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As Coronavirus Restrictions Ease, Santa Fe's Entertainment Industry Is Ready To Shine

Jay Heneghan via jayheneghanproject.com

With increased vaccination rates and a downward trend in COVID cases, many entertainment venues are reopening their doors. After a very challenging year. It was hard to watch favorite places fold and stages remain empty. But many musicians are ready to shine again.

One of those lights is Jay Heneghan, a local musician who plays with her bands JJ and the Hooligans and the J. Heneghan project around town. She said when the pandemic had she watched a year's worth of bookings got canceled.

"Gosh, we had gigs booked into through the end of the year," Heneghan said. "So as of you know, March. Our last, my last gig was in February up at the ski hill for JJ and Hooligans and both my bands had projects booked through New Year's Eve. So lots of gigs canceled.

Like many musicians, Jay thought, at first, the break from gigging was a great opportunity to rest and practice. But as the year called on, she started doing virtual concerts to fill the void of performing.

"Eventually, it just became just a real loss for something that, you know, I'd love to do," Henneghan said.

The country reckoned with systematic oppression, racism and injustice. And while many of us gathered in protest, a lot of the reckoning happened in isolation. For Jay, music was a way for her to express her understanding of the pandemic, one of the first time she has used her songwriting as a way to comment on current issues.

"I was able to record right and record a song during the pandemic, that, for me was really a reflection on what we were seeing in the world and in our community," Heneghan said. "It was one of those times when, you know, you hear about songs just flowing out of a, of a songwriter. They write themselves, like I would hear that and think that's never happened to me. But in fact, it did, because of all of the things that were bubbling up, and we had so much time and space to reflect on them. I'm glad I was able to get that song in the can. It's sort of a souvenir for me."

So how did it feel for Jay and her band, after months of not performing?

"It really was like riding a bike. And it felt really, really good, especially because it was a chance for lots of our friends that, you know, we know through performances to come out and be there with us. So it was really joyful," Heneghan said.

But we're audiences as comfortable. For many people. The year has built up anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Public space has long been deemed unsafe. And I'm curious as to how people were able to experience a live performance again.

"Just elated. I will have to call it elated," Heneghan said. "Because the people that we knew is regulars that would come to our shows regularly. They find live music to to feed them their soul, just like we as musicians find it so important as a creative outlet. And so it was just a very happy reunion for sure for us as bandmates and, and for them as listeners."

Playing live music as an experience like no other. Audiences are especially excited to connect with song again. And for Jeremy Windsor, having musicians play in his coffee shop JW Windsor's is a lifelong dream.

So we have cafe style music. We have all kinds of folk music, we have country we have modern, I have five different artists that come in and sing on a two-hour rotation," Windsor said. "And so it's really something that I have always dreamed of."

JW Windsor's is a new coffee shop just north of the plaza. Jeremy and his wife open during the pandemic, something that wouldn't have been possible without a lot of support. Jeremy looks local when hiring his staff.

"Philosophy is if you hire local, and you work with the city and you abide by the rules and regulations, they will always you know protect you and surround you with good people and that's happened to us," Windsor said.

As we've seen during the pandemic people working together with intention and a common goal can accomplish a lot. Many of us have witnessed communities coming together with mutual aid, essential resources, and food distribution. Jeremy's friend and director of the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Fe Councilman Tiger Abeyta is amongst the rotating political patrons of JW Windsor's. A lot of us are hoping for changes in the workplace and getting fair compensation after this year's discourse around injustice. Jay says pay has been a tricky thing to navigate through her career and I wonder what she hopes will change 

"Now that we're reemerging I think we already are feeling a sense of responsibility to one another," Heneghan said. "It was I think especially for Americans, not the easiest concept to understand that my health and your health are intertwined. And you know, it's not just about what I do in practice, but it's about what my community does and how we help people in our community to stay healthy."

Jeremy says the community is a big reason why the cafe could open amidst the pandemic. He pays the singers a fair wage, something Jay says she has had to fight for as a gigging musician. But even as some venues continue not to pay musicians, patrons have shown their appreciation with generous tips. After all, there's really nothing like beholding artistic expression in the company of others. 

David Gill, Director of Marketing and programming at the Violet Crown, just last weekend open for movie goers. He's confident that as things improve, people will again seek the wonderful escapism of cinema.

So the movie business isn't going anywhere, it will survive," Gill said. "COVID survived many things in previous years. And you know, it will continue to get healthier in that regards, our business is going to continue to get healthier. So we're 100% positive, we are going to be back serving the community in the way that we were pre-COVID."

Restrictions themselves aren't the only thing posing a challenge for movie theaters. Studio releases have been volatile, often delaying or skipping theater releases and moving straight to streaming. The choices of films are still somewhat limited, but David is excited for some stability in the release schedule to return.

"Again, as this film release calendar stabilizes, we're going to start bringing more movies to you, Gill said."

Another challenge David is facing amongst local employers is the challenge of hiring. The staff to meet the projected demand of entertainment seekers is proving hard to find.

"Hiring people is definitely a big concern," Gill said. "And it's one of our top priorities right now. So we are hiring."

An upcoming requirement of New Mexico's unemployment benefits will require that individuals make at least two employer contacts a week. Perhaps this will help David and his hiring staff currently looking for employees. 

I asked musician Jay what other challenges she expects as things reopen. And for her, the biggest thing is patience.

"Really, I think the only challenges right now are being patient for for all of the places that we love to play to open up," Heneghan said.

Businesses have to be patient too. And trust that if they offer quality and safe entertainment, the audience will follow.

Sometimes, you know, you have to have you know, financial upfront a little more, spend a little more to get a little more in the end, and we're here for long term or for short term, Jay Windsor said. "So basically the whole thing is is you know, we want to bring a vibe to Santa Fe that is, you know, somewhere where somebody can come in and sit down, enjoy a nice lunch, enjoy a nice breakfast, have a coffee, have a tea, have a nice drink, and then listen to some live music that hasn't been here for a long time that I know of. And people are really adapting to it." 

As temperatures rise, cases go down, and vaccinations go up, show your support for the artists reviving Santa Fe's music scene. You can even catch me playing weekly at JW Windsor's. Santa Fe is full of talented musicians. And Jay recognizes just how fortunate we are.

"I would say we're so lucky," Heneghan said. "This is a pretty small town. But we have way more than our share of really talented musicians that have had really amazing careers elsewhere and have come here to retire. Or are here part time and for whatever their reasons. We are really rich in a lot of talent and I would just encourage people to make an effort to go out and see local music because there are just some really, really great things happening in our town."