Jen­nifer goes to things and does stuff Jen­nifer Levin has an AHA mo­ment at Rockin’ Rollers

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Retro re­vival on wheels

The last time I went to Rockin’ Rollers was for a Gluey Broth­ers show in 1997. The roller-skat­ing rink on Agua Fría was dec­o­rated with an alien theme, and that long-ago night it was packed with lo­cals dressed like the band: in brightly colored polyester bell bot­toms and plat­form shoes. No one ac­tu­ally did any skat­ing. I re­mem­ber it as one of the last nights I spent with a group of my col­lege friends be­fore ev­ery­one moved away. Eigh­teen years later, my edi­tor asked me to skip my busy Satur­day night of watch­ing Net­flix with my hus­band to go back to the roller rink for Ap­ply Your­self, a party and fundraiser on March 28 that cel­e­brated the start of the ap­pli­ca­tion cy­cle for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Af­ter Hours Al­liance Fes­ti­val of Pro­gres­sive Arts. Bet­ter known as the AHA Fes­ti­val, the event is planned for Septem­ber in the Rai­l­yard and fea­tures mu­sic, per­for­mance, and mul­ti­me­dia in­ter­ac­tive in­stal­la­tions.

It was an all-ages event and the skate-rental counter was open for busi­ness. The alien kitsch was more pro­nounced than ever, and vin­tage video footage of roller-derby races was pro­jected on the walls. DJ Prairie Dog was spin­ning bands I’d started lis­ten­ing to when I was four­teen — the Cure, the Pix­ies, and punk, surf, and rock­a­billy tunes. I was trans­ported to my high­school days in Chicago, when I wore my head shaved, ex­cept for long bangs, and clomped around in com­bat boots. As peo­ple laced up their beige roller skates, it was ob­vi­ous many of them hadn’t skated in years. “This feels ter­ri­ble,” said a woman in her early thir­ties who was rocking back and forth, try­ing to find her bal­ance. A man told a lit­tle boy that it was just like ice-skat­ing, ex­cept that to stop you were sup­posed to crash into a wall. The boy whim­pered ob­jec­tions to the en­tire ac­tiv­ity, but his forty-some­thing mother took off with grace. I was sur­prised by the crowd’s gen­eral en­thu­si­asm and will­ing­ness to skate, and even more sur­prised that even though al­co­hol was for sale to those over twenty-one, skat­ing ine­bri­ated didn’t seem to be the col­lec­tive goal. I was rev­el­ing in com­fort­able nos­tal­gia when my new and some­what younger friend Tantri ar­rived and de­clared the roller-skat­ing party Hip­ster Cen­tral. I ex­pe­ri­ence hip­sters mostly via the in­ter­net, so I was thrilled for in­sight into the live Santa Fe ver­sion.

A lo­cal punk band called the Sex Headaches played as I learned about hip­ster sub­cul­tures, in­clud­ing the punk- and pin-up-in­spired Sui­cide Girls, who cross over with tough-look­ing roller-derby girls — a group that showed up in force in short shorts, fish­net stock­ings, and hot-pink skates. There were peo­ple with “un­der­cuts,” the cur­rent ter­mi­nol­ogy for shav­ing part of your head (this used to be called “shav­ing part of your head”), and lots of skinny jeans (which used to be called “jeans”). There were messy-haired women in vin­tage party dresses and men in sloppy, ill-fit­ting jeans and T-shirts. When I de­fended the more pun­k­like looks on be­half of my teenage re­bel­lion, Tantri re­minded me that no one we were look­ing at was in high school, which led me to won­der what — since they live in Santa Fe and it’s not the Rea­gan Era any­more — they’re re­belling against by shav­ing their heads. Is it just fash­ion? Why, Tantri asked, must ev­ery­one dress as though they are part of a band? The an­swers to th­ese ques­tions got more con­vo­luted when I brought up ’90s fash­ions like grunge and the mys­te­ri­ous and more re­cent non-trend norm­core, both of which pri­or­i­tize look­ing like you slept in your clothes. Full dis­clo­sure: It’s a look I fa­vor.

For more in­sight into cur­rent Santa Fe nightlife denizens, I called Andy Primm, a mu­si­cian who grew up in Santa Fe and has been play­ing mu­sic in town since the late 1980s. He teaches at the Candyman Sum­mer Rock Camp and plays with Chongo, a party-rock band, and Moby Dick, a Led Zep­pelin cover band. He’s also the for­mer drum­mer for the Gluey Broth­ers. We rem­i­nisced about Club West and Luna, and how venues used to do ma­jor ad­ver­tis­ing that doesn’t hap­pen now. Peo­ple don’t go out as much, he said. Packed dance floors in down­town bars seem to be a thing of the past. Th­ese days, would-be par­ty­ers of­ten pay more at­ten­tion to their cell­phones than to the live mu­sic. More suc­cess­ful gigs tend nowa­days to com­bine mu­sic with some kind of per­for­mance or art in­stal­la­tion. That should be good news to the or­ga­niz­ers of the AHA Fes­ti­val, who want to ex­pand Santa Fe’s art scene be­yond the tourist-ori­ented gallery econ­omy and into the lives of lo­cals who make and ap­pre­ci­ate art. All artists ac­cepted into the fes­ti­val are paid mod­est stipends funded by dona­tions from lo­cal small busi­nesses and city de­part­ments.

Primm, who fa­vors the styles and cuts of the ’80s over the drab shape­less­ness of the ’90s, pin­points the early ’90s as the end of the era when mu­si­cians could “make it.” “The model that ex­isted since prob­a­bly the 1950s, where you re­lease al­bums and have promo pho­tos, make your video, and fo­cus on your col­lege airplay — that’s over. When the in­ter­net came, ev­ery­thing changed,” he said. Then I re­al­ized that in a roller rink, dozens of peo­ple skat­ing in a cir­cle can’t all be look­ing at their cell­phones. Maybe the sense of ev­ery­one be­ing in one place for one pur­pose, with­out the blue glow of tiny screens, made the AHA party as en­joy­able for the at­ten­dees as my af­fec­tion for the mu­sic and ev­ery­one’s par­tially shaved heads made it for me.

For in­for­ma­tion about sub­mis­sions to the AHA Fes­ti­val of Pro­gres­sive Arts, visit www.ahafes­ti­val.com. Drop by soon, though: The ap­pli­ca­tion dead­line is April 30.

— Jen­nifer Levin

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