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 V.19 No.25 | June 24 - 30, 2010 

Commentary

Building Something out of Nothing

The Paolo Soleri is closing, and that totally sucks

Since 1965 the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater has been part of Santa Fe’s cultural scene. As of August, it will be no more than dust.
Raffaele Elba, courtesy of Arcosanti Foundation
Since 1965 the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater has been part of Santa Fe’s cultural scene. As of August, it will be no more than dust.

After laboriously banging out 650 words about the closure of the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater in Santa Fe, I realized something that made me select all > delete.

What struck me is that I’m not actually nostalgic for the theater (though I sure tried to be); I’m pissed that it’s closing. And it’s not just the Paolo, but also the treatment of anything fun and slightly off the beaten path in the City pseudo-Different.

In August, the Paolo closes for good and will, at that time, be razed, despite vocal protests from locals and Santa Fe Indian School alumni, who want the school to keep the historic building.

This July marks the seventh year I’ve lived in the capital, and in that time I’ve watched the city take over the Paramount and Bar-B clubs, tear them down and build absolutely nothing in their place—a change to the cultural landscape that anyone who has lived in Santa Fe for the last five years still laments. There have been small underground venues that have closed down, been forced to move to locations far away from downtown or allowed to stay open providing they don’t put on music shows. I’ve said goodbye to countless friends who have moved to Portland, Austin, Denver and Albuquerque. You know, cities with actual music scenes.

The Paolo, like the city, has potential, but those prospects remain undeveloped and underappreciated until they’re about to go away.

And now I, myself, am saying goodbye to Santa Fe, transitioning my life to a city 70 miles from where I’ve called home for nearly a decade.

The closing of the Paolo Soleri is a microscopic example of the larger problem in Santa Fe. The Paolo, like the city, has potential, but those prospects remain undeveloped and underappreciated until they’re about to go away.

For the first few years I lived in Santa Fe, I didn’t even know the Paolo Soleri existed. I don’t think it was in use for those first few years. But once I discovered it and its funky architectural style—the thing looks like an art deco mounted set of antlers—and the fantastic sound the venue offered, I always looked forward to a concert there.

Outdoor arenas are tricky. Colorado’s Red Rocks, of course, is the pinnacle—an arena with a fabulous view of the city that caresses the sound and amplifies it naturally so that it carries to the top without losing its crispness. The Journal Pavilion is the opposite. Up close, you’re fine, but on the grass you might as well be listening to the music through a tin can set up in front of your old ’80s tape cassette boom box. The Paolo is no Red Rocks, but it’s a hell of a lot better than anywhere else I’ve found in New Mexico. In fact, the sound is so great, some of my best memories are actually of leaving a show early to hang out in the backyard of a house in the adjacent neighborhood and listen to the end of it.

When Modest Mouse plays the Paolo on Friday, July 9 (the show is still scheduled to take place), that’s exactly what my friends and I plan to do. We’re going to fire up the barbecue, climb onto the roof and have a few beers while we listen. Not because we’re too cheap to buy tickets, but because we don’t care about Modest Mouse enough to actually go to the show. But if we can hear it from home, why not take advantage of that?

By demolishing the Paolo, Santa Fe will again lose something that keeps young people in the city.

It’s not a coincidence that people in their 20s and 30s move from Santa Fe to cities with music scenes, nontraditional galleries and lively but inexpensive restaurants. After a few years, you’ve seen all the local bands, realized you’d like some art but don’t have $10k lying around and crave something that doesn’t have green chile on it (or cost the same as an hour’s work at the city’s living wage).

Though often ignored, the Paolo provided Santa Fe with something unique: the ability to put on a concert with a successful indie band (be it a hip-hop, hipster or country act) that was too popular to play a bar and not commercial enough to play a stadium.

The Santa Fe Indian School has cited the cost of maintaining the building and the behavior of the beer-drinking audiences as reasons for closing the venue. Maybe the problem is that Santa Fe didn’t know what it had while it had it and didn’t take the effort to throw more shows there. I bet the two-dozen Santa Feans I know who drove all the way to Denver for a Sigur Rós concert a few years ago could have networked to fill up the Paolo for that show. Hell, I bet we even would have stuck around afterward to clean up any abandoned beer cups.

Modest Mouse

Friday, July 9, 8 p.m.
Paolo Soleri Amphitheater
1501 Cerrillos, Santa Fe
(505) 989-6300
$28 to $33 through ticketmaster.com
 
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