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Magic of Madrid
April 02, 2009
By David Steinberg for the Albuquerque Journal - Venue section MADRID — On a recent Saturday the spring sun melted most of the previous day's snow in Madrid, a friendly artsy town in the foothills of the Ortiz Mountains.
Madrid is arguably at the heart of the 62-mile Turquoise Trail, which is also designated a National Scenic Byway, on the high road between Tijeras and Santa Fe. Madrid businesses are reminding tourists that their town is a stroller's paradise and just a short drive from Santa Fe or Albuquerque. Most of the town's 30 galleries and 15 other businesses, including all four restaurants, are plunked down on a short stretch of N.M. 14. (That's not counting the faux Maggie's Diner, a cafe built for the "Wild Hogs" movie.)
On weekends handfuls of "Madroids" — the nickname some Madrid residents call themselves — may be relaxing on the porch in front of the Jezebel Gallery and, at the rear, the Jezebel Soda Fountain. The popular soda fountain re-opened last fall. The two-lane highway is Madrid's main street, and that's where a stream of New Mexicans and visitors from out of state checked out the shops.
Near the south end of Madrid, three tourists from North Carolina in the Johnsons of Madrid Galleries of Fine and Fiber Art had stayed a few nights in Albuquerque and opted to come to Madrid on the way to Santa Fe rather than drive up Interstate 25.
The Johnsons — Diana and Mel — have been hosting concerts and art exhibit openings on what they call First Saturday, which is, as you might have guessed, the first Saturday of each month. Between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 4, Santa Fe singer-guitarist Nacha Mendez will perform on a small stage in Mel Johnson's studio/gallery. "It's different entertainment than the (Mine Shaft) Tavern," Diana Johnson said. Following the concert, a reception will be held from 3-5 p.m. for an exhibit of 12 northern New Mexico artists, each of whom will have his or her own wall in a themed show called "a celebration of the Earth." Part of the gallery had been a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer's repair garage and the other part was a storage for coal company trucks. Madrid was once a coal mining town, and when the mine closed it was a ghost town. When they arrived in 1973, the Johnsons said they were the first artists in town. They opened the gallery later that year.
The Mine Shaft, Madrid's iconic restaurant-bar, has been host to live music on weekends for years. This weekend the Mine Shaft is presenting a local Madrid band from 7-11 p.m. today; a jazz ensemble led by drummer Pete Amahl is on stage from 6-9 p.m. Saturday; and veteran Albuquerque singer-guitarist Gene Corbin performs from 3-7 p.m. Sunday. Mine Shaft owner Lori Lindsey said she's having an April 18 grand opening of the Old West Bar and Antiques, which is on her property. A sign inside the tavern advertised the second annual Crawdaddy Blues Festival on May 2 at Madrid's Old Coal Mine Museum. Junior Brown is headlining. The next day is a Dismas House fundraiser at the museum.
Just south of the tavern at the Dream Gallery, partner Pamela Ellsworth was chatting with Peggy Fontenot, who owns The Sacred Circle Healing Arts Ministry, which is at the opposite end of town next to The Crystal Dragon. "I do Native American healing and spiritual coaching," said Fontenot, who is Cajun, French, Irish and Lakota. She moved to Madrid from Lafayette, La., in 2007. The Dream Gallery offers diverse art — paintings, photography, sculpture, stained glass, pottery and clothing. Among the Madrid artists it represents are Mark Eastman, Rick Ferrell, Gerald Godbey, Scott Reilly, Thomas St. Thomas and Patricia Whitewing.
At the far north end of town sits the Oscar Huber Memorial Ballpark, where reportedly the first night baseball game was played in the United States. This summer, slow-pitch softball games are planned for Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day. The ballpark had been the home for New Mexico Jazz Workshop summer blues concerts. This summer it will be the home for at least two major locally sponsored music events. One is the Gypsy Fest, set for June 6, which will feature belly dancing and Middle Eastern drumming. The other is the Madrid Music Festival, which is planned for a yet-to-be-announced date in mid-July, according to Madrid artist Michael Wright.
Lindsey said the coal mine museum will have a June 20 concert following a Meet Me in Madrid parade on Main Street. The museum also will host two July 4 weekend concerts — Soul Man Sam and the Soul Explosion on July 4 and Syd Masters and the Swing Riders on July 5. Lindsey said the town is already making plans for a black-tie-and-blue-jeans fundraiser (art auction, dinner and concert) for Madrid's Christmas lights and stagecoach.
Jill Shwaiko, president of the Madrid Merchants Association, thinks the economy's downturn probably hasn't hit Madrid's galleries as hard as it has higher-end galleries in Albuquerque or Santa Fe.
Shwaiko, an artist and owner of Indigo Gallery, thinks Madrid is "a neat destination, especially for local people. We get nice traffic from Placitas, Rio Rancho, Albuquerque, Los Alamos and everything in between." Because many Madrid galleries are artist-owned, she said, shoppers get good value for their dollar. "Plus they often to get to meet the artist and I think they really enjoy that. It's a different experience than Canyon Road," Shwaiko said.
Magic of Madrid
By David Steinberg
Of the Journal
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Memorial Day Baseball Game at the Oscar Huber Memorial Ballpark in Madrid, New Mexico
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