Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Musically historic week in Loreto Bay

Within the past week there were two music events at the Wine Cellar, our local watering hole, that I thought made an interesting contrast between the traditional indigenous culture of the southern Baja and the evolving culture of the ex-pat community that has developed over the past several years here in Loreto Bay.

The first event was announced on a local email bulletin board last Saturday afternoon by Trudi, a
Loretano who guides trail rides into the nearby Sierra de La Giganta mountains:
"A Last-minute Announcement - Ranchera music in the Wine Cellar @ Nopolo! Come jam with the cowboys, - Chema Arce and Family.  Bring an instrument and make music with them!  All accoustic, Chema on accordion, Guitar and Bass Fiddle.  See you there!   7- p.m to 8:30 or 9 Danceable!" 
Not having anything else planned for the evening I was curious and decided to drop in and see what the evening was going to be like. 

By way of background, the Ranchero culture is an important and fascinating part of the history of the Baja.  In the mountain ranges west of Loreto there is a small but vibrant network of isolated subsistence ranches where people are living in much the same way as the Vaqueros (Cowboys) have lived here for over 200 years.  All of them are "off the grid" many of them can only be reached on horseback or burro and they keep livestock and raise what crops they can, mainly for their own consumption.  As such, a case can be made that their predecessors who were descended from the original Spanish missionary soldiers, through the spread of the Catholic Missions north from here as far as northern California, spread what became the Cowboy culture to the rest of western North America.

Perhaps because I used to live in Calgary, (the "heart of the New West") and I am familiar with the modern urban cowboy culture, I find the "frozen in time" aspect of these authentic Vaqueros to be so interesting, in any event, I arrived at the Wine Cellar where a larger than normal crowd was assembling for the evening's entertainment.  Eventually the three musicians, all members of the Arce family, were introduced; Chema on the accordion, accompanied by relatives on the stand up bass and guitar.  Aside from their handsome acoustic instruments, they had no other equipment and they sang without benefit of a PA system.

I spoke briefly to Trudi during the evening and she told me that she was helping the three musicians to attend the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Nevada at the end of January, to which they had been invited as special guests.  This annual poetry and music festival which celebrates the "Cowboy Culture" would be a showcase for their most traditional form of music, let alone an amazing experience for the three musicians from rancheros in the Baja.  I later learned that one of the three had literally ridden his horse all day from his home in the mountains to get to Loreto and the three of them were due to leave the next day to fly to Tijuana to apply for visas to travel to the US for the festival - which would be the first flight the three of them had ever taken.  Their story and the simple, but authentic, music they played together obviously caught the imagination of the 40 or 50 people at the Wine Cellar that evening, both from their enthusiastic response to the music and the well filled donation bucket that was set out for contributions to help them fund their trip.  You can find more information on this event at:

The second musical event of the past week was the first solo performance of one of our most popular local musicians, Rich, who many of you will recall from previous posts, was one of the founding members of Los Beach Dogs, and the several different versions of that group that have evolved over the past few years.  Due to the fact that all of Rich's "playmates" were currently either gone from Loreto, or otherwise unavailable, Rich had decided that he would do a solo gig at the Wine Cellar.  Talking with him earlier in the week, I know that Rich was unsure as to what the turnout would be for his performance, but he need not have been concerned.

Arriving before the scheduled start time of 7:00 pm I saw that almost all of the seats were already
taken and Rich would have a full house for his solo debut.  Soon after I arrived Rich began his first set, accompanying himself on amplified guitar through his new Bose PA system that was well suited to the size and acoustics of the Wine Cellar.  But partway through his first song I realized that he was also using another new gizmo - through a foot switch he could turn off and on a "vocal backup synthesizer" that gave the impression of backup singers harmonizing with his lead vocals.  By switching this effect on and off between verses and chorus' he was able to very effectively create the illusion of accompanying himself both vocally and on the guitar at the same time.   

As neat as this illusion was, I found myself quickly focusing on the music itself and not the technical wizardry that helped to produce it.  With a blend of cover tunes, liberally spiced with Rich's own growing list of compositions, he performed two sets of entertainment to an enthusiastic "home crowd" that had gathered that night to support his first solo venture, while enjoying an evening of good music among good friends.

Reflecting on this musically entertaining week, I had seen our community come out to help support three traditional Cowboy musicians to achieve their dream of travelling to the US and present their authentic version of the musical heritage that they had inherited from generations of ancestors.  And later in the week we came together again to enjoy and support one of the original residents of Loreto Bay who, over the past five years, has flourished as a musician, singer and song writer - no small transformation from the Orthodontist that he had been in his pre-Loreto life!

Respecting and supporting the rich heritage of this place, and later celebrating our own recent history of coming together to create a new and thriving community, through the words and music of one of our own, while appreciating his talents that have flourished in the environment we have created here - I found a new harmony this past week in "Living Loreto"!