The Salt & Pepper Shakers Musicians
Tyler Hilton doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t know the Vigil brothers — Anthony, Alex, and Andrew. “We grew up playing music together,” he said. Now Tyler, Alex, Anthony — and sometimes Andrew — play bluegrass, rock, and traditional Americana together as The Salt & Pepper Shakers. They’ve had gigs at parties and fundraisers and recently played at Borrego’s Guitar and Music Supply Co. on St. Michael’s Drive as part of an open house. They also busk downtown on the Plaza.
“I love interacting with people; it’s my favorite thing,” Tyler said. “It’s a really good outlet for that. It’s good to get that kind of performance experience in front of a crowd, but with nothing riding on it. If we mess up, it’s not a big deal, and we wind up making a little bit of money.”
Tyler, age seventeen and a senior at the Academy for Technology and the Classics, is the outgoing spokesman for the group. He plays the guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Anthony, fifteen and a freshman at ATC, plays the bass guitar and banjo and is learning piano; Alex, a junior, is sixteen, and plays guitar and mandolin. Andrew, who already graduated, is nineteen; he plays the drums. They all sing. Their slightly unusual musical focus is the result of several years playing with the Acoustic Americana ensemble at ATC, a for-credit class at the charter school, which enrolls students in grades seven through 12.
They say ATC music director Eric Carlson has pushed them to embrace more musical styles: The Shakers’ repertoire now includes some traditional New Mexican music. He has also helped increase their confidence levels so they can perform and sing solos. In August, the student ensemble played at the Santa Fe Old Time and Bluegrass Music Festival at the county fairgrounds, and Tyler entered and won the banjo contest. The Shakers also participated in the circles that crop up around the festival, which meant jamming with musicians of all ages, from all over the country.
“We’ve gone to a couple of bluegrass festivals in New Mexico,” Anthony said. “You just start playing something. Then a whole group gets together, and you’re just playing.”
“It’s very welcoming, very community oriented. That’s one of the things that draws me in,” Tyler said.
Among their influences are Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, and Lester Flatt, as well as ZZ Top, Boston, and Kansas. “The stuff Tyler likes isn’t necessarily acoustic,” Anthony explained, “but we try to play it acoustic. We always try to mix in different styles to create our own.”
“I listen to what I think sounds good. I don’t have to listen to just one type of music or like something just because it’s in one genre,” Tyler said. “With all of us playing so many different instruments, we can always switch up what we’re doing — just rotate so that someone plays something else or someone else sings.”
The Shakers will stay in Santa Fe after high school. Tyler is looking into business classes at Santa Fe Community College and plans to eventually go into sales. Alex is interested in art and graphic design. Anthony doesn’t know what he might study, but he, too, will go to SFCC and work. None of them believe relying on music to support them is a responsible plan, though they don’t intend to quit playing together.
“A big part of our lives is that we’ve always been fairly religious,” Tyler said. “We’re all Jehovah’s Witnesses. From a young age I was taught that you don’t want to place all of your effort into having a career or into recreation. In my opinion there are more important things in life than going to college and marrying off and making a bunch of money. Everything in moderation is, I guess, what I’m trying to say. I’m trying to balance so that one thing doesn’t detract from another.”
“For us, money is helpful, but we don’t focus on acquiring as much of it as we can,” Anthony said.
“With respect to leaving, I’ve always loved Santa Fe,” said Alex. “Kids all say they can’t wait to leave here, but I love it. It’s home.” — Jennifer Levin
Left to right, Alex Vigil, Tyler Hilton, and Anthony Vigil; photo Jennifer Levin