Arts & Entertainment 2015 year in review
By Zak Hansen
Las Cruces Bulletin
The year 2015 was another great year for arts and entertainment in Las Cruces.
Cultural and community festivals took place across the calendar year, celebrating the rich and varied histories that have intertwined in this place we call home. The New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum’s Cowboy Days (March), Blessing of the Fields (May), Ghosts of the Past (October) and Home-Grown: A New Mexico Food Show and Gift Market (November) each went hand-in-hand with the museum’s mission to preserve the Land of Enchantment’s agricultural roots and pass them along for generations to come.
In Mesilla, residents and tourists alike came out in the thousands to honor the valley’s lasting ties to Mexico with festivals celebrating Cinco de Mayo, Dies y Seis de Septiembre and Dia de los Muertos, set on Mesilla’s plaza against the iconic façade of the Basilica of San Albino.
Drinks flowed freely throughout the valley in 2015, with the twin Southern New Mexico Wine Festival and Harvest Wine Festival filling the Southern New Mexico State Fairgrounds west of town with wine aplenty on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends – the perfect way to open, then close, yet another scorching summer in Southern New Mexico.
Just up the road, the village of Hatch held its annual Chile Festival, celebrating one of the valley’s best-loved crop and drawing more than 30,000 visitors over Labor Day weekend.
The New Mexico Brewers Guild returned twice to the City of the Crosses for Land of Enchantment- made beer festivals, to heavy crowds and plenty of salutations. PartyTenders Inc., too, staged a number of libation- friendly events at the Farm & Ranch Museum: July’s new Tequila, Taco and Cerveza Festival, August’s Las Cruces Beer Fest and September’s returning Beer, Bacon and Bourbon Festival. The group also rang in the New Year with its first-ever Vodka and Champagne Festival.
In the past decade, the arts have seemed at the forefront of a minor cultural revolution in the Mesilla Valley, and 2015 continued this trend. February is For the Love of Art Month in Las Cruces, with 28 days of exhibits, performances, demonstrations, events and gatherings. This year, the month-long celebration of all things art was augmented by the first Spanish Market, put on by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, and the world premiere of “Truth,” a survival horror film made in Southern New Mexico, by New Mexicans and starring New Mexicans, signaling the slow but steady gains made by the burgeoning film and television industry. While this year sadly saw the loss of the White Sands International Film Festival, in March 2016, the newly minted Las Cruces International Film Festival should pick that momentum right back up.
Las Cruces also saw the continued upward slope of live music, with festivals and performances all-year round. The Las Cruces Country Music Festival, celebrating its third year with three days of workshops and performances from the likes of Raelynn, The Swon Brothers, Dustin Lynch, hometown heroine Bri Bagwell and “The Gambler” himself, Kenny Rogers. The Mesilla Valley Jazz and Blues Society held its Red, White and Blues Festival and Mesilla Jazz Happening in August and October, respectively, continuing its commitment to those most-American of art forms. The Town of Mesilla also ran its Mesilla Summer Music series beginning in July. Throughout summer and fall, the City of Las Cruces held its Music in the Park concert series in several of the city’s parks, drawing weekly attendance in the thousands.
Almost any night of the week, one of the city’s bars and restaurants was sure to be hosting live music. If you’re ever in search of a night out, check our events listings – The Game, High Desert Brewing Co., Pecan Grill & Brewery, Vintage Wines, El Patio, Rio Grande Winery, Sombra Antigua Winery and the brand-new Picacho Peak Brewing Co., inside The Grapevine Plaza on Picacho Avenue, are just a few of the venues hosting regular weekly performances.
March saw the fifth anniversary of the Las Cruces Arts Fair, with 80 artists showing inside the Las Cruces Convention Center. In April, Downtown Las Cruces itself became a canvas, with the Fresh-Coat Friday cellograph event and the fourth annual Avenue Art New Mexico chalk art competition transforming Main Street into a true masterpiece. May’s Art in the Garden Tour, in its seventh year, saw the Artists of Picacho Hills filling their already- stunning neighborhood gardens with wonderful works of art.
Las Cruces Community Theatre mounted successful and well-reviewed, on these very pages, productions of “The Odd Couple,” “Recreational Living,” “Shoulders,” “Slasher” and “Shrek: The Musical” along with its annual One-Act Play Festival in March.
Making its home at Downtown Las Cruces’ Black Box Theatre, No Strings Theatre Company mounted “Impossible Marriage,” “The Hothouse,” “Mad Gravity,” “Arabian Nights” and “Sweeney Todd.” The Black Box also held Algernon D’Ammassa’s and Randy Granger’s two-man “An Iliad,” returning to rave reviews in February.
Across town at New Mexico State University, American Southwest Theatre Company and the NMSU Department of Theatre Arts wowed audiences with a performance schedule that included “Other Desert Cities,” “Twelfth Night,” “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-inthe- Moon Marigolds” “Frankenstein” and a one-weekend run of “A Wrinkle in Time.” As usual, ASTC and NMSU theatre students and faculty continued to impress with this varied slate of engaging works. Expect big things in 2016 from all three of Las Cruces’ longest-running companies.
Megan McQueen and Karlos Saucedo’s Scaffolding Theatre Co., which burst on the scene in 2014 with its production of “Nine,” made national news this year when its unique adaptation of “Chicago: The Musical” garnered praise from Playbill Magazine. With two stellar, contemporary and forward-facing productions under their belt, the future is bright for Scaffolding Theatre Co.
Another notable newcomer in 2015 was Doña Ana Repertory Theatre (DART), which staged its debut production – William Shakespeare’s complex and controversial “The Merchant of Venice” – in July in Las Cruces, Deming and El Paso.
While the new kid on the block garnered accolades, so too did one of the Mesilla Valley’s longstanding luminaries: Mark Medoff, who brought to the stage two productions, Samuel Beckett’s absurdist “Waiting for Godot” in January and “Marilee and Baby Lamb” in October.
January’s production of “Waiting for Godot” was a homecoming of sorts for Medoff, who took on the role of Pozzo in a 1978 Las Cruces Community Theatre production of Beckett’s master work. After 25 years, he enlisted the help of fellow thespians Richard Rundell, Brandon Brown and David Edwards, as well as daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman to direct, bringing the Sisyphean struggle of Vladimir and Estragon to Las Cruces once again.
The Tony Award-winning Medoff in October brought to life the untold story of iconic American bombshell Marilyn Monroe with his new work “Marilee and Baby Lamb – The Assassination of an American Goddess.” Written from transcripts of interviews between co-producer (and former Medoff pupil) Dennis D’Amico and Lena Pepitone – Monroe’s seamstress, friend and confidant during the tumultuous final years of her life – “Marilee and Baby Lamb” brought together the best of local talent with nationally known actresses on the stage of the historic Rio Grande Theatre for a premiere performance from one of Las Cruces’ living legends.