The laid-back isolation that draws so many to the Four Corners also is the bane of the music business in this part of the world. Being hundreds of miles removed from the big city also means no Pepsi Center, no “Pit” and few big-name concerts. There just isn’t the kind of venue in the region that can hold the types of crowds to make it possible to bring superstar acts without charging exorbitant ticket prices.
At least there hasn’t been until now.
Jason Sandel, a New Mexico businessman and Farmington city councilman, also owns Micon Land LLC, which operates Aztec Speedway. His family business, Aztec Well Servicing, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and the company is funding the necessary renovations to turn the racetrack into a concert venue.
The 3/8-mile clay racetrack hosts a variety of dirt-track racing events on Saturday nights throughout the year, but this weekend, Sandel will put on what he hopes is the first of many big-name concerts at the speedway. Blues Traveler will headline the show, with Arizona’s Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers and New Mexico’s Those Devils on the undercard.
“I’m just a huge live-music fan, followed the (Grateful) Dead around for years, and I really respected Blues Traveler with the HORDE (festival) back in the ’90s,” Sandel said. “So bringing some live, cool music to our area and doing it in a big way has been a dream.
“We’re hopeful the community will come out and support something cool,” Sandel said. “If not, I don’t know that we’ll get another chance. It’s taken a lot of work and lot of money, but I’m betting folks from the entire Four Corners area will come out and have some fun.”
Gary Penington, former executive director of the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, now is an independent concert promoter and also puts on big shows for Select Artists Associates. The company produces concerts at large sporting events, and Penington has been putting on shows at Major League Baseball games for the last several years.
“A friend of mine had been talking to Jason and told him I’ve put on concerts,” Penington said. “He’d been wanting to expand the speedway past car races since last summer, but it didn’t quite come together. I’ve been wanting to do something closer to home, so we got together and here we go.”
The Speedway will hold between 8,000 and 10,000 spectators, making it the largest such venue in the region. Sandel said he’s targeting a turnout of about 3,500. Fans will have the option of general admission seating in the bleachers or on the large infield, and there will be reserved seating in front of the stage area for a premium price.
Penington and Sandel hope that many more first-tier concerts are in the future, but Penington said they’re not overextending themselves and this weekend’s show will be a beta test of sorts.
“Let’s get one under our belts, see how the venue works and then take a step back and do the analysis,” Penington said. “But I think we’ve got a good thing here.”
Relatively speaking, “jam band” isn’t a very old term.
Sure, saying those two words in a music crowd can delight or sour any ears, usually depending on whether you’re talking to a lover or hater of the Grateful Dead.
It is universal knowledge that the Dead are the quintessential, and perhaps the first, jam band, but that phrase didn’t start getting thrown around until the mid-’90s when neo-hippie bands started popping up like wildflowers on a Colorado mountain range or unwanted weeds in a garden.
Bands such as Phish, Widespread Panic and Blues Traveler all can get lumped into that group, and whether a hater or lover, their contribution to American rock music and their numbers in concert ticket sales and coast-to-coast fans can’t be denied.
The third of the trio of aforementioned new-hippie jam bands will make a return to the Southwest Saturday when Blues Traveler plays the Aztec Speedway. It’s the first time Blues Traveler has played in the area since a Fort Lewis College appearance in 1998.
Opening the show will be Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers.
Blues Traveler includes John Popper on harmonica and vocals, Chan Kinchla on guitar, Tad Kinchla on bass, Ben Wilson on keyboards and drummer Brendan Hill.
What began as a basement band started by high school friends in Princeton, N.J., has grown into an established act that recently celebrated its 26th year of playing. A late 1980s move to New York to a very different lower East Side from what exists today provided a flourishing spot for them to build their live show.
“We came up with the Grateful Dead; they were really big. There weren’t any other contemporary jam bands. There wasn’t even the term jam band,” said Chan Kinchla. “We knew we wanted to do something based on live music. We moved to New York and played tiny little bars to, like, four people, but we just loved doing it.
“Slowly but surely, New York started happening,” he continued. “Next thing you know, at a certain point, we started making a living playing, and that was when it clicked that we might be able to do this for a living, and off we went.”
Though their early identity is linked forever with the Dead, Blues Traveler’s sound bears little resemblance to the senior act. It is a rock band driven by Popper’s harmonica and vocals, a more classic take on American rock ’n’ roll via soul and funk that only loosely fits the jam-band mold. The list of bands that influenced its sound is vast.
“We just loved all kinds of different music. There was no real rule,” Kinchla said. “We loved Led Zeppelin, we loved punk rock, we loved Prince, we loved jazz, and we loved old-school blues. We were listening to all that different stuff.
“We were music heads and into everything, then we moved to New York and that whole scene was really musical and very diverse,” he said. “That went into the pot of our sound. We were trying to be influenced by good music, but it’s a big soup for sure.”
Liggett_b@fortlewis.edu. Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.
Saturday: Blues Traveler with Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, 5 p.m., $30/$45 ($5 parking), Aztec Motor Speedway, 300 Legion Road, (505) 258-3978, www.brownpapertickets.com or www.stimulate4c.com.