Jen­nifer Goes to Things and Does Stuff

Jen­nifer Levin talks to strangers at the sec­ond an­nual Night Wave

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In Santa Fe, be­moan­ing the lack of nightlife is ac­tu­ally one of the main com­po­nents of its nightlife. Year af­ter year, smok­ers stand­ing around out­side down­town bars will tell you that their op­tions for where to drink and so­cial­ize are too lim­ited and that they’re sick of see­ing the same peo­ple ev­ery­where they go, ev­ery week­end. En­ter Night Wave — less an event than a bunch of gigs that hap­pen regularly, ag­gre­gated on a web­site for one week­end a year as a model for, ac­cord­ing to www.night­wavesf.com, ex­plor­ing “var­i­ous tac­tics to im­prove the health and vi­brancy of Santa Fe’s ‘night­time econ­omy’ in­clud­ing im­proved light­ing, ac­cess to late-night food, col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­mo­tion, and new pro­mo­tional tools.” Funded by a grant from the McCune Foun­da­tion and led by the Meow Wolf arts col­lec­tive, the sec­ond an­nual Night Wave took place July 30 through Aug. 1. Ba­si­cally, a bunch of bands played in var­i­ous lo­ca­tions and a co­me­dian per­formed. Sup­pos­edly, there were two food trucks, but no one could find them down­town on Satur­day night — at least when I was there — which was a source of con­sid­er­able mass an­guish. Ru­mor had it that the trucks were at the Rai­l­yard to serve at­ten­dees of the Santa Fe Re­porter Best Of Santa Fe Block Party, which was also part of Night Wave — with bands funded by the McCune grant — but when my friend Tantri and I headed over there around mid­night, the en­tire area was dark and empty.

Ear­lier in the evening, we met at The Palace Res­tau­rant and Saloon, where we paid a $5 cover and waited a long time in the red-vel­vet-walled, sup­posed for­mer bor­dello to or­der a cou­ple of in­ter­est­ing cock­tails and a plate of po­lenta fries. We had to lean in close to talk over the mu­sic of the Boom­roots Col­lec­tive, a sort of hip-hop reg­gae hy­brid that at­tracted much awk­ward, drunken danc­ing from the Palace pa­trons. At some point, a woman at the next ta­ble asked if Tantri would of­fer her date a bite of fries when he re­turned from the re­stroom be­cause he’d been say­ing how good they smelled. Tantri ac­tu­ally did this fa­vor, though the guy de­clined to eat off her plate.

My the­ory, head­ing down to the in­ter­sec­tion of San Fran­cisco and Gal­is­teo streets, where crowds con­verge from mul­ti­ple bars, was that if Night Wave was suc­cess­ful in bring­ing more peo­ple out of their liv­ing rooms through grant-funded col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­mo­tion, then I should be able to hang out on the street and talk to drunk strangers and have fun with­out hav­ing to go in­side very many places, just as I could in a much larger city. My over­ar­ch­ing ques­tion was whether the peo­ple I en­coun­tered knew about Night Wave. Tantri, who leaves her house more fre­quently than I do, warned me that peo­ple might be sus­pi­cious of me — not be­cause I’m a re­porter, but be­cause it’s un­usual in Santa Fe to ap­proach peo­ple you don’t know. I be­lieve this at­ti­tude defeats the pur­pose of so­cial­iz­ing in public, so I took the warn­ing as a chal­lenge.

The first two guys were be­wil­dered and slightly hos­tile when I greeted them out­side of Evan­ge­los. Af­ter re­peat­ing my hel­los, I as­cer­tained that they had no idea they were par­tic­i­pat­ing in a city­wide hap­pen­ing. The bouncer at the door was aware. He wanted to know where the food trucks were and why more of the bands weren’t be­ing paid by the grant so that the bars wouldn’t have to charge a cover. Next, I met two ine­bri­ated women in their late for­ties who were there to dance with bik­ers. They did not know it was Night Wave. One of them, who said her birth name was Nancy, ex­plained to me that she’s been semi-vol­un­tar­ily home­less for 13 months, sleep­ing at Ojo Caliente, and has now turned her ex­pe­ri­ences into a sub­mis­sion for the Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It es­say an­thol­ogy. (I looked this up. It’s real.)

Across the street out­side of the Mata­dor, ev­ery­one seemed to know about Night Wave, which was ironic be­cause it was not among the Satur­day-night list­ings on the Night Wave web­site. The crowd was a mix of artists, film­mak­ers, Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory em­ploy­ees, and other young pro­fes­sion­als, who told me they ap­pre­ci­ate the Mat’s iden­tity as a ba­sic dive bar — though at the Palace it was de­scribed for me as a niche bar for sleazy punks. The idea that Santa Fe bar pa­trons are self-seg­re­gat­ing came up many times in my con­ver­sa­tions that night. Bar pa­trons tend to split up ac­cord­ing to in­ter­est, age, cul­ture, and race: There are sev­eral white yuppie bars, a gay club, a biker bar, a pi­ano bar for the over-fifty set, etc., but very few reg­u­lar, neigh­bor­hood-type bars. This seg­re­gra­tion was ev­i­dent dur­ing Night Wave and has been thus for a long time — though I miss the di­ver­sity and non-hip­ness of the old Green Onion, plas­tic cups and all.

All night, there was a line to get in out­side Sky­light — known as the scene for Santa Fe lo­cals — where Norteño co­me­dian Car­los Me­d­ina had ear­lier per­formed to side-split­ting laugh­ter. (His ap­pear­ance was also funded by the McCune grant.) Sky­light at­tracts ma­jor mu­si­cal acts, has DJs al­most ev­ery night, and has be­come the kind of club Santa Fe hasn’t seen in decades. A lo­cal guy named Wil told me he thought Santa Fe nightlife was ac­tu­ally just fine, with the right num­ber and va­ri­ety of bars for the size of the pop­u­la­tion. He also knew it was Night Wave, and was much in fa­vor of the ef­fort, but like ev­ery­one else I met that night, he was very con­cerned about just when the food trucks might ar­rive.

In Santa Fe, be­moan­ing the lack of nightlife is ac­tu­ally one of the main com­po­nents of its nightlife.

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