Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Venue Trauma

It's an eternal quest, really. Especially for so-called "underground" or alternative performance. Where should it happen? In Santa Fe, I've been to or played concerts in living rooms, at grocery stores, in vacant storefronts leased just for the weekend, in old movie theaters between owners, in art galleries (of course), in school gyms, even in performance spaces (usually ones that have no sound system, no stage lighting and certainly no piano...I actually once rented a lousy spinet piano for $500, to stage a concert at the Center for Contemporary Arts, in the theater).

So there we were at High Mayhem's small space tucked back off Lena St. near the railroad tracks, surrounded by art studios and dry gullies and arroyos, all set up, soundchecked, ready to roll by about 8 pm. Enter a fire marshal and three of Santa Fe's finest. Turns out High Mayhem doesn't have commercial zoning, just residential. Maximum occupancy: 8. Number of musicians in Rrake (with two guest trombonists): 7. Plus one sound man, and we're still legal. After much begging, pleading, negotiating and hand wringing, the fire marshal allowed the show to continue as long as the entire audience sat outside and we stopped by 10. In fine surreal fashion, we played 90 minutes to an empty house, several dozen appreciative listeners just outside the door in folding chairs. Very strange experience indeed. Oddly, highly successful. Too bad for the folks who arrived at 10:15 or so expecting Rrake to start late. Lucky we were able to start at all.

If Santa Fe doesn't find a way to speed High Mayhem through the zoning process and sanctify it as a legitimate venue, there's something quite rotten in the City Different indeed. It's unacceptable for the most adventurous, multifaceted, progressive not-for-profit producing organization in town to be shut down on technicalities. Performing arts are fragile enough in the area without having a bucket of ice water dumped on High Mayhem. So I expect to see the City of Santa Fe step up and make good on its "different" reputation, and very quickly and painlessly find a permanent solution. How 'bout it Mayor Coss and City Council?

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