Back in the groove
by Chris Aaland
For 16 straight years, KSUT brought the noise with a midsummer music event that celebrated the danceable fringe of its Music Blend, which, for the most part, is rooted in Americana (the catch-all category for acoustic-based folk) and AAA (the softer side of adult contemporary music). KSUT’s annual Party in the Park favored bands that played world, R&B or New Orleans styles over singer-songwriters. The event’s alumni include the Iguanas, Shinyribs, Crash Test Dummies, Subdudes, the Greencards, New Orleans Suspects, Todo Mundo, The Big Takeover, Baracutanga, the Stooges Brass Band, Jarabe Mexicano and others.
COVID-19 snapped KSUT’s streak last summer, as it did nearly every music festival or annual concert highlight. Thankfully, vaccines rolled out midwinter, and, as the population started getting vaccinated, concerts came back. While our little niche of Southwest Colorado has fared better than most in terms of percentage of the population who has received the shot – 67% in La Plata County, 58% in Archuleta and 51% in Montezuma – the Delta variant is here. COVID became the pandemic of the unvaccinated and may once again shutter venue doors and festival gates if it isn’t controlled.
The politically driven resistance to halting a deadly virus is why we can’t have nice things anymore. One side values its so-called freedumbs over the common good. They wear their pandemic denial like a badge of honor; the rest of us see it as ignorance and arrogance. Until everyone gets vaccinated, we’ll find ourselves in a never-ending cycle of ebbs and flows in the pandemic. People will continue to get sick and die. Industries like live music will continue to suffer.
For now, we can dance. Those who have received full vaccination can groove with a little more confidence. And for those you haven’t gotten their shots, San Juan Basin Public Health will have two tents at each Party in the Park – one for education and the other for vaccine administration. The free vaccinations will begin at 5 p.m. and continue through at least 7 each night.
Instead of holding just one of its signature Parties in the Park in 2021, KSUT will hold two such events this week – on Friday in Buckley Park and another on Saturday in Pagosa Springs Town Park. Music starts at 5:30 each afternoon, ending by 9. Both concerts will feature The Motet and Afrobeatniks – the same two groups that drew more than 1,000 people to Buckley in 2019.
“People can celebrate public radio and our diverse blend of music at each of these events,” KSUT Executive Director Tami Graham said. “It’s our way of giving back to the Four Corners and thanking our listeners and members for being part of the KSUT family, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when we were unable to present live music.
The Parties in the Park will also include food vendors, and beer, cider and wine booths. Ska Brewing, Fenceline Cider and wine will be sold in Durango. Riff Raff Brewing and Fenceline Cider will be sold in Pagosa Springs.
The Motet is a Denver-based band that has blended funk, soul, jazz and world music influences ever since drummer and bandleader Dave Watts founded the group in 1998. The Four Corners was one of the first regions outside the Front Range to embrace them, and they rewarded fans by returning to the region every few months during those early years.
The group is a collective with a rotating cast of musicians – hence the name “Motet” as opposed to quartet, quintet, sextet and so on. The current incarnation of the band includes Watts, guitarist Ryan Jalbert, bassist Garrett Sayers, keyboardist Joey Porter and saxophonist Drew Sayers.
The lineup has been pared down from the Motet’s last several appearances in Durango. “As the world, and specifically the music world, continues to fundamentally change in the wake of COVID-19, we have also gone through our own changes,” the group noted on its website. “The history of The Motet has always been about change. It’s the one constant.”
The new sound is evident in a recent digital single, “False Prophets,” recorded during the live music shutdown. The Motet has released nine albums in its career, most of which have become favorites on stations at the lower end of the dial – like KSUT, KDUR and KSJD.
Afrobeatniks is a world music group with members based in Mancos and Durango. They draw their inspiration from popular, folkloric and spiritual music of West Africa, with Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, Latin, jazz, reggae, funk and rock influences adding to the musical roux. In particular, the music of Nigerian Afro-pop in the style of Fela Kuti and Tony Allen and the traditional rhythm structures of Guinea are evident in both original music and spirited covers.
Afrobeatniks will be joined by a couple of special guests this weekend. Pagosa Springs-based musician and educator Bobby Hemenger will join them on saxophone. Hemenger has performed regionally with the likes of Victor Wooten, Darrell Scott, Peter Rowan, Tony Furtado and others. He’s also the host of KSUT’s “Close Enough for Jazz” program, which airs from 7-9 each Sunday night.
Percussionist Fred Simpson will also be joining Afrobeatniks. A performer and music instructor from Santa Fe, Simpson is one of the founding members of Los Primos Melódicos de Santa Fe. Los Melódicos are known for recreating the musical tapestry of Latin America, Cuba and Puerto Rico, as well as jazz, R&B and pop. Simpson performs on such African and Latin instruments as djembe, congas, bongo, cajón and hand percussion.
“In Guinea, West Africa, where some of our rhythmic structures come from, there is a saying that captures the essence of being together in the moment and feeling the joy of music together – ‘Wontanara,’” said Afrobeatniks founder Bradley Hoessle. “I think it’s particularly fitting for this current time as we come together for KSUT’s Parties in the Park.”
Afrobeatniks released their debut album, “Wontanara,” in the summer of 2019, a few weeks before their inaugural Party in the Park performance. The recording attracted radio airplay and the attention of concert and festival promoters outside the region – just in time, of course, for the groove to drift away in the breeze when live music shut down.
Like many bands, Afrobeatniks were forced to take a hiatus due to the pandemic. They held their first concert in nearly 16 months in mid-June at Fenceline Cider in Mancos to celebrate the summer solstice. A week later, they played a Ska-B-Q.
“It’s so great to see the multigenerational crowds coming back out, and we can feel the positive energy flowing from everyone. During the initial rehearsals, our music and inspiration came right back to us,” Hoessler said.
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