Tucumcari is usually a sleepy town about 180 miles east of here, a green patch on the edge of the plains. Some say a mythical place called Texas is right on the other side. Anyway I know some things about Tucumcari, but not a whole helluva lot about rockabilly. Since it’s supposedly related to rocanrol, or some might say vice-versa, here is what the two, tossed together, look like.
Festivals like Rockabilly on the Route help keep that classic, Mother Road-bound New Mexican loveliness vital. Besides music, art and movies, Rockabilly on the Route is about the metal machines used to take that ride out to the edge of things.
In the ’90s an art-school friend named Jake was dating a friend of mine; she was named after a Greek goddess. Long story short, he decided to go out to Tucumcari to study sculpture with a fellow named Eddie Dominguez; the dude taught at the vocational college there, and he was an expert on metal casting.
So I went out there a lot to visit. It can be a long, dry journey in summer, as the Sandias fade into the rearview and the great plains and red rocky outcrops rise up to meet the autos and semis riding up and down I-40.
But the town itself is interesting, sort of frozen in time with postmodern embellishments. The classic Route 66 neon-lit motels and merchants make a modest living post-recession. Ranchers and farmers wander the concrete jungle optimistically after hearty, early-morning breakfasts at Del’s. The single-screen, dual-projector theater downtown keeps the latest in pop culture a hop, skip and a jump away from the family farm. Some young folks in town sport tattoos and favor the twangy, jittery brand of rocanrol embraced by at least three previous generations.
Festivals like Rockabilly on the Route help keep that classic, Mother Road-bound New Mexican loveliness vital. Besides music, art and movies, Rockabilly on the Route is about the metal machines used to take that ride out to the edge of things. America’s fascination with the automobile figures prominently in this year’s festival.
Whenever I drove to Tucumcari, I rode out in a 1976 BMW 2002. It was colored forest green, had four clutch-activated speeds and a Blaupunkt stereo that only played punk rock. While it was a hoot of a car, it doesn’t even compare to the variety of autos being exhibited as part of the festivities; national hot rod expert Eric Ables will be on hand to tell you exactly why.
But those cars will have to keep the rumble at a tolerable level so as not to compete with the rockabilly ruckus that’s going to be generated on a nightly basis during the duration. Rattlesnake rock outfit Mad Max & the Wild Ones, Arizona band Voodoo Swing and ’50s country rock upstart Eddie Clendening rip it up on Friday night, along with ABQ’s Mr. Right and the Leftovers and Oklahoman crew Hellbilly Homicide, which are sure to be real gone.
Saturday evening’s concert features a particularly fascinating demonstration of the depth of variety of the genre: Norwegian Wild Western-noir band The Lucky Bullets, Colombian punk-outlaw group Dorados Rockabilly Trio, The Loaded Dice, Navajo Nation rockabilly/hardcore act ShitOuttaLuck and “greased-up, freaked-out raunch ’n‘ roll” duo Fabulous Minx. Local stalwarts Cowboys and Indian rep Burque.
As for what already came to pass, my friend Jake sure liked Tucumcari. He couldn’t get enough of it; for a while, I wondered about that. I went to his wedding up north a few years later and found out why. He lived near the North Shore by Chicago. I remember his parents’ house had an indoor pool with a vaulted ceiling. Everyone drove a Benz. Tucumcari must have seemed like another world to him. While it always seemed like a far-flung suburb of Burque to me, do yourself a solid and dig it yourself. It’s bound to be outta sight, no matter what neck of the woods you hail from.
For the full schedule of events and ticket info, visit rockabillyontheroute.com.