Mishap Makes Magic During Historic Graham Nash Show In New Mexico
Words and Photography by Jake Sudek
Published August 10, 2016
Graham Nash, and his equally talented compadre, Shane Fontayne are currently touring and promoting their ten-track album, This Path Tonight. Filled with songs of reflection, the present, and the cyclical facet of the future returning to the past, the music is inspired, heartfelt, and adds yet another cobblestone in the path of this man’s epic musical journey. On most nights, these two gentlemen would provide an intimate opportunity for intent listeners to hear these songs in the comfortable surroundings of performing arts centers and upscale theaters in a number of cities, sharing their creativity and insight to mature audiences. Santa Fe, NM carries the alternate name “The City Different” and on this particular night, this title not only held true, but also ushered in an evening that legends are made of.
August in the southwest is a great time of change. With the arrival of the monsoon season, summer begins to transition into fall and with it comes climactic deluges and electrifying thunderheads, which conceal much of the daily horizon in the late afternoon. These displays can be both magical, and terrifying, and are guaranteed to disrupt many a life in this arid part of the country. The skies seen from the historic downtown district preceeding the show were mottled with white clouds, while blue hues prevailed. Tourists and locals walked the streets in plain summer garb and showed no signs of what was to come. These conditions persisted without peril in sight, as the doors to the venue were opened for early seating.
Walking into the Lensic Performing Arts Center an hour before the show, patrons were greeted by a darkened lobby and ushers armed with flashlights. As this the status quo when alerting concert goers to the start of a performance, panicked, questioning looks and hurried paces could be witnessed as those attending scurried into the auditorium, thinking somehow they were late. Upon reaching the inner sanctum, the strangeness continued as the harsh house lights illuminated the room and a thin veil of smoke lingered in the air. Signs of relief and elevated confusion occupied the faces of many as they sat in their reserved seats, continuing to try to figure out what out was going on. Conversation ensued, but strangely, to the eavesdropper, little of it had to do with the lighting, or lack thereof, situation. As the room was nearly full, the promoter, Jamie Lenfesty of AMP Productions, strolled to the edge of the stage to make an announcement. He jokingly admitted that it had been many decades since his last venture in theater and asked the crowd to give him their attention, as he wanted to explain what was going on without amplification. The crowd laughed and gave their attention as he announced that there was a power outage over the entire city. He continued, stating that his team and the local utility provider were working on the situation and that he would return shortly to give any updates. There was an audible, unified groan heard throughout the building, as many of these attendees hailed from the generation that had held this evening’s musical guest as one of their dearest icons, legends, and voices of the Summer of Love.
The proposed show start time came and went and as the venue finally filled to capacity, Lenfesty returned to the stage. He began by letting everyone know that there had been no resolution to the situation and that there was none in sight. Muttled tones of discouragement echoed throughout and accompanying looks reinforced that the expected words to come from Lenfesty were going to be cancellation, refund, and reschedule. As this city is known as the “City Different,” amazement and applause erupted as this lone promoter, on the verge of a riot, or at least a sit-in, announced that in all of his years of promoting shows he had never experienced what was about to happen, announcing that Graham Nash wanted to play for the sold out room and was going to, unplugged. The entire edifice blew its top at such a conclusion and a look of relief and wonder moved across the promoter’s face. With that acceptance, Lenfesty stated that Nash would be out in fifteen and wished everyone an incredible and special night. Conversation and giddiness prevailed over the next quarter hour when for the last time of the evening, Lenfesty walked to the edge of the stage, and stated simply, “Without further adieu, Graham Nash.”
Everyone in attendance stood to their feet, both old and young, and hailed out an ovation that made Nash smile from ear to ear as he, barefooted, and his counterpart, Shane Fontayne, stood there, soaking in the appreciation. As the tide subsided, the duo took their seats, literally two feet from the edge of the stage, and a stagehand brought two glasses and a bottle of red to the table that had been set for them. Taking the glasses in hand, they raised their cups to the audience and toasted “to what was going to be an amazing evening,” again turning the crowd into excited schoolchildren. Finally hushed, Graham iterated that in all of his time playing, he had never attempted such a feat and although having a set list in hand, he concluded by saying, “Tonight everything and anything is up for grabs so let’s get this thing going!” With that, the crowd let out a short applause and then, amazingly, went completely silent.
The single set of the evening was expectedly littered with classic Crosby, Stills and Nash tunes and each piece was accompanied by short introductory tales, giving fans the opportunity to understand the backstory of so many pieces that they had been listening to for decades. One of the more memorable, and comical accounts, he orated was how “Just A Song Before I Go” was written to win a bet between him and his “low-level dealer on Maui,” who called him out as being a big shot songwriter and wagered $500 that he could not pen a song before he left the dealer’s house. Nash laughed in nostalgia as he kidded that the dealer did not even realize that he had already give him the perfect song title in making the wager. Needless to say, he won the bet. Throughout the night, Nash encouraged the audience to sing along on many familiar favorites, including “Teach Your Children,” which he dedicated to all the teachers everywhere, “Marrakesh Express,” “Bus Stop.” and “Wasted On The Way,” often times ceasing his own crooning to allow the crowd to take the lead on vocals. Hearing over 800 people sing these songs, word for word, to the man who had written and inspired so many, was overwhelming for the listener, as was obviously impactive on the humbled individuals on stage.
Although much of the evening’s feel was light, Nash commented on the current political state of America, toned with seriousness and stern warnings which, for all in attendance in this liberal city, were reinforcing and gladly welcomed as fodder for their own constitutions. In an era where so many artists avoid the political arena, it was refreshing, and real, to listen to Nash’s annotation, especially since one aspect of his own creative voice was spawned out of troubled times decades ago. Following one diatribe, he appropriately sang out “Military Madness,” which concluded with inspired and concurring calls from the audience. Another serious number co-written and performed with Fontayne, “Mississippi Burning,” chronicled the 1960’s incident of the race-based murders of three black students from Mississippi, and two white activists from New England, who were working to inspire blacks of the south to vote. This eulogy was performed with verve and seriousness, and centered the crowd to the idea that the same social issues that started the counter-culture movement were very much still a reality around the world.
Off the new album, co-produced and written with Fontayne, over half the track titles were played. The title track, “This Path Tonight,” was sang with conviction and was an obviously personal song for Nash. He called out the resounding title line over and over, eyes closed, and looked as if he might weep from its close connection to his journey. Other numbers included “Golden Day,” “Myself At Last,” and “Back Home,” all of which contained the vibe that has made this man’s work open to all, resounding with ideas and imagery that anyone, from any walk of life, could dissect and walk away with at least a grain of wisdom that would still be valid for decades, if not generations to come. Fontayne’s part in the performance cannot go without being applauded. His dexterity and talent continuously laid the structure for Nash’s words and vocals, as well proficiency on the guitar. It was apparent from the start that Fontayne was not a hired gun, but an equal talent, who contributed as much as he took in. Although not as “footloose” as Nash, or his feet bare, his reserved demeanor kept the focus and the time. He, like so many others in his seat, is a great talent who most have probably never heard of, but when one does, the light turns on and the ears open, as he delivers successive leads and rhythms that make him a force of his own.
With the set ended, the two men stood there to the standing ovation, smiling and making eye contact with as many as possible, from the front row to the last line of the balcony. The two never left the stage, and as the witnesses to this historical evening calmed, the two covered The Beatles’“Blackbird,” unaccompanied by the masses. This was another moment of emotional movement, and the audience remained encapsulated in silence, until the end of one of the greatest ballads ever written. The perfect close to the night was an audience led rendition of “Our House,” which translated more as a celebration of this evening of enchantment than a hit. By the end of the song, there were many who had tear-filled eyes and expressive looks, fully aware of the unique experience they had been witness to and part of. It was clear that many felt that they had been sitting around at a family gathering at Nash’s, enjoying the camaraderie of being and existing in no time other than the present, walking together on “This Path Tonight.”
For more information on Graham Nash, and his current tour schedule, please visit his official website.