Students from the New Mexico School for the Arts will dance in the Railyard’s underground parking garage, Denver bands will strut their stuff at Molly’s Kitchen and Lounge, and Heavy Breather will … well, we’re not sure.
“Words do him no justice,” said Johnny Bell, music program manager for this year’s AHA Festival of the Progressive Arts, which, now in its fifth year, is breaking through to three days and three locations.
That will include the hip and happening Lower Siler District, which promises to blossom into a giant block party, a celebration of machine as art and an underground music scene on Saturday night.
“We always wanted to expand the festival,” said Shannon Murphy, director of the After Hours Alliance, which started the festival as a Sunday-only event in the Railyard. “We think this is going to work.”
“It seems every successful art market has satellite events blossoming around it,” added Ginger Dunnill, who is at the helm of visual arts for the AHA festival and also is known as the DJ Miss Ginger.
The key to the entire three days? “The ultimate goal is to promote emerging artists,” said Daniel Werwath, AHA board member and the person spearheading the planning for an Arts+Creativity residential and work center for artists in the Siler Road area.
Bell said the festival is beginning to get more attention from musical acts that tour nationally and are applying to be part of the event. Mimicking Birds, a band from Portland, Ore., playing on Sunday “will bring national recognition to the AHA stage,” he said.
Here’s a look at what to expect in a festival that often features the unexpected:
The music party at Molly’s Kitchen and Lounge, 8 p.m.-1 a.m., is an outgrowth from a collaboration with Denver’s Underground Music Showcase, which this July welcomed local musicians Angelo Harmsworth, Cloacas, Keyboard and Thieves & Gypsys to its festival. In return, at least three Denver bands will take the stage at Molly’s.
The Still Tide, Bell said, really stuck in his mind as something special from the Denver event. “It’s folk-based, but with a harder-driving electric guitar element,” he said. “They create a space where the music is really enveloping you.”
Also coming, Poet’s Row is a more traditional folk-based band, with strong male-female harmonies, he said.
A third band, chosen by the director of the Denver festival, is the electro-pop Oko Tygra.
“It’s a good cross-section” of the Denver music scene, Bell said.
Admission is by donation, an approach that actually works out pretty well, even without naming a “suggested” or minimum amount, Murphy said. Organizers considered asking for $10, which most people seem willing to pay, but a lot of younger people can’t even afford that, she said.
“You get a handful of people who can’t or don’t want to pay,” Werwath added, “but, for the most part, everyone is generous.”
After all, they said, most people know the festival is put together by volunteers.
The Art of the Machine block party on Trades West Road will be the creative offspring of the mix of artists and tradespeople who live in that district, Werwath said.
Some of that mix is contained within the individuals themselves, he said, noting that a metalsmith might make an architectural handrail one day and a sculpture the next; an auto body worker might fix some dents one day and detail a custom lowrider the next.
With the recent influx of artists into the area, he said, some of the tradespeople have felt they were going to get elbowed out, so this event is a move toward inclusion. Old muscle cars and tricked-out motorcycles will be on display.
Artist Rose Simpson, who has been getting into cars lately, will bring along some friends with custom low-riders, Dunnill said. Art installations, food trucks, Axle Contemporary’s arts truck and more will be on the scene.
Gregory Waits of Fresh Santa Fe will give a preview of his Blue Jeans Project with art blankets made from recycled jeans on display at the block party, then, with “The Graces,” a multi-media performance combining fashion and dance at 9 p.m. at 2855 Cooks Road.
That’s an example of the after-party planned in the district, with performances, music and art open houses popping up in various locations.
While they’re hyped as “secret,” handbills will be circulated among visitors to the block party and some details will be posted on the festival’s Facebook page to give people an idea of where to go. Some of those events may require an entry fee, while the block party itself is another “by donation” night.
This day is back to the core beginnings of the festival in the Railyard, with more than 20 artist booths set up, two stages with music from 11 acts starting at 3 p.m., booths from nine small businesses that reflect the festival’s ethos, food trucks and various pop-up performances.
The New Mexico School for the Arts is participating with a dance, “Blind Spot,” developed specifically for its performance location in the lowest level of the Railyard Parking Garage.
Dunnill said Courtney Leonard and Frank Buffalo Hyde helped curate the artists admitted to the event. “It was nice to have that influx of new perspective,” she said.
One of the artists she said she’s really excited about is Amaryllis Moleski, who moved from New Mexico to Oakland, and does paintings and drawings incorporating old paper and materials “not seen as high art,” but that she makes work, Dunnill said.
“There’s a lot included from the queer community this year,” she said, particularly naming Ryan Young and Freyr Marie.
That participation, Dunnill said, shows the artists from that community feel the festival “is a platform to feel safe to express themselves.”
Adam Wohlwend received a grant from New Mexico Arts for his “wooden house structures on wheels,” all pedal- or push-powered, that will travel through the Railyard, she said. “They remind me of weird fantasy wagons, kind of steam-punkish,” Dunnill said. “Wood meets metal – they’re a fusion of eras.”
For the music that day, Bell highlighted Lonesome Leash, a one-man band now based in Los Angeles who has “completely captivated” audiences the times he has performed previously in Santa Fe.
Bell said Lonesome Leash captures the spirit of the AHA Festival to feature “a progressive form of expression that does not fit the mainstream.”
Then there’s Heavy Breather, “an eccentric local artist,” Bell said, who is “always creative, always original … he’s definitely something to experience.”
The festival’s Facebook page describes him as the world’s first mouth jockey.
“Using a hand reconfigured pitch-bender vocal effect, a loop station and sampling rig, Heavy Breather layers percussive beats, bass lines and high-pitched vocal choruses to create a danceable heavy groove,” the description reads. “In short, with the help of modern technology, Heavy Breather does with his mouth what a DJ does with turntables. The spectacle is visually accompanied by slightly disturbing costuming and highly impotent lighting effects.”
All that for free, since no donation is requested for Sunday’s events.