Santa Feans watched the eight-foot letters, made of painted rocks laid on grass, slowly fade over time. "The Downs at Santa Fe" it said. The letters fell to disrepair as the venue fell to disuse.
Shaun Parrish, owner of the Thrifty Nickel, remembers a heyday of concerts at the Downs years ago. "He wanted to make that place viable for music again, so he came up with this whole festival," says Allie Shaw, executive director of the Santa Fe Musik Fest and founder of the annual HyperFest in Albuquerque.
That's a good thing in a town that's been watching its music venues close down one by one. "Even Paolo Soleri has kind of gotten weird. Where it used to be really good music even a few years back, it's not like that anymore. They're not appealing to a younger crowd so much," Shaw says.
That washed-out backdrop of the Downs has supported new life these last weeks. Big white tents are now visible from the Interstate, along with six stages that will host the likes of George Clinton, Everclear and the Wu Tang Clan. Three days and more than 100 bands—it's a camp-out festival the likes of which haven't been seen in this state in, well, maybe ever. That's what the organizers are hoping for, at least. "It's going to be unlike any event I've ever been to," Shaw says. She promises performance art, firewalkers, breakdancers, splash ponds and a skate ramp.
Still, comparisons to other festivals—Coachella, Bonnaroo and Burning Man—brought on the usual "foul" cry on rocksquawk.com, a forum for local musicians. Harry Redus-Brown of Unit 7 Drain, a festival performer, responds: "At one point, Coachella wasn't Coachella."
Shaw says it was a goal of hers to book unsigned bands from around the state alongside these nationally-known performers. "If this thing takes off, and it's followed in the path of those bigger festivals, then everybody in the country will be coming down here. What the exposure could do for the younger bands is incredible."