Alabama Shakes brings hip-shakin' soul to Taos

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Any native Taoseño will tell you: Music is an essential component of life here. But it was only in recent years that the wider music community began to take notice of our town’s emerging potential as a major music destination. Thanks to the work of a talented group of local promoters, Taos is now on a trajectory to realize what’s possible.

Over the course of just a few summers, our staple nightly bar jams and seasonal festivals have evolved from small, regional affairs to globally recognized music events, featuring high-profile performances that have attracted thousands of music fans from near and far, placing us on the map as an important stop on national touring circuits and pitching our course ever-upwards.

Alabama Shakes’ highly-anticipated performance this Saturday (Aug. 6) at Kit Carson Park, 211 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, marks the next entry in that series of groundbreaking Taos music events.

The main gates on the west side of the park are set to open at 5 p.m. and the music begins at 7:30 p.m. when show opener, Los Angeles-based folk-rock band, Dawes, takes the stage.

Tickets went on sale Feb. 19, and have been listed at $60 in advance and $65 on the day of the show. They can be purchased online at ampconcerts.org or at the ticket office—but before you go scrambling for last-minute tickets, take note: Town of Taos special events and facilities director Mitch Miller said that there is a good chance that by the time this edition of Tempo goes to print, tickets will have sold out—8,000 in total, up from the original listing of 6,000 which was purchased within the first 2 months of the booking announcement.

The national buzz that rose up when co-promoters Walking Rain Productions and AMP Concerts released that news in February was equaled perhaps only by 2013’s Mumford and Sons concert, hosted by Taos Solar Music Festival — and there are some very good reasons for that enthusiasm.

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Alabama Shakes has emerged over the last few years as one of the worlds’ premier rock bands, with a foot-stomping, bluesy rock sound driven by frontwoman Brittany Howard, whose powerful pipes and captivating stage presence have been widely compared to the late Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin.

At this year’s Grammy Awards, the band swept 4 major categories, including “Best Alternative Music Album” for their second LP, 2015’s “Sound & Color,” and “Best Rock Song” and “Best Rock Performance” for the album’s second track, “Don’t Wanna Fight.” The award for “Best Engineered Album” went to producers Shawn Everett and Bob Ludwig for their work on the album, which represents a dreamy, experimental departure from the band’s 2012 debut EP, “Boys & Girls.”

Howard and her bandmates, Zac Cockrell (bass), Heath Fogg (guitar) and Steve Johnson (drums), grew up in small town Athens, Alabama as many bands do in small town Taos: Penning lyrics at school, on breaks from part-time jobs and spending nights cutting their teeth at dimly-lit dive bars and neighborhood house parties.

Howard commented in a recent interview with New York Times freelance reporter, Joe Rhodes, that a January performance in Athens, Georgia brought back memories of her first performances onstage: “It reminded me of 2009, when we were getting up onstage together for the first time, and it was scary, and you felt completely vulnerable to the crowd,” she said. “It was that feeling of: I’m terrified, but I need to do it. I have to do it. ’Cause if I don’t do it, then everything’s gonna stay the same.”

While many early attempts have been made to pigeon-hole their sound into a category of “southern revivalist soul,” “Sound & Color” proves that Howard and the band are looking to shed those definitions by continuing to evolve their sound. While the set list for Saturday’s performance remains unknown, attendees can probably expect to hear tracks from their newest album for the majority of the show.

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Dawes, which is comprised of Taylor Goldsmith (guitar and vocals), his brother Griffin Goldsmith (drums), Duane Betts (guitar) and Wylie Gelber (bass), will be joining Alabama Shakes on at least 5 stops on tour—one which is taking them around the world to mostly major cities and well-known venues. Given Alabama Shakes origins, it is fair to speculate that performing to a somewhat familiar small-town crowd might be a nice change of pace for the band.

In a recent interview with Tempo, Stephen Plyler, co-founder of Walking Rain Productions along with partner Jeff Trammel, commented that the bands’ destinations include “Tokyo, Dallas, Chicago, Santiago, London, Paris — and Taos. It’s all those huge cities, and then Taos. I couldn’t be happier,” Plyler said. Since that time, several other major areas have been added to their summer schedule, but the point remains: this is a big deal for Taos. Add the fact that Taos is the only city in New Mexico to make it onto the list and Plyler’s point receives an exclamatory punctuation.

Out of the roughly 7,500 tickets sold as of last Friday (July 29), Miller said that approximately “42 percent of sales have come from Albuquerque, 15 percent from Santa Fe, 3-6 percent from here in Taos and the rest from out of state.” Those numbers are impressive even when compared to Mumford and Sons’ appearance in Taos three years ago—an event that served as a sort of trial run for Taos. Could Taos handle a multi-platinum band and the crowds that would inevitably follow? While some important lessons were learned from the experience, the overall success of the event spurred new interest among tour managers as the answer was a resounding, “Yes.”

“Obviously, we know that the park can handle a band the size of Mumford and Sons. I was here for Mumford and Sons, so I know what happened,” Plyler said. “I know that there were some long waits and some traffic issues. We’re definitely having more people here to help — more volunteers and we’re doing some really careful planning. But we’re doing what we do, and that’s a combination between AMP and Walking Rain.” The Town of Taos has, of course, also been instrumental in preparing for a successful event.

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“Preparation for this show has been ongoing for months,” Miller added. “We have held several formal and informal meetings with the Special Events department and with all Town departments to go over impact considerations, staffing requirements, general preparedness and department specific input. Physical site work started with the installation of the stage and the roofing system.”

Final steps this week will transform Kit Carson park into a “secure venue,” outfitted with water and power stations and portable sanitation and bathroom units.

“Towards the end of the week…sound and lighting crews will arrive along with security personnel so that on Friday we can pretest all systems and be ready for the bands’ crews to arrive on Saturday,” Miller continued. “Sound checks for both Dawes and Alabama Shakes will take place during the day on Saturday.” After that, Miller said that it’s all hands on deck.

Tempo also inquired with Walking Rain Productions about the announcement that Plyler and Trammel will soon be relocating to Corrales, just north of Albuquerque. Plyler smiled when the question was asked. He knew it was coming: What does that mean for the future of Walking Rain Productions, Music on the Mesa Festival and KNCE-FM 93.5?

“Well, we love Taos, obviously,” Plyler replied. “We’ve done a lot in Taos. We’re very involved in all aspects of Taos, but in the last year, I had a bit of a health scare. So, what became apparent over the last year — though my prognosis is great, I’m going to be fine — was the necessity of being near top-notch medical care.”

“KNCE is going to be fine. Right now, I’m still owner in it. I’m no longer DJing there—that’s a little more difficult. But I am still owner there for now. That may change. But I will always be part of KNCE to an extent. We’ll do whatever I need to do to help it be successful from afar. Music on the Mesa? I don’t have an answer for that. I’m not sure. I would love to see someone else pick up the gauntlet and run with it…”

Plyler said that, whatever the future brings, their booking of Alabama Shakes represents a milestone achievement for their once “casual” music promotion business and he hopes that the event will “stair step” the next promoter to do the next big thing in Taos. Without a doubt, they are going out with a bang.

For more information, visit walkingrainproductions.com or ampconcerts.org.

Alabama Shakes concert survival kit

• After further review and discussion with the Town of Taos, chairs will not be allowed in the venue. Seat cushions and blankets are fine but be aware that once the show starts it is likely that everyone will be standing and your blanket space may be infringed upon.

• Front of the park is standing and dancing room only.

• Water: Empty refillable water bottles are allowed. One sealed bottle of water per patron. Limit is approximately 1.5 liter (50 ounce) bottles.There will be water filling stations on site for a nominal charge.

• These will be allowed: Blankets, binoculars, seat cushions, ponchos or rain jackets, and sunscreen. There is a possibility of a thunderstorm at midday, but dropping off significantly by show time.

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• With safety as a primary goal, you may be subject to search. If for any reason you should arrive at the gates with a restricted item you will either have to forfeit that item or return it to your vehicle, hotel, etc. It is recommended that you arrive at least an hour and a half before show time to avoid lines getting in.

• Infants in arms under two (2) years old will be allowed into the venue without a ticket. Absolutely no strollers. Ear protection for young children is strongly advised. Bringing babies and small children to concerts is not recommended. Concerts are crowded and loud and are not safe for small children. Young ears are very sensitive and studies have shown that developing hearing can be damaged by concert volume. Any children being brought to any concert should have appropriate ear protection. Children are the sole responsibility of their parents on site and you acknowledge by entering with a child that you are doing so at your own risk. Both you and your children will probably have a better time if you leave them at home with a babysitter.

• These will not be allowed: Alcohol, glass bottles or cans, coolers, illegal drugs, laser pointers, recorders (audio or video), weapons of any kind. No pets will be allowed, except service animals.

• There will be concessions on site selling beer, wine, cider and soft drinks, as well as a wide assortment of foods.

For more visit: http://www.taosnews.com/site/alabama_shakes.html

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