Jennifer Goes to Things and Does Stuff
Jennifer Levin talks to strangers at the second annual Night Wave
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.