June 29, 2017 – Omni

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I could write a hundred-page essay about ‘Omni,’ and I’m still considering it. There’s no way I could distill the qualities of this person into a quick post like this. I met Omni on 4th Avenue near downtown Tucson. During the entire time I knew him, he was living out of his car, a Dodge Omni, and spent his time in local coffee houses writing “spells” into Bibles lifted from hotels, playing open-mic nights, scribbling artwork and signs on cardboard, and strumming the strings on street-corners. He was a pleasant guy, and often made friends with local college students and kindred hippie spirits, so he never went too long without a decent meal or a shower.

He wasn’t ever anything you’d consider ‘normal,’ but he was always smiling, writing music, and entertaining people with his wild conspiracy theories. I imagined he’d had brushes with the law, but it’s pretty inevitable when loitering is your lifestyle. I remember hanging out various flop-houses where he was allowed to crash, and abandoned apartment units he discovered were unlocked. I watched him scrub his teeth with salt in lieu of toothpaste, and I watched him make friends with non-English-speaking emigres who could play the bassoon, guitar, trumpet – and I hung out with them in their squatter spots, candle-lit with no electricity, making music and trying to communicate without a common language.

Omni wasn’t mentally together; many likely assumed that he was on the Asperger spectrum. To my knowledge, he has yet to be diagnosed. Years after he left Tucson, after he packed up his gear and drove out of my life, I learned that he wound up in some legal trouble in Colorado. To my knowledge, he’s still behind bars after having hunkered down into a chemical toilet to spy on girls using the toilet during a yoga festival. He was spotted running from the scene, covered in feces, and was later apprehended. The news didn’t necessarily surprise me, but it was sad to learn that this guitar-playing vagabond had somehow wound up in a position like that.

I don’t forgive him his trespasses, but I can recall very pleasant moments with him, and recognize that he is mentally ill. I suppose we’ll see what happens as his legal situation unfolds. After violating his parole, he has been sentenced to six years in Boulder – you can read about it HERE.

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June 25, 2017 – Terry Wolf

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Artist, musician, rancher, motorcycle enthusiast, hippie, and so many things more, Terry Wolf is a force of nature. I don’t have her life story, but my understanding is that she has lived near and far, done a fair bit of traveling, and has endured about as much as life can throw at a person. She has her own patch of land outside of Historic Bisbee where she raises wolf pups and, on occasion, has bonfire celebrations where she invites the whole town to come down and dance, drink, and be merry by the fire.

She used to work a couple of days a week down at Mimosa Market, a small bodega up Brewery Gulch. Two of her wolf pups would sleep on the worn wooden floors all day while Terry stood behind the glass counter, manning the register. Her first husband’s ashes were scattered on the hilltop above Mimosa Market, where a man had constructed a makeshift shrine decades ago; the white cross at the top of the hill can be seen from the outskirts of town. She was also the very first person in Bisbee to buy one of my paintings – a Dia de los Muertos themed mariachi piece – which was a huge boost to a new artist in town struggling to get his footing.

Some of my favorite memories are listening to Terry play the guitar while John Cordes would play the fiddle – springtime afternoons on the outside porch at The Copper Queen Saloon. Folks from out of town would sit outside on Sunday mornings, drinking cold beer a mimosas, while Terry did her thing. On occasion Mark Pierce – another of this month’s performers – would drag out his stand-up base and play with the band.

Check out Terry Wolf and the Back Porch Swing here.

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June 22, 2017 – Beth Hart

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“His love is like fire on the floor/
It’s got me running for the door/
But I’ll be crawling back for more/
Of his fire on the floor”

Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Beth Hart is an untamed bundle of electricity when she’s on stage and, even though she’s been making music for almost thirty years, she seems to be cranking out more and more great music with each passing year. ‘The Blues’ magazine called her “the ultimate female rock star,” and she performs like it. She’s recently produced albums of high praise and has collaborated with some of the biggest names in music.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time with her in the green room for a special holiday season performance a few years ago. Playing to a packed house, she was just as lively and personable onstage as she was backstage; when Beth’s in the room, all eyes are on her. Period.

In April 2015 she released “Better Than Home,” a critical and commercial success topping the Blues Charts and recognized as the No.4 best blues album of the year by Mojo magazine. She has also received a nomination from the American Blues Foundation for Contemporary Blues Female Artist. Her most recent studio album, “Fire on the Floor,” was released last year.

Check out Beth Hart’s website here.

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June 17, 2017 – John Doe

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John Nommensen Duchac, professionally known as John Doe, is a signer, songwriter, actor, poet, and guitarist. He is most broadly known for co-founding the LA punk band X – a group he still participates in – but he has also been performing as a solo artist. His compositions span a variety of genres, including rock and roll, punk, country, and folk. In today’s image, we see him performing in his country mode at The Bisbee Royale.

I am genuinely of the impression that most artists – true, in the bloodstream, unable to turn it off artists – naturally progress and experiment and often dip into different styles, experiment with blending genres, and even migrate to different media (from music to painting, or sculpture to poetry, or any combination you could imagine) in the pursuite of novel ways of expressing ideas and keeping their creations challenging on fresh – not just to the rest of the world, but to themselves as well.

John Doe is one of these people. Always trying new things. The leap from punk to country may not seem feasable, and it takes people like John Doe to throw his hands in the air and say “fuck it, guys – it ain’t that big a deal.” The leap from music to film is probably a little more intuitive; Doe has performed in dozens of movies and television shows including, just to name a few, Road House, Wyatt Earp, Boogie Nights, Carnivàle, and Roswell.

I only met him briefly, but he seemed appeared undeniably pleased to be playing to a thankful audience in an out-of-the-way small town. He was all smiles and handshakes and put on a great set.

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June 13, 2017 – Jessica Fleet Smith

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I’ve known Jessica Fleet Smith for a few years now. I’d always see her and her husband at Mimosa Market, a small bodega up brewery gulch in Bisbee, Arizona – one of those places tucked just far enough away that few tourists ever find it. She’s a unique creature, light-hearted and quick to smile, and always seemed rather shy. That’s part of what makes her so intriguing, I think. Effortlessly beautiful but secure in her relationship, appearing shy but absolutely confident enough to stand behind the microphone and perform in front of a gathered crowd. She’s a very genuine person, reserved and gutsy at the same time.

Today’s image is an unconventional one. I shared it on Facebook a few years ago after she performed with a group called Chasing Light at the Sidepony Express music festival. The classroom, news publications, critiques, and art critics drill into photographers that if the image isn’t tack-sharp, it isn’t worth looking at. This convention of “the image must be technically perfect” robs the photographer of so many opportunities. I’m a fan of atmosphere, of motion-blur, of selective focus – of the certain kind of mood that can be established using these tools. I think there’s something emotional and ethereal about images like this, taken from the crowd, imperfect and out of focus, and let’s face it – I’m no longer in the classroom, no longer pressured to make somebody else’s idea of the perfect picture.

I think this image captures Jessica’s bravery (and her distance) quite well.

Out of the Blue, the group Jessica is currently working with, doesn’t stray from Bisbee very often. But if you’re taking a trip down to the copper town that once was – if the fake, theme-park atmosphere of Tombstone doesn’t distract you from heading further south – I’d be sure to look ’em up. You can follow Out of the Blue on Facebook here.

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June 10, 2017 – Flip Cassidy

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Flip Cassidy and the Junkyard Gospel:
“Raw, rusty Americana folk-punk perfect for driving on long desert highways. Pairs well with whiskey.”

“The Reverend Flip Cassidy is a rusty man who plays rusty songs on rusty guitars. The Junkyard Gospel is a howling, raging acoustic sound bellowed forth with a voice like a rusty saw blade. His solo performances are known to be highly energetic and infectious, surprisingly loud, and have even caused rippling, whiskey-induced fervors in audiences, fellow performers and bartenders alike.”

Living in a celebrity-obsessed culture, I genuinely believe that a distinction must be made between pop stars and musicians. Pop stars are, in so many ways, packaged products, manufactured for mass-consumption. Pop stars are the Skittles® and soda of music. There’s certainly showmanship, charisma, and skill in the celebrity circuit, but the salt-of-the-earth musician is an entirely different animal. Traveling from town-to-town – drawing people together in parks, at farmers markets, saloons, and theaters – there’s an army of talented folk out there.

Musicians connect with people, hang out and have a beer after their set, tell you about the road, and occasionally crash on your couch. Pop stars have a celebrity that renders them inaccessible, walled-off by security, by entourage, by wealth. Going out to your local pub and watching people make music right before your eyes is a magical experience. Everyone should go out to see live music more often. These guys live out of their cars, on buses, in cheap motor lodges – they have stories, passion, and a measure of honesty and bravery.

Flip Cassidy blew through town and drew one helluva crowd. Not only is this wandering poet a musician, but an insanely talented photographer – naturally we had a lot to talk about. When he rolled through town a year later, I bought his old twelve-string guitar. It’s currently resting on the corner of my study. I highly recommend you take a look at his music and his artwork. This guy is always making something, and he produces really amazing work.
Check out the Junk Yard Gospel
Check out Flip Cassidy Photography

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June 07, 2017 – Carlos Arzate

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Living in Tucson for a majority of the past fifteen years, I saw a lot of bands come and go. Many of my college buddies had garage bands and a few of them had it in them to hit the downtown music scene. Most of them have scattered to the wind these past few years as degrees were earned, families begun and careers established. There are some,though, who have had some serious staying power here in Arizona, and Carlos Arzate is one of them.

Carlos Arzate is a singer-songwriter, native to Tucson, whose songs draw inspiration from his personal life growing up in the Sonoran Desert. I believe I read an article in The Tucson Weekly that described his style as “Sonoran Soul.” It’s got a ring to it, but it implies a softness that, while present in many of his songs, doesn’t communicate the dynamism of his work.

Arzate is just as expressive and kind in person as he is on stage, and he’s deeply anchored in the music scene, collaborating with other prominent musicians. I have enjoyed every performance and would absolutely recommend checking out Carlos Arzate & The Kind Souls. The songs tell a story, communicate an emotion and paint atmospheric pictures.

This is one of my favorites, written as a first person narrative of a laborer who chooses to risk the dangerous journey across the desert to the United States in search of a better life.

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