Much of the charm of Nara Visa is the camaraderie. Folks sit around and visit. You get to hear stories about people’s experiences with mules (I have a story!), how much rain they’re getting in their part of the country, and whatever happened to old what’s his name. These are rural, small town people whose life experiences are much different from those of big city dwellers. They are genuine, salt-of-the-earth folks.
The next morning, I had to leave Nara Visa because I was scheduled to play, along with my buddies Doug Figgs and Mariam Funke, at the 10th anniversary of the Globalquerque World Music Festival in Albuquerque. The founders/organizers, Tom Frouge and Neal Copperman, bring in acts from all over the globe (hence the name) and people get to hear music that reflects the culture of places as varied as Hungary, Ghana, Cuba and other foreign countries such as New York City. There are some astounding musicians and it’s really fascinating to learn about their stories. Turns out some of them are rural, small town people whose life experiences are much different from those of big city dwellers. They are genuine, salt-of-the-earth folks, too.
I admit I was a little anxious, not to mention skeptical, going in. In my experience, American audiences are very willing to listen to music that reflects a different, rural lifestyle as long as it’s from a country other than their own. Doug, Mariam and I were singing about one very important aspect of the history, culture and tradition of New Mexico…the Western/Cowboy life. Often, it’s a challenge to get respect in your home town. I was afraid people might turn up their noses at our music. Boy was I wrong! We had a great crowd of folks who had never heard us perform before and they just ate it up. People could not have been more complimentary about the music; everything from the quality of the songwriting to the authentic presentation of the history and lifestyle of cowboys in our state. They seemed every bit as interested in the roots of our music as they did those of the Hungarians (who were amazing, if a bit highly-caffeinated). Apparently, Tom Frouge was right when he told me, “There’s only two kinds of music…good and bad.”
In our Western music genre, we struggle with the question of how to attract more listeners. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’d like to say I have the answer. Sadly, that is not the case. However, I think there might be some clues from our Globalquerque experience. We need to seek out audiences who are open to hearing and embracing new and different styles. The huge mainstream of popular music, be it country, pop, rap or rock isn’t where we’ll find these folks. We need to look for what may initially seem as unlikely partnerships…The Cowboy Way Trio with Golem, a Klesmer/punk band from New York City (all I can say is WOW!)…in order to get our music out there. I love the cowboy poetry gatherings but at those events, we’re generally preaching to the choir. Those folks have heard what we do. We don’t want to abandon the gatherings but we need to get in front of different audiences who are willing to listen to something with which they are unfamiliar.
I have any number of musical colleagues who are pretty cynical at this stage of their careers. They’re the ones who keep saying “there’s no money in Western music” and who throw cold water on any discussions about how to grow our genre. I encourage you to deal with them the way I do. I listen very carefully to the substance of what they’re saying about what hasn’t worked. They know a lot and much of what they say is accurate as far as it goes. The problem is, that’s as far as they go. Since I plan to keep making music for a while longer, I’m not giving up on the idea of expanding my audience and making a decent income. I believe there’s an audience out there who will appreciate what we do. After all, as Tom Frouge said, “There’s only two kinds of music…good and bad.” I’m betting on the folks who like good music. We just have to find them.