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A scene from the festival in Taos
Douglas Cohen

Music

Festival Review: Music on the Mesa

Happiness flowed at Taos event

"Raise the window down" – a comment heard from the stage, refering to the kinfolk of recording artist Robyn Ludwick, from Lake Charles, Louisiana.

It was 3 p.m. in Taos, when a thousand post-hippie people gathered for three days for the 2nd Annual Music on the Mesa Festival at Taos Mesa Brewery.

I can’t go any further without expanding on the merits of the venue. TMB produces outstanding, hand-crafted beer in both quality and variety. I was on a roll with their Equinox IPA, offered alongside a Session beer, several ales, Pale and otherwise, their own Kolsch style, Amber, Hefewizen and more. The venue also serves excellent, regionally influenced food: Smoked Mahi, Mahi fish tacos, roasted beet salad and dynamite brats and burgers.

The setting is one of the most spectacular music venues I’ve visited in 43 years of festival going. It ranks right behind Red Rocks Amphitheater and the Pagosa Springs Four Corners Festival.

We were on the West Mesa just north of Taos and minutes from the Rio Grande Gorge within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The deep gorge cutting into the high desert offers breathtaking views. So it’s like placing a music festival inside a National Park. All this is also minutes from the regionally famed Taos Earthship residential communities.

We visited my old college buddy Marko and his Earthship home that morning before making our way to day three of the Fest. This Earthship is the real thing; artfully built based upon environmentally forward principles and methods. it is placed partially within the earth; utilizes solar heating, re-uses rainwater off the roof and stored in cisterns; is made with numerous upcycled materials including glass bottles, cans, tires and wood from previous eras of furniture.

The vibe at the Fest is a macro-extension of this northern New Mexico counter culture. We recognized folks from our similarly alt-America suburb of Albuquerque, Corrales, N.M., while our friends here ran into their peeps from the architectural and textile design mini-verse that identifies much of New Mexican culture.

The long white hairs and the grey hairs mix easily with the 20- and 30-somethings who diligently follow the musical genres featured here: Rockabilly and Western Swing, a little bluegrass, Singer-Songwriter, Alt-Country, Americana, and smoking Country Rock.

Steve Plyler, founder of Walking Rain Productions, hand picks each act beginning a year out with his team of insiders. The festival is faithful to previous performers who played at the inaugural event last year. The following artists were on last year as well as this year’s bill: Kelly Mickwee, Grace Askew, Band of Heathens, Far West, Sammy Brue, Robyn Ludwick,

This year we were both fortunate and blessed to have as headliners Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle for the final night. These two veterans of the road are notable for their enduring creativity and stick-with-it-ness that characterizes not only their act but their lives.

Across the concert venue were scattered vendors and sponsors. A sleek Airstream trailer featured fine wine and foretells of an Airstream and RV Motel park that will soon open across the highway from the Taos Mesa Brewery.

A fresh juice and smoothie bar, built into half a vintage car was a real thirst-quenching hotspot. And, of course, the well stocked Merch Tent beckons.

The Main Stage beneath the amphitheater is front and center, with the Patio and Indoor Stages serving shorter acts between set-ups. We heard thevenerable Ray Wylie Hubbard ("Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother"), a Texas legend, followed by Colvin and Earle.

We sat in the high desert, 7000 feet in the atmosphere, listening to and anticipating dexterous music meant to revive, inform and inspire those who have been fortunate enough to have made it to the Mesa. Join in next year: You are Welcome, You are Invited.

music

Acoustic Performer John Gorka Graces Duke City

Singer/songwriter John Gorka delivered two highly spirited sets at the Summer Nights series at the BioPark (903 10th Street SW) on Thursday, June 19. The Minnesota-based veteran touring artist wowed longtime fans and won over countless Albuquerque music lovers who were new to his signature mix of deep and clever vocals, guitar and comedic storytelling.

Gorka opened with originals from his latest release, The Bright Side of Down, and continued to sample the collection to great effect throughout the evening. Gorka is nothing if not precise, personal and universal, sometimes all in the same lyric. This ability combined with masterful musicianship across genres including folk, blues, pop, rock, bluegrass and rockabilly makes him a worthy companion for an evening ... or a lifetime. This reviewer has seen him in concert over 20 times. Many of those performances have been in festival settings, as Gorka is a highly sought-after act on the vital, enduring national folk fest circuit. At the BioPark concert, he joked about visiting Scandinavia, a hotbed of singer/songwriter and folk fandom.

Gorka's catalog is extensive, and he plumbed its depths in concert. Selections included chestnuts like “I Saw a Stranger with Your Hair,” “I’m From New Jersey,” “Branching Out” and “Love is Our Cross to Bear.” The modern-day Renaissance man wove requests and selective orchestrated sing-alongs to engage the receptive crowd on the lawn that beautiful night. Many in the audience were obviously longtime followers. And they, along with the newcomers, were rewarded with a varied and holistic representation of the showman’s talent.

In stark contrast to the awkward egotism displayed by Marc Cohn the week prior at Zoo Music, Gorka paid our fair city a compliment during the second set. He praised the enthusiastic audience, noting that he wished all his shows could be like this, in “this corner of paradise.” The key to delivering such a line lies in simplicity and sincerity, and Gorka radiated both.

John Gorka is a deft master of the folk trifecta: penetrating lyrics, unparalleled musicianship and compelling storytelling. When he opened and finished his tunes at the BioPark, he wasn't greeted with mere applause: We’re talking yelps, yoo-hoo's, squeals of joy and all-around exuberant acknowledgment of this well-traveled troubadour.

Dear John, please come back soon and stay longer.

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