I had lunch today at Angelica’s Café at the Lake Chapala Society campus in Ajijic. Angelica’s is run by Ray Domenech who also owns a music school and Casa Domenech, Ajijic’s premier jazz spot. Ray is a true music entrepreneur – a former record label executive, he has also run restaurants (as he does now with two – Casa Domenech and Angelica’s) , cooked as a chef, managed hotels (he also owes one now), and plays the cajon and the guitar. A Renaissance man.
But to me, his most important talent is wherever he goes, he builds community, and live music is all about community.
Jazz nights at Casa Domenech were always a gathering of artists and fans, sharing tables, beers, meals. Friends introduced friends who introduced other friends who jammed together after the house closed or in after sessions in someone’s in apartment. If you watch Ray in action, not only is he keeping an eye on the kitchen and the front of the house, but he is greeting and talking with a constant stream of friends, musicians and music fans. He is nurturing the community. (photo: Ray playing in an impromptu band at Casa Domenech)
Last night I was able to go out to some music for the first time. I went to a local restaurant that was advertising a band I didn’t now, and I am always up to meet a new band. I went with friends – one of whom is a local musician . Th restaurant is one of my favorites and as expected, we had a great meal – duck breast, shrimp creole, various Mexican dishes. T
he music was forgettable – you can’t win them all. But but I did get to chat with the band and other musicians who were there. This venue has become a center of a music community – a different community that assembles at Casa Domenech but it overlaps a lot. Even though the music was terrible, the community energized me, gave me hope and smiles ( at lest I think so – we were all wearing masks).
It reminded me of a venue in LA, Civic Center Studios -really a film studio that converted itself to a music venue on weekends and hosted fusion bands and Latino bands and singers. They all brought their friends, sometimes their families, and always their community. Over time the managing partner, Pete Galindo, built a community of musicians, fans, and artists that drew people from all over the city and sometimes from Mexico and Columbia and Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. People who came together, met one another, bonded as artists do – and came back. (photo: a jam session at Meraki’s when Michael Warmuth arrives with his instrument)
The same was true at Hollywood’s Hotel Café, Santa Monica’s Harvell’s Blues Club, Eastside Luv Wine Bar in Boyle Heights, and the Hi Hat in Highland Park. The bands changed each week, and each band brought their fans and followers, but in each there was a permanent community – people who loved the spot, the music, each other, and often followed all the same bands.
Here in Ajijic there was community at La Mezcaleria, Casa Domenech, Meraki, Mama’s, El Barco and others. No matter who was playing that night, when you walked in there were friendly, familiar faces – like the bar in Cheers. There were couples at the bar you knew from Spanish class, music lovers at the tables you studied cajon with, artists from the galleries around the corner from your home or studio, students and their teachers (Mexico is a little vague on age requirements in bars) that you volunteer with, gaggles of friends there to see all their other friends who are also your friends, and lots of musicians who came to hear their friends play and dance to their music.
As you can tell, I miss the music-created community. Online concerts are great – you can talk in the chat rooms and comment areas, but it is not the same even for weekly online gigs like the Sunday Bruch Jazz sessions with Parlor Social, or Monday night folk get togethers with Stevie Coyle. There are old friends in the chat room, but I would rather be in a real room with them, where I can shake hands and hug and buy the band and the sound and light operators a drink. (photo: Gilberto Rios and Eros the Fool rock their many friends at Meraki’ Bistro)
Nothing creates that community like music. Even last night when I didn’t like the music and everyone was masked up (except when their margaritas and duck breast arrived), I was reminded of that. Music builds community, and now, more than ever we need community. I am so happy it is coming back.
Patrick O’Heffernan, Host Music Sin Fronteras
(all photos: Patrick O’Heffernan. featured photo is a musical gathering at Casa Domenech with singers from the audience celebrating the life of a departed musician member of the community. )
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