In my never-ending mission to taste all the flavors of Santa Fe’s music scene, I found myself at El Farol recently. I hadn’t been there since…ever, but word on the street was that there was a weekly blues jam going on. The way this jam works is that people show up, sign in on a list and everyone gets a chance to play at some point during the night. Though new-school blues rock is far from my genre of choice, I do like the coming together of people based on a mutual love of playing music. Unless, of course, it’s a drum circle.
The jam began at now closed WilLee’s Blues Club, but once the venue began to steer away from all that is bluesy, the band at the center of the event moved to El Farol and dubbed itself Canyon Road Blues Band. Each week, it opens up the show with a few standards before the musicians who have signed up begin rotating in and replacing members. After a while, the band evolves into a mishmash of different musicians, instruments and sounds, and the jam is never the same twice—kind of like a blues snowflake.
When I showed up, I found the dance floor filled with people, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. The jam is clearly catered toward a more, shall we say, annually advanced crowd, but that is not to say these people don’t know how to party.
A session was underway, and the ragtag band played “Sweet Home Chicago.” The sound was straightforward 12-bar blues, and each guitarist took turns busting out sweet solos. Clad in a gas mask, the drummer definitely caught my eye. She was well prepared for the zombie apocalypse. Overall, I was impressed by each musician’s ability to jump in and contribute to a seamless riff.
There was a brief switchover, as new musicians took the stage. The new lineup was more to my liking. The jam was truly soulful, and an incredible keyboardist rounded out the song choices perfectly. He reminded me of Jimmy McGriff, and I found myself swaying as he, you know, tickled the ivories. Someone busted out the conga drums and the crowd cheered. Technically it was the blues, though the mood was anything but.
Sadly, I had arrived late and missed Canyon Road Blues Band. But the band’s bassist (and Blues Jam organizer) Tone Forrest was happy to speak with me.
“The jam has been going on for just about three years now, and we pack El Farol every week,” Forrest says. “Which is saying a lot.”
Agreed. Though there are many venues and shows in Santa Fe, it’s becoming rarer and rarer to find an event packed as tightly as the Blues Jam. Part blues show, part breathing, sweating organism, it’s a testament to the ideals of the community’s passion for music. Also, honestly, it’s a pretty good time.