You couldn’t ask for more. And they all wore hats.
--- Pearl Handled Pistol and Sweet and Low Down
were both duos with sultry singers and accompaniment guitar-slingers. Hot singers, hot players, -- and of course, hot hats.
--- Carute Roma,
a six-piece band from Durango Colorado, was the surprise of the show. They played with vigor every instrument from drums to trumpets and wailed away on traditional Roma songs. They had the whole bar singing along like everyone was remembering some forgotten Romany tongue. I think everyone in the group wore hats – a definite plus for any Gypsy band.
--- Mango fan Django
drove in from Colorado and played a well received set on Friday night. Archtop Eddy (okay, me…) played a 1928 L4 with a Charlie Christian pickup covering the extensive Gypsy genre from Django to the famous Manouche, Slim Gaillard. The rhythm section consisted of John “Cowboy” Cabanellas on bass and the Doucettes – Don and Stefan – a.k.a the Rhythm Ninjas. Mango played on Saturday night as well and that set was even more warmly received no doubt due to the new hat A.E. purchased earlier in the afternoon.
--- The ultimate hat band had to be Albuquerque’s own Le Chat Lunatique.
This is a crazy band! Everyone wore great vintage hats and they spun the audience into a frenzy with their mesmerizing Gypsy jam arrangements. Last August I saw these cats when they came to Colorado and kicked butt. Seeing them before their own fans and watching how they worked up the Lindy Dancers from Phoenix, I came to humbly appreciate why they are so well supported in New Mexico. You need to check these fellas out.
--- Alpha-guitar-dog was Howard Alden
. He gave us two spotless performances and conducted a well-attended four-hour workshop (for only $20 a person!). Howard loves the guitar and loves sharing his knowledge with fellow guitarists. He has fluidity in his playing that is a thrill to watch and hear. There is no wasted movement in his technique; his tone stands out from everyone else; and when you Google-image the words “impeccable taste”, you’ll see a picture of Howard. Also, he was everywhere! If he wasn’t playing a show, he was there watching the other acts and mingling it up with the rest of us. Howard’s wife Teri was there too and she’s a charming lady. Only fault I could find with either of them is that they weren’t wearing any hats…
Albuquerque has an old town square much like Santa Fe or Taos. In the middle of this square is an old gazebo. On this chilly Sunday afternoon, Django-heads showed up with guitars, violins, bass, accordions and hot coffees in tow. They jammed to a spontaneous crowd of about 50 people. Surrounding the town square was restaurants, clothing stores, jewelry shops, and art studios filled with New Mexico wares and goods. Some tourists and locals looked on out of curiosity, others jumped right in mixing things up, tapping their feet, clapping their hands and laughing at our lame jokes.
It felt good to be a part of something that was opening people’s eyes and ears; it felt good to know even as the jam ended there was still time left to grab two or three more New Mexico green chile topped dinners; and as I pulled my hat down tightly around my head, it felt good to finally have a hat that fit my 7 ½ inch head correctly. Me and the hat will be back next year.
Special thanks goes to Robert Brochey who hosted the first New Mexico Django Fest last year in Santa Fe. He is the USA distributor of Manouche guitars. check out his wares at www.manouchenorthamerica.com
Also, to Tomas Fernandez who initially took over hosting the second festival but who due to illness had to step back from the project. Special thanks also goes to spouses and family members who support our guitar obsessions; the companies who believed in and helped sponsor the Festival; Jeff Tate who designed the incredible poster and Jill Anderson who did the graphic design; Lila Badash for ticket sales and belly-dancing; and John Vickers, Manouche guitar luthier, who came all the way from the U.K.
Most importantly, thanks goes to Johnny Sandlin of Le Chat Lunatique who picked up the reins from Thomas and in a superhuman effort in record time brought breath back to this festival. Simply put, it wouldn’t have happened without him. He had help from some great people and his fellow band-mates and they are to be thanked as well; but it was Johnny’s single-minded vision that made this event happen for all.