Jennifer Goes to Things & Does Stuff

Jennifer Levin heads up to Taos and at­tends the Mu­sic on the Mesa fes­ti­val

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I love Taos. I’ve at­tended writ­ing work­shops there, and my hus­band and I go up for week­ends now and then. For years I ac­cepted the idea that Taos is a minia­ture ver­sion of Santa Fe, just sleepier and with more hip­pies. The more time I’ve spent there, how­ever, the more I’ve come to re­al­ize that other than hav­ing a sim­i­lar spi­ral­ing pat­tern to the down­town streets, the two lo­cales are very dif­fer­ent. There’s a quiet peace in Taos, even on its plaza, that doesn’t ex­ist here. Shop­keep­ers in the tourist ar­eas are di­rect and friendly, with­out seem­ing to gauge your po­ten­tial to spend money. Teenagers on the street make eye con­tact and say hello. Taos is a lit­tle lusher than Santa Fe, and gluten-free bread more read­ily avail­able — and of course, there’s its rep­u­ta­tion for at­tract­ing in­de­pen­dent women. When I got the op­por­tu­nity to write about the sec­ond an­nual Mu­sic on the Mesa fes­ti­val, held from June 3-5 at Taos Mesa Brewing, I jumped at the chance to see the Old 97s live while visit­ing Taos as a re­porter. The “Taos woman” is an ab­so­lutely real phe­nom­e­non, still go­ing strong, that struck me with ur­gent force this time around, per­haps be­cause I re­cently wrote about the famed Taos arts pa­tron Ma­bel Dodge Luhan and her co­horts. Though cer­tainly the sen­si­bil­ity runs deeper than fash­ion, there is an ef­fort­less­ness to the av­er­age Taos woman’s street style that makes Santa Fe look like a place where peo­ple dress up for din­ner. I in­ter­pret it as part cow­girl, part Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe, and part punk. There is lit­tle, if any, makeup. Hair is un­fussy — longish or un­der­cut. There is a sur­pris­ing lack of yoga pants. At Mu­sic on the Mesa, those not wear­ing jeans and T-shirts wore short dresses made of light fab­ric, along with boots and bare legs, topped off with straw hats to pro­tect their faces from the sun. They danced with aban­don to alt-coun­try and Amer­i­cana in front of a small, earth­ship-style am­phithe­ater. They didn’t have to care if the wind blew their skirts up be­cause, as if by prior agree­ment, they all wore span­dex shorts un­der­neath — a sim­ple so­lu­tion to an age-old prob­lem. Tat­tooed, bearded men flipped their daugh­ters over their heads, and lit­tle boys spun their moth­ers. Ev­ery­one boo­gied with sur­pris­ing skill as the sun sank low in the sky. It took a long time to get dark out there on the mesa, just off the road to the Río Grande Gorge Bridge west of town. Ear­lier that day, my hus­band and I strolled around the shops on Bent Street. We stopped in Op.Cit Books (124-A Bent St.), a branch of the Santa Fe store that took over the Moby Dick­ens space in the John Dunne House Shops in 2015. Op.Cit hasn’t lost the feel­ing of the iconic Moby Dick­ens, and re­mains a great place for air-con­di­tioned brows­ing. Out­side, I met Valerie Neilsen, sell­ing her n are rod­ucts, called Nur­turessence, from a nd and has lived in Taos ffeeshop jobs un­til ht de­odor­ant from can at­test that this lance to do-noth­ing ions, room sprays, and

At Sec­onds Eco Store (120 Bent St.), which sells a hodge­podge of kitschy but up­scale re­cy­cled hand­bags, clocks, pic­ture frames, and jew­elry, I im­me­di­ately found three per­fect hol­i­day gifts for fam­ily mem­bers, even though I hadn’t been look­ing. I asked the owner, Sarah Base­hart, if she likes liv­ing in Taos and how she makes it work fi­nan­cially. She pro­ceeded to tell me about her life, ea­gerly and openly.

In 1991, on a road trip af­ter a failed re­la­tion­ship, Base­hart’s car broke down in Taos. “I had no choice but to stay. And then I fell in love here,” she said. A few years later, the cou­ple built one of the first homes in the Greater World Com­mu­nity, a 634-acre earth­ship sub­di­vi­sion that func­tions off the en­ergy grid and is lo­cated a few miles north­west of the gorge bridge. Her hus­band is a con­trac­tor, and she runs her store; they also rent out earth­ships through Airbnb, which gives them a tidy sum each month to sock away in their chil­dren’s col­lege sav­ings ac­counts. “It’s not an easy liv­ing,” she said, “but Taos is the great­est place on earth. I wake up grate­ful to be in this com­mu­nity every day, even af­ter 25 years.”

Though cer­tainly the sen­si­bil­ity runs deeper than fash­ion, there is an ef­fort­less­ness to the av­er­age Taos woman’s street style that makes Santa Fe look like a place where peo­ple dress up for din­ner. I in­ter­pret it as part cow­girl, part Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe, and part punk.

Af­ter ex­plain­ing that the Taos Pue­blo cre­ated the town and has the ul­ti­mate say about what goes on, Base­hart de­scribed the peo­ple who live in and move to Taos as will­ing to take risks. She ac­knowl­edged that some Taoseños think mesa res­i­dents “walk around with a beer in one hand and a snake in the other, and that’s not nec­es­sar­ily far off. A lot of peo­ple re­ally do come here to lose their old lives. In a lot of ways, it’s still wild here, and the fu­ture isn’t clear-cut. You have to fig­ure out your own way.”

The venue at Taos Mesa Brewing (20 ABC Mesa Road, El Prado) was dusty and rugged, the out­door per­for­mance area wide open to the sun and rain. In­side, there was plenty of beer, along with a few mu­si­cal acts; burg­ers, bratwurst, and tacos were also for sale. A se­lec­tion of ven­dors of­fered items rang­ing from wine to vin­tage clothes to glass pipes. The lineup of bands for the three-day fes­ti­val in­cluded some big names. On Satur­day we saw Wayne “The Train” Han­cock, Band of Hea­thens, Howlin’ Broth­ers, and the Old 97s, who hap­pen to be one of my fa­vorite bands. (An­other fa­vorite of mine, Shawn Colvin, played with Steve Earle on Sun­day night. Do your­self a fa­vor and get their new Buddy Miller-pro­duced al­bum, Colvin & Earle.) My main in­ter­est was the Old 97s, who came on at 9:30 p.m., but the peo­ple­watch­ing and mu­sic were worth sit­ting on a blan­ket on the ground for six hours, get­ting dirt kicked on me by the danc­ing crowd.

Dur­ing the Old 97s sound check, a half-dozen lit­tle boys near the stage started throw­ing LED-lit ob­jects high into the night sky and watch­ing them fall. It was beau­ti­ful but sort of dan­ger­ous. A fes­ti­val of­fi­cial even­tu­ally called the “LED boys” (as he’d dubbed them) around and calmly told them they had to stop be­cause their toys were start­ing to land on ran­dom adults, and “no one en­joys get­ting an­gry at other peo­ple’s chil­dren.” The kids nod­ded solemnly. It was all very re­spect­ful. The di­vi­sions be­tween gen­er­a­tions seem un­usu­ally per­me­able in Taos.

The Old 97s put on a good show, made even bet­ter by the in­ti­mate venue and fresh air, as well as the light­ing on stage, which ap­prox­i­mated the col­ors and sat­u­ra­tion of a mesa sun­set. Bril­liant flashes of light­ning il­lu­mi­nated the sky to the east. I danced and sang along and then we left, ex­hausted, be­fore the fi­nal band, Last to Know, played. It seemed like the drive back to our rental house across from Kit Car­son Memo­rial Park should have taken longer. But as far from civ­i­liza­tion as it felt, Mu­sic on the Mesa was just 10 min­utes from the cen­ter of town.

The next morn­ing, we went to Taos Diner (908 Paseo del Pue­blo Norte) for break­fast be­fore com­ing home to Santa Fe. The ser­vice was friendly, the por­tions gen­er­ous, and the cof­fee mem­o­rably good. But the green chile wasn’t as spicy or fla­vor­ful as the green chile in Santa Fe — some­thing I’ve no­ticed be­fore at other Taos restau­rants. And so, al­though I will be back of­ten, I can’t move there un­less they get that straight­ened out.

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