Think of Santa Fe and you’re likely to conjure up visuals of dramatic sunsets, evergreen mountains, and earth-toned pueblo architecture. Well let me let you in on a little secret — Santa Fe is just as pleasing on the ears as it is on the eyes. You heard it here: Santa Fe is one heckuva music town, offering locals and visitors an awesome menu of musical attractions including pristine classical choral works, rootsy blues, and everything in between. And I do mean everything.
While music pulses through Santa Fe’s 400-year-old veins all year round, summer is the standout season to catch live music at a favorite venue, concert series, or dining spot, or to expand your musical horizons with something completely different. Summer is when laughter mingles with guitar strings in patios along Canyon Road, when drumbeats echo softly off the centuries-old buildings in the Plaza. Summer is when Santa Fe music is in full bloom.
Here are my liner notes on how to experience Santa Fe’s summer music smorgasbord. Post here to tell me about yours.
400 Years Old and Still Partying All Week
Throughout the summer Santa Fe’s stately 400-year-old Plaza takes center stage, literally, for our beloved summer concert series, Santa Fe Bandstand. The series revs up June 21, with free live music 4–5 nights a week, and at noon on Mondays and Wednesdays (now that’s my idea of a “working lunch”). Night or day, Santa Fe Bandstand faithfully delivers soul-shaking sounds and laughter-inducing times. Make no mistake, this is summer at it’s feel-good best. Hips will be shaken, and arms will be waved, as audiences revel Americana, country swing, R&B, rock, New Mexican folk, indie, and world music. The night I caught one of my faves, Band of Heathens from Austin, I danced so much I could barely move in yoga class the next day, but it was so worth it.
If I’m not wearing my dancing shoes, and want to spend some time relaxing with my friends, I take in the Bandstand sounds from what locals consider the “best seats in the house”: the quaint restaurant balconies overlooking the Plaza. Perched above the lively crowd, loungers, people-watchers, and nibblers (like moi) can enjoy a light dinner while sipping a margarita, a local microbrew, or a local wine.
Put Santa Fe Bandstand on your summer must-do list, and experience downtown Santa Fe’s greatest hits of sounds, sights, and flavors. Check out the awesome lineup to plan your summer concert playlist.
Opera Opens Up in Santa Fe
Summer in Santa Fe means opera. And that means spine-chilling performance, spectacular staging, and fun — yes, fun. Founded in 1957, The Santa Fe Opera has garnered global acclaim for its artistic excellence, and local adoration for its engaging personality. Notions of the stuffy opera house with bejeweled aristocrats need not apply. At The Santa Fe Opera works are often set in contemporary times, and digital librettos at each seat allow you to follow along in English or Spanish. Opera novices and veterans alike will find plenty to love in a five-opera season that offers a mix of works ranging from treasured classics to avant-garde world premiers.
The Santa Fe Opera is an experience that transcends classical music. The opera’s open-sided auditorium showcases Santa Fe sunsets and occasional lightning flashes as dramatic as anything in Puccini’s catalogue. Pre-opera tailgating, every bit as eclectic as it sounds, is an event unto itself. And dining at the opera’s gourmet buffet tops bucket lists far and wide (make reservations months in advance, tables are limited). Note: fret not about finding that perfect opera outfit, anything goes here — from jeans to black tie.
Put your opera hang-ups aside, and see how lively, romantic, and entertaining it can be. For tickets and information, visit the online box office.
Thank God It’s Wednesday
Forget the midweek slump as Wednesday oh-so-smoothly gets its groove back with what many consider the quintessential Santa Fe summer music experience: Music on the Hill. Wednesdays from mid-June to late July, these free outdoor concerts, sponsored by St. John’s College, are all jazz, all the time. The series boasts a potent mix of national and local musicians, and an equally eclectic audience of diehards, newbies, hipsters, families, and unabashed jazz dolls and daddy-o’s.
Set on a lovely mountainside meadow, Music on the Hill invites audiences to satisfy their appetites for great jazz and great food. It’s a BYO venue, which means you can feast on your favorite local delicacies while you listen. Truth be told, Music on the Hill not only cured my jazz-phobia, it introduced me to a fabulous subculture of power-picnickers, generous foodies eager to share artisan cheese, fresh baguettes, tempting chocolate, and local wine. No worries if you’re too busy to bring your own picnic. Just grab a delightful snack or savory dinner from the on-site catering stands. For a choice spot, arrive well before the 6 pm start time. Parking is limited, so do like the locals and take the convenient shuttle, which departs from Museum Hill every 15 minutes.
The Summer Classics
One of my first encounters with Santa Fe happened in New York, when I saw a Georgia O’Keefe poster promoting one of the early seasons of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. So naturally, when I moved to Santa Fe, I had to check it out.
During this 6-week festival running mid July through late August you can luxuriate in the gorgeous sounds of some of the world's greatest musicians. The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival presents chamber music across a spectrum that ranges from legendary composers to classical music vanguards. Evening concerts at the intimate and historic St. Francis Auditorium or the fabulous New Mexico Art Museum offer a soothing summer breeze of sound. Insider tip: catch a show then meet a friend for tapas and wine. Festival concerts begin at 5 or 6 pm with one-hour concerts Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon.
The Best Seat in Santa Fe for Can’t-Miss Performances
While Santa Fe’s summer music festivals roll on, locals and visitors can often enjoy a 1-night-only concert by a national touring artist or must-see performance troupe at Santa Fe’s premier concert venue, the Lensic Performing Arts Center. In a city recognized for its adobe architecture, the Lensic does more than just stand out. This Deco building, built in 1931, offers marvelous acoustics and an intimate setting that makes audience members feel like they’re at a private show, with the likes of Darius Brubeck, a solo acoustic show from Grateful Dead co-founder guitarist and vocalist Bob Weir, and folk icon Arlo Guthrie. Peruse upcoming events, and then enjoy your favorite sounds in a fabulous setting steps from the Plaza.
If Your Grass Is Blue
Summer music season in Santa Fe winds down the weekend before Labor Day at the annual Bluegrass & Old Time Festival. Okay, I’ll admit it: I have been known to obsess over O Brother Where Art Thou, and it only had a little to do with George Clooney. You see, I grew up listening to my granddad’s Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe records; I’ve been a big fan of bluegrass forever. The festival, held every year since 1975 at the County Fairgrounds, is the perfect place for me to revisit my roots and dance like I’m in the holler — minus the overalls.
Enjoy a variety of folk music genres here, from traditional Appalachian to Celtic, from nationally known acts to artists playing the New Mexico scene. Or dive into classes, workshops, talent contests, and more.
Tune In to Summer in Santa Fe
Music rules Santa Fe all summer, and you never have to go far to find it. Sounds from across the globe fill the air from the Plaza to the Railyard to the museum district and beyond. Come drink in Santa Fe summer goodness with vibrant performances, funky festivals, and classical delights. We’re saving a seat for you.