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It’s time to pay the piper

Valerie June performs at a Levitt Amp show in the Railyard in August. (Mark Oswald/Albuquerque Journal North)

For three years, Santa Fe has been a beneficiary of the Mortimer and Mimi Levitt Foundation, which supports free outdoor music around the country. Its founder as a child had to sit outside the fence to hear ticketed musical performances at Coney Island, so decided to use his charity to support free shows around the country.

Over the past three years, Levitt has provided $25,000 annually to help AMP Concerts, the local nonprofit that stages most of the best touring shows that come through Santa Fe, and puts on the free summer concert series at the Railyard.

For music fans, the results have been amazing. Longtime Santa Fe concert promoter Jaime Lenfestey’s taste in music apparently knows no bounds and he can always be counted on to bring in something great. If Lenfestey is putting on the show, just go.

Meat Puppets, the punk/country/whatever icons from the heyday of grunge? Check. An L.A. band that does Peruvian surf-music? Yes. Valerie June, an African American who talks like June Carter Cash and does the blues standard “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ” on the banjo? We got that, too, along with mariachi, Cuban, funk, electronica and just about any other genre you can name.

But, this year, Santa Fe didn’t make the cut for the Levitt grants, which are supposed to go cities underserved in terms of musical culture. We were still in the top 10 in online voting for the grants. Gallup is among the Levitt winners for 2020, and Lefenstey said AMP helped Gallup with its own voting effort.

The AMP summer series in 2020 will have a new, local presenting sponsor – Falling Colors, a health care data company.

But AMP is also trying to make up for the lost grant money with a crowdfunding effort.

So, it’s time for everyone who’s enjoyed the free Railyard shows to step up. The Levitt Foundation is due many thanks for supporting free music, and maybe just as important, helping to create welcoming spaces open to and intended for a diverse cross-section of the community. Now, we need to dig into our own pockets to help keep what Levitt and AMP have built going in Santa Fe.

Go to or the organization’s Facebook page to keep up with when crowdfunding efforts go live, Lefenstey says.

AMP has staged 10 to 13 free shows per season. Combine those with the impressive slate of summer performances on the Plaza Bandstand and SWAN Park on the south side of town, and Santa Feans have been enjoying what may be the best group of free concerts in the country, in fantastic small-scale outdoor settings.

If enough of us help out with a few dollars each, we may be able to ensure that our musical evenings under the stars don’t diminish in the future.