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Theft of instruments unites Western music community

RIO RANCHO – Most Monday nights at the Blue Grasshopper Pub are special for Western music fans, because that’s the night the New Mexico Chapter of the Western Music Association hosts open-mic sessions. But this Monday was more special than usual.

First, the WMA is holding its national convention in Albuquerque this week, so Western artists from other places joined the locals in entertaining.

But most special is the way the WMA community turned out to support Aspen Black and her 12-year-old daughter, Alice, musicians who lost their instruments to thieves.

Alice Black, left, plays her Eastman mandolin earlier this year while her mother, Aspen Black, performs on her Martin guitar

Alice Black, left, plays her Eastman mandolin earlier this year while her mother, Aspen Black, performs on her Martin guitar. The Eastman, the Martin and Alice’s 1932 Supertone guitar, on the stand in the background center, were among five instruments stolen from the Blacks’ SUV Saturday in Albuquerque. (Courtesy of Aspen Black)

Not much more than an hour after Aspen and Alice, from the small town of Rocky Mount, Va., arrived in Albuquerque on Saturday for the convention, all five of their instruments – three guitars, a mandolin and a ukulele bass, all uninsured – were stolen from their Chevy Suburban as they ate dinner at an Old Town-area restaurant.

On Monday, Aspen and Alice played on instruments lent to them by friends.

And their friends at the Blue Grasshopper also pitched in financially.

“Tonight, all the tips you generously give will go to Aspen and Alice,” said Joe Brown, a member, like me, of WMA’s New Mexico Chapter. “Instruments are the lifeblood of musicians.”

‘I’m a cowgirl’

“We were tired and hungry when we got into Albuquerque and thought we’d wait until after we had eaten to put our luggage into our (motel) room,” Aspen said. “We parked under a light, and when we got out of the car, I hit the lock button. Always do.”

 Doug Carter, a member of the New Mexico Chapter of the Western Music Association, collects donations Monday at the Blue Grasshopper Pub to support Aspen and Alice Black

Doug Carter, a member of the New Mexico Chapter of the Western Music Association, collects donations Monday at the Blue Grasshopper Pub to support Aspen and Alice Black. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

But when she opened the Chevy’s doors after eating, she found music CDs and other belongings scattered around. The box Alice keeps her cowboy hat in was sitting on her seat, but that’s not where she had left it.

They had left their instruments between the SUV’s middle seats, covered with blankets and luggage. The blankets and luggage were still there.

Everything was still there except the instruments.

Stolen were an Eastman mandolin (Serial No. 10346007), a tenor guitar and a 1932 Supertone guitar belonging to Alice and a Martin guitar (Serial No. 598491) and a bass ukulele that was Aspen’s.

“I couldn’t process it,” Aspen said. “I’ve never been robbed before. I’ve never been a victim of anything. Maybe we are a little sheltered where we live. But I couldn’t freak out. I’m a cowgirl.”

Music, horses, prayers

Rocky Mount, Va., where Aspen and Alice live when they are not touring the Western-music circuit, is a town of 6,000 or so. They live there with James, Aspen’s husband and Alice’s father, and 14-year-old Riley, Aspen and James’ son and Alice’s brother.

The family has an 86-acre horse ranch there.

Besides being a singer-songwriter, a musician and a cowgirl poet, Aspen has trained horses, taught horseback riding and competed in barrel racing.

“I think it is that horse lifestyle that got me into Western music,” she said. “Music and horses. That’s me.”

A WMA member since 2003, Aspen is president of the WMA’s East Coast Chapter and will be very much involved in the organization’s convention, which starts today and continues through Sunday morning at Hotel Albuquerque. She is a finalist for this year’s WMA female poet of the year award.

Alice is also a musician and a singer-songwriter. She has written songs about ghost towns and yodeling mules. She competes in barrel racing, enjoys trail riding and wants to be a biomedical engineer and “change the world.”

Alice is a finalist for the 2017 WMA Crescendo Award, which honors rising stars. She took the loss of her instruments hard.

“Alice was bawling uncontrollably,” Aspen said. “I had to take her back into the restaurant to get her some tissues.”

“I was shocked,” Alice said. “I didn’t want to believe it. I love my instruments. But about a day later, I thought about the people who had taken them and how hard it must be for them if they had to steal our instruments for money. I’ve been praying for them.”

Looking out for family

Seems strange in a room containing so many cowboy hats, but they passed a bucket, not a hat, for Aspen and Alice on Monday night at the Blue Grasshopper.

Pub patrons, both WMA members and nonmembers, and the pub itself, kicked in. The take was astonishingly generous. Not nearly enough, of course, to cover the cost of five instruments. But more than most folks would have guessed from a group of only a couple dozen or so. More than enough to fill the hearts of Aspen and Alice.

“It’s amazing,” Alice said. “I never thought everyone would be so nice to us. We’re lucky to have you.”

Aspen said she felt fortunate that the theft had occurred in Albuquerque during WMA convention week.

“We were on tour throughout the summer,” she said. “This could have happened to us out on the road. But it happened here where we were surrounded by WMA family.”

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Ollie at 823-3916 or Go to to submit a letter to the editor.