Dennis Hopper Days: Ride the rebel spirit

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Even if you’ve never seen the full length of the 1969 film “Easy Rider” or know nothing of its plot, you still likely know its imagery — and as Taoseños begin to polish their motorcycles and hit the streets this spring, many people will no doubt be reminded of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda riding two long-forked choppers against the backdrop of the American West.

For locals, the connection to the iconic counter-culture film runs deeper than what was seen on-screen or even on-location as scenes were shot around Taos County. Hopper co-wrote a screenplay that bemoaned the loss of American freedoms and indicted an emerging middle class he believed to be laden with hypocrisies. Those who knew him best understood that the script had been inspired by authentic, personal convictions. In Taos, Hopper encountered people who reflected those beliefs and embraced him as a member of their most private communities.

Hopper was born on May 17, 1936 and was not only an actor, but an award-winning filmmaker, photographer and artist. He attended the world-famous Actor’s Studio in New York City, and made his film acting debut in 1955 alongside his idol, the late James Dean. Hopper died May 29, 2010 in Venice, California, and was buried in Taos.

Tuesday (May 17) marks what would be Hopper’s 80th birthday — a date now celebrated as “Dennis Hopper Day,” inaugurated in 2010 by the state’s 30th governor, Bill Richardson, and recognized in 2014 by former Taos Pueblo Gov. Clyde M. Romero.

Red Thunder lead musician and co-owner of Eagle Thunder Presents, Robby Romero, was taken under Hopper’s wing when the actor returned to Taos in 1970. “I met Dennis through my mother, Rita Rogers, the first time my mother brought me here to Taos one summer after Dennis had shot ‘Easy Rider’ and bought the Mabel Dodge-Tony Luhan House,” Romero said. “I spent a few days amongst all these crazy artists that were Dennis’ friends who he had brought from all over the world, and I just decided to stay. My mother and Dennis agreed and I stayed there until he sold the place in 1978.”

Hopper was widely known for his wild and magnetic persona. For many, he epitomized the untamed lifestyle of the ‘60s that many saw fleeting in the ‘70s, and the hippie idealism that was flickering out along with it. Though both Romero and longtime collaborator, Grammy-award-winner, Robert Mirabal, said times have since changed in Taos, Hopper’s influence has not.

“Dennis’ legacy continues,” Romero said. “His body of work, his photography, his films — as an actor, director, writer, producer — lives on and continues to be celebrated all over the world. His impact on other artists — musicians and actors — is phenomenal. He had a keen eye for art. He had a keen eye for artists, and he celebrated them and always lifted them up and continues to do so.”

Starting this Saturday (May 14), Eagle Thunder Presents produces the third-annual “Dennis Hopper Days” festival in celebration of that legacy.

Festivities are set to begin Saturday with the free-admission Easy Rider Motorcycle Rally, led by Canadian First Nations actor and musician Gary Farmer. Those who wish to participate in the event are asked to arrive at 9:30 a.m. at Santa Fe Harley Davidson, 4360 Rodeo Road, or meet up at one of its stops. The rally will follow the route taken by the characters in the film, stopping at Old Martina’s Hall in Ranchos de Taos Plaza and concluding at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge for a photo-op. All registered riders will receive an “Official Dennis Hopper Day 2016 Easy Rider Patch.”

The Buffalo Barbeque & Concert follows the rally at 5 p.m., featuring a musical performance by Romero, Mirabal, Farmer, and guitar rocker Eric McFadden at Taos Mesa Brewing, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west near the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

“I’d call our form of music ‘desert rock,’ “ said Mirabal, who was also a friend of Hopper. “It’s birthed out of 1,000-year-old traditions, 1,000-year-old cultures, and it takes an evolutionary step with rhythm and chordal changes incorporated with movement and dance. It’s who we are. It’s ancient, yet still modern, but ‘modern’ not defined by any element except the foundation of who we are and where we came from.”

Romero and Mirabal recently cut a new single titled, “Iron Horse.” To hear the track and other music from the duo, visit eaglethunder.com.

Los Rios River Runners will be offering multiple opportunities to participate in the Hopper Wild Whitewater Rafting Trip from Sunday (May 15) through Tuesday (May 17). Trips begin at 9 a.m. each morning and will run from the launch point to Stagecoach Hot Springs—another location from the film.

New to this year’s festival is the inaugural Dennis Hopper Rebel Film Festival, featuring a different Hopper film screened each night at 7 p.m. from Sunday through Wednesday (May 15-18) at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. The films are “The Trip,” “Easy Rider,” “The American Dreamer,” and “Blue Velvet” (see this week’s Cinemafile column in Tempo magazine for details).

“The festival fits in nicely with our new program goals since the installation of our ‘big screen,’ and we are looking forward to growing the festival element of Dennis Hopper Days with Eagle Thunder,” said Taos Center for the Arts Executive Director Deborah McLean. “For the first few years, we will feature Hopper films and as we grow the festival we will open up to competition. The reception on three of the evenings will be a casual salon with an open bar — a time for all to share Dennis stories, and I am sure some personal rebel stories. On Tuesday there will be a surprise program and maybe even a cake to commemorate Dennis and celebrate his would-be 80th birthday.”

Package tickets for the festival can be purchased at the TCA’s office at 133 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, or by calling (575) 758-2052.

Package 1 can be purchased for $46 and includes the Easy Rider Rally (free), the Buffalo Barbeque & Concert at Taos Mesa Brewing and access to the Dennis Hopper Rebel Film Festival.

Package 2 can be purchased for $146 and includes the Easy Rider Rally, Buffalo Barbeque and Concert, Dennis Hopper Rebel Film Festival and admission to a Dennis Hopper Wild River Ride.

Tickets can be purchased separately for the Buffalo Barbeque & Concert for $10 in advance or $15 at the door, for the Dennis Hopper Rebel Film Festival for $10 for each showing for TCA members, $12 for the general public and Dennis Hopper Wild River Ride can be purchased for $125.

For more information on Dennis Hopper Days or to register your motorcycle for the rally, visit dennishopperday.com.

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