Friday, August 31, 2007

Las Cruces Becomes An Art Mecca

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — It seemed like a good time for a Las Cruces Style review.
When the StoryCorps van came to town, Irene Oliver Lewis and I decided our contribution could be a state-of-the-Las Cruces-arts conversation.
This week, we took a trip down memory lane to the mid-90s, when she returned to her home town and I arrived at what I suspected would become my querencia, my soul’s haven.
Despite our diverse birth spots, (Southern New Mexico for Irene and Western Michigan for me), we had quite a bit in common. We’re both artists and writers. We’re both Baby Boomers with creative, artistic and articulate parents. Irene is a playwright whose “Dichos de mi Madre” has delighted audiences with touching and funny tales of her creative mom Cecilia. We’d both been artists-in-residence (Irene in Japan, and I was in Jamaica). We’ve both lived and worked all over the United States and in far-flung corners of the world.
And we both love Las Cruces.
Irene returned and I arrived at a very special time in local artistic history.
Las Cruces already had top notch theater groups, a Tony Award-winning playwright, Mark Medoff, in residence, some great galleries, writers, musicians, historians, a world-class used bookstore, Coas, and a symphony that had attracted international attention. Mariana Gabbi, who then headed the Las Cruces Symphony at NMSU, was the first American woman to conduct symphonies in both China and the former Soviet Republic. RenFaire and the Whole Enchilada Fiesta were going strong.
The year I arrived, 1994, we chocked up some notable firsts: the first ArtsHop and the first International Mariachi Conference and the beginnings of Dia de los Muertos fiestas. Irene and I remembered sitting in some of the early planning meetings.
We reminisced about lots of other things: the beginnings of the Border Book Festival, plays and film premieres, the efforts of people like Lalo Natividad, Richard Weeks, Preciliana Sandoval and others to bring back and infuse new energy into traditional celebrations on Mesilla’s Plaza, from Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis de Septiembre to Dio de los Muertos and Christmas Eve at the Plaza.
In the 1980s, when I lived in the City Different, I’d done several national magazine and newspaper features on Santa Fe style. In the 1990s, it seemed the world was ready for Las Cruces Style, so I started a column and a weekly artist profile for the Sun-News. I met Irene, then pioneering some innovative arts programs in the Las Cruces Public Schools, when I interviewed her for one of our first Artist of the Week features.
That was back when Court Youth Center was just a gleam in her eye. The first walk-through in the mid-1990s could have discouraged lesser souls. The ruins of Court Junior High had become a home to druggies and vagrants. But the building’s beautiful Pueblo Revival bones were there, along with the visions of a small, resourceful group of Las Crucens and others who came to help. There was a day in a limousine with Edward James Olmos, for one, who made the rounds of area schools and talked to kids about the ways arts and education had changed his life, and could change their lives too.
It’s still tough to believe the bustling center of activity that is Court and Alma d’arte High School for the Arts was that same unpromising ruin little more than a decade ago.
Just as unpromising was what one cynical reporter termed “the graveyard of high hopes:” the Downtown Mall. And after what seemed like endless meetings and cheerleading by the likes of Alice Peden, Heather Pollard and countless wistful citizens, the first arch has come down, the Rio Grande Theatre has been restored and a beautifully landscaped block is open to traffic.
I remembered what Don Dresp, then Branigan Library director, told me one day: “Remember that everything you do here can make a difference.”
We remembered souls who have come and gone, and in many cases returned again.
“A lot of baby boomers who were raised here are coming home again,” Irene noted and we philosophized about the rewards of growing up and living in a burgeoning art mecca.
We talked about the Spaceport and the Creative Media Institute, about problems and potentials, growing pains and great opportunities, about urban sprawl and la raza cosmica. About the future: of our city, our groups and ourselves.
The state of the arts is Las Cruces, we concluded, is downright exciting.
What do you think about the last decade here? Let us know

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Entertaining times in Las Cruces

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Here we are, now entertain us!
That classic Gen X anthem is old hat around here, where we’ve never had to fight for our right to party. During full-tilt fiesta season, good times are almost impossible to avoid and we’re already off to a good start. The impossible choices started last weekend, with everything from hot concerts and duck races to entertain us.
Doc Severinsen and Mariachi Cobre also proved that it pays to be entertaining.
As their concert with the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra went into overtime encores, Doc revved up the crowd with an impromptu auction for a chance to hear “Estrellita.” Three mariachi-loving good Samaritans (Dr. Craig Cannon, Edgar Lopez and David Ikard) made a combined pledge of $6,000 to hear the tune, soulfully delivered by Mariachi Cobre soloist Steve Carrillo.
The encore loot went to the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces Foundation.
Doc was a good sport and boon companion on-stage and off. And also a snappy dresser. His outfits included a black sequined jacket with jeans, a purple and chartreuse ensemble, and, for his final jam with Mariachi Cobre, a snazzy traje (a traditional mariachi suit) complete with white sombrero. His rep as a fashion risk taker didn’t stop him from taking a shot at dapper Las Cruces symphony conductor Lonnie Klein’s cutting-edge, knee-length white tux.
“Hey Lonnie, you look like a guy who’s going to deliver 250 pounds of meat,” Doc quipped.
Earlier that week, he showed up for an interview in a snazzy brown plaid jacket, blue shirt and jeans and cowboy boots with pastel blue inlays. As fate would have it, he and Lonnie, who is know to do promo pix riding a motocycle in his tux, stumbled upon a gleaming red Indian motorcycle just outside the Hotel Encanto and quickly commandeered it for pictures.
Doc reportedly sampled a lot of chile while he was here, at sites that included Roberto’s and Taco Mexicano. During a rehearsal at Pan Am, chowing down on a spicy snack so elated him that he broke into an impromptu dance, gracefully twirling Susan Roberts with one hand without losing his grip on a slice of pizza.
Final celebrity food anecdote: Doc, known as Don Carlos Hidalgo Soberon in his new home in San Miguel de Allende, talked about his efforts to become more fluent in a new language.
“My horse is teaching me to speak Spanish. He’s already taught me to say zanahora,” or carrot, the horse’s favorite treat.
Many of us grew up watching Doc on TV, during his stint as lead trumpet and then bandleader with “The Tonight Show” from 1962 to 1992, and if we have been lucky enough to have a close encounter of the Doc kind, we remember it. Esperanza Sanchez of La Union recalled seeing him at the Las Vegas airport.
David Wright, a second clarinetist in the symphony, remembers Doc’s visit to his bandleader dad Maury in Burlington, Iowa, in 1962, and he has the pictures to prove it.
Me, too: I have photo documentation of our meeting when I with the Palm Beach Council of the Arts and I was promoting appearances of Doc and Beverly Sills during our 1989 Jazz Etcetera festival.
I finally got those old photos signed, along with a new sobrero-clad Doc shot with what he told me was his first “Don Carlos Hidalgo” autograph.
My fave Doc encounter story came from Michael Swickard: “Maybe some other former NMSU journalism students remember the time in 1971 when Doc played the Pan Am. After the concert a bunch of us went to VIPs Big Boy Restaurant on El Paseo. We all were astonished as Doc drove up by himself in a red luxury convertible. He came bopping in and we invited him over to join us (for) milkshakes. We asked why he wasn't over at a special mucky muck party for him at the Best Western on South Main. He shrugged and said he had driven there and walked up to the door. A man guarding the door told him that the place was closed that evening; it was a private party so he couldn't let him in. Evidently, Severinsen said, ‘OK’ and drove away. He sat there with us for a couple of hours and it was some of the best hours of my college career. We were just blown away by how nice and interesting he was.”
Read more of Mike’s tale, see Norm Detlaff’s video clip from the concert and share your own Doc encounters or other celebrity anecdotes at my new blog by going to, click on the Blogzone and then on the Las Cruces Style icon.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Doc Severinsen Video

To see Norm Detlaff's video clip of Doc Severinsen's Aug. 25 concert with the Las Cruces Symphony ay NMSU and Mariachi Cobre at Pan Am Center, click here

Monday, August 27, 2007

Days with Doc Severinsen

LAS CRUCES — Doc Severinsen electrified an enthusiastic audience of about 5,200 at the Pan American Center Saturday in his farewell performance with a symphony orchestra.
The 80-year-old wowed the crowd, from his first powerful, passionate solo spiced with jazzy, soulful riffs, when he joined the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra for “Carmen Fantasy,” a piece written especially for Severinsen by composer and musician Frank Proto.
Once known as “the world’s greatest trumpet player,” Severinsen showed that he’s still got the goods — and maybe even a little something extra: an infusion of alma (soul) inspired by the land where he now makes his home, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Also firing the audience were Severinsen’s co-stars and amigos, Mariachi Cobre. The award-winning mariachi group contributed spirited music and dramatic vocals that merited spontaneous applause.
The orchestra added substantial fuel to the fiery evening of mariachi music, Mexican and Latino numbers that included “Tango Oblivion” and “Cuando Se Quiere” with trumpet and mariachis.
Severinsen performed feats that would have challenged guys half his age during “El NiƱo Perdido,” a traditional mariachi routine that had him jogging up the aisles of the Pan Am into the crowd for a dialogue of trumpet calls with Mariachi Cobre.
During his stint with NBC’s “Tonight Show,” which began in 1962 and ended with Johnny Carson’s retirement in 1992, bandleader Severinsen was famous for his witty quips and flamboyant outfits, as well as his virtuoso performances. He lived up to his reputation with several flashy costume changes during the evening.
Severinsen proved that his fan base is still with him at a full-tilt fiesta gala dinner before the concert that attracted 400.
Jesse and Esperanza Sanchez came from La Union for the dinner and concert, it was the second Doc citing for Esperanza.
“I saw him at the Vegas airport,” she said.
“I’m just used to seeing him on TV, where he was great,” her husband added.
It was a reunion of sorts for David Wright, a second clarinetist in the symphony.
“I first played with Doc in a band in Burlington, Iowa, in 1962. He was visiting my dad, Maury, who was a band leader,” said Wright, who stopped by Severinsen’s hotel last week to show photos he’s saved from their first gig together.
“I’m a big fan of Mariache Cobre and a big fan of Doc and have been ever since “The Tonight Show,” said Orlando-Antonio Jiminez, of Las Cruces. “This is a hoot and a holler.”
Severinsen had the chance to connect with new generations of fans during rehearsals at New Mexico State University last week. Las Cruces Symphony director Lonnie Klein said that 1,500 complimentary tickets for Saturday’s concert were distributed to music teachers and their students at regional schools.
The Grammy Award-winning recording artist’s career started during the Big Band era and included stints with the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra and the bands of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Charlie Barnet. He has recorded more than 30 albums and has been involved in design and manufacture of his own line of trumpets.
Saturday’s concert was sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces Foundation. Proceeds will benefit the foundation’s charities, including a 5,000 grant to Mesilla Hospice. Good Samaritans added another $6,000 for an encore.
Those who missed what was billed as Severinsen’s farewell performance with a symphony orchestra may get another chance. He and Klein discussed a future appearance with Severinsen’s new group, El Ritmo de la Vida, recently formed with musicians in Mexico.
Read more about Doc and full-tilt fiesta season in this week's Las Cruces Style.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Las Cruces Style is joining the Blogosphere.
I had a tough time trying to decided what to call it...the same dilemma I faced in 1994 when I was trying to sum up all the things I wanted to write about in the City of the Crosses and the world beyond.
Why not stick with what works — Las Cruces Style — which I define loosely as the way we do things here in my quenencia, and how that relates to the rest of the world.
Now we can add a new cyberspace dimension to our ongoing interactive dialog previously conducted visa phone and e-mail and chance encounters everywhere from the Mesilla Plaza to jets headed to and from Europe, isolated arroyos, fiestas, swimming pools and mountain tops.
I’ve seen the world and this remains my favorite part of the planet.
Futurists predicted a decade ago that the big trends would no longer come from both coasts but from innovative sites somewhere in the middle. I think we’re ground zero for some of the best things developing anywhere.
I think we already have the goods, but I did a little research to see what was getting the hits online. Recent big online attractions have included things like a baby buffalo being rescued from lions and an alligator by a courageous herd, rockers dancing on treadmills, lonely girls waiting for busses, Ninjas, ghostriders (not the departed cowpokes in the sky we Baby Boomers used to sing about, but thrillseeking, dumb joyriders), cute animals and anything hot.
My blog will focus on what you love and hate about Las Cruces, collectors, prophecies and predictions, what’s up with our burgeoning role in movies, general arts and entertainment and much more.
What do you want to talk about? Mi blog es su blog. I think I’ll start with my column each week and add in some breaking news items, rumors, comments overheard on the plaza and at the gym and go from there.
Our blog will be sin fronteras, without borders or boundaries. My chief inspiration will come from the message I got more than a decade ago, when I was ready to embark of a diaspora from South Florida and consulted the most interesting souls I had met in travels around the globe.
We talked about “The Hidden Remnant,” a book by Gerald Sykes that postulated that whenever society was in great peril, there were gatherings of souls who came together to pick up the pieces and rekindle what seems best and brightest. A Sykes line has always haunted me: he said we would “know each other by our shipwrecked eyes.” When I moved to my quenencia, people told me about similar books written in the 1920s that predicted “La Raza Cosmica” would meet in these Borderlands.
It was the consensus of a motley group contacted at the end of the 20th century that Las Cruces is a place where great souls have decided to gather, circle their wagons, pitch their tents and make their last great American Stand.
Bob Diven wrote a moving piece of music about this last roundup which debuted at the Rio Grande Theatre’s grand opening, sung by NMSU’s Masterworks Chorus.
I thought about all this, and 13 years in my quenencia, when I went to name my blog. What about Last Roundup? Hidden Remnant? La Raza Cosmica?
Those all seem a lot less optimistic than I feel in a place where I have seen dramatic changes for the better, a place where, as former library director Don Dresp once told me, “You should remember that everything you do can make a difference.”
How about Querencia Visions? (A querencia, for those of you new to the Land of Enchantment and this column, is about a special relationship between a person and a place, similar to the soul mate relationship between profoundly bonded persons.)
But I still like Las Cruces Style. It’s not just what we wear, or what we spice with chiles, or how we decorate our homes and plazas or the plays or the fiestas and music and art we create and appreciate.
It’s about the four As: a unique blend of art, academics, and agriculture with a few astronauts thrown in, from the dawn of the space age to the X prize and new spaceport.
It’s how we treat each other, with more sweetness than I’ve found any other place on the planet, how we feel about the mountains and the lapis sky and the rosy adobe, about our willingness to accept new people, places and things and blend them gracefully into a rich culture.
It’s about the way we live, and plan and pray and party and do things, with Las Cruces style.
Join in the dialog about where we’ve come from, where we’ve been and where we’re going...and ways we might offer some hope to the rest of the planet.
Access my blog by going to and clicking on my blogzone and the Las Cruces Style icon or search with

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Is Las Cruces growing gracefully? If so, what do you thing we're doing well? If not, where are we falling down on the job?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hollywood on the Rio Grande

Internationally known animator Chris Kientz, who created RAVEN TALES, told me this week: “There is so much that is exciting about the animation industry in New Mexico today. Soon you'll see all sorts of animation coming out of New Mexico. This really is a state with a unique group of talented artists. And with Jonathan Benson, Derek Fisher and Mark Medoff at Creative Media Institute doing such a great job, Las Cruces will be a hub of that industry,” Kientz predicted.“The future is amazingly bright. New Mexico is in a fantastic position. Companies like Sony are showing up and I think movie production companies and video game companies now are first looking at Los Angeles, then Vancouver and then New Mexico."
As if to proove him right,we just learned that “The Burning Plain,” a new feature film written and directed by “Babel” screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and starring Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron, will begin filming in Las Cruces this fall.
“Las Cruces will be the principal location site and they will be filming here for a couple of months,” said Las Cruces based playwright and filmmaker Mark Medoff, creative director for Creative Media Institute (CMI) at New Mexico State University.
“Producers are already in town making preparations and Arriaga will be living here. The film is set primarily in the Southwest and Northwest. CMI will be working with them to help them get everything they need,” Jonathan Benson, CMI’s director, said Friday.
CMI will soon hire a new regional film liaison who will work with the production to help them answer questions and find regional locations and resources.
“I understand that the producers plan to spend about $7 million here. I think they’re still working out the budget. People will be arriving next week to set up preproduction offices and the tentative schedule is to start shooting in mid-October through Christmas,” Benson said.
Arriaga’s 2006 film “Babel” won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Motion Picture, director, editing, original screenplay and two supporting actress nominations. The film won an Oscar for best original score.
Medoff said “The Burning Plain” will be the feature film directing debut for Arriaga, who has also written the screenplay.
Theron won a Best Actress Academy Award for her role in “Monster” and was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “North Country,” which included location filming in Silver City.
Theron will portray Sylvia, “who tries to find common ground with her parents after a turbulent childhood,” and Theron will also executive produce the film, according to a report in “Variety.”
Benson said the movie will be “a character driven piece. Charlize will play a woman from Portland, Ore.”
The above story appears in Saturdays Las Cruces Sun-News.

Read more about Kientz in Sunday's Sun-Life
How do you feel about our future as Hollywood on the Rio Grande.

Fun with history

LAS CRUCES —“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” George Santayana said.
Kurt Vonnegut opined that “History is merely a list of surprises. It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again.”
My mom was an art and American History teacher who had artistic ways of making history come alive for us when we were growing up, so I was an easy sell even before I came to New Mexico, which has generated some of the most entertaining stories on the planet. Our own little patch of the Land of Enchantment is particularly packed with intriguing tales. The ancient pueblo peoples have literally left chunks of their artistic perspectives on life in our fields. The Mimbres’ vivid portraits of people, plants, adventures and animals were etched on their pottery to inspire and fire the imaginations of generations of kids, including me and my grandson.
All the world seems to know that Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa were regulars in our territory.
The Wild West, Borderland derring-do outlaws and revolutionaries have generated lots of tourist interest and some exciting action films.
Personally, I’m more excited about the creative souls who shared our quenencia than the flamboyantly destructive types. Lew Wallace, the territorial governor and author of “Ben-Hur” made his home here. Nacio Herb Brown, who wrote “Singing in the Rain,” grew up in Deming.
I’ve actually had the chance to interview and get to know some of our 20th century superstars who have already secured a place in history. Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto, wowed me with his depth of knowledge and role as a space pioneer and a touching personal history that included almost inconceivable discoveries made before the computer age. Whether Pluto eventually remains categorized as a dwarf planet or not, Clyde’s lifetime accomplishments — and very funny crow puns — will live forever in local history. Clyde and his wife Patsy also made a huge mark on cultural and educational life of this community, like another local celebrity, Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff. If you’re new in town, you might not know that Medoff was also nominated for an Academy Award for “Children of a Lesser God,” and Merlee Maitland won an Oscar for her portrayal of Medoff’s deaf heroine.
Mark has also made several films here and like Tombaugh, has made academic contributions that have literately changed the community. Clyde’s work paved the way for space programs at White Sands and he also was a founder of the astronomy department at New Mexico State University. Medoff was a leading light at NMSU, too, with the American Southwest Theatre Company and more recently as a founder of Creative Media Institute, which is creating everything from feature-length movies to interactive training videos and state-of-the-art animation projects.
There have been some dark chapters here, too. The most aggressive Wild West six-shooter rampage pales in comparison with something a group of scientists demonstrated at Trinity Site. The first atomic bomb exploded in our back yard and shortly thereafter led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for a total of almost 200,000 casualties, according to, which estimated a toll of 66,000 dead and 69,000 injured at Hiroshima and 39,000 dead and 25,000 injured at Nagasaki. Compare that with the Twin Towers.
We’re in a rarefied corner of the world in a catbird seat to watch all kinds of history in the making, in science, arts and culture. Some of our era’s most innovative moguls have been drawn to New Mexico. Ted Turner has major holdings here. Richard Branson and X Prize could be well on its way to adding to our already rich space history.
But sometimes, it’s not the moguls that bring history to life. I thought about that this month, when military memorabilia collector Kevin Dasing showed me his before and after target photographs of Hiroshima. And when those who had lived through the Great Depression shared their memories at an NMSU Museum gathering. They brought clothing made out of feed sacks and stories about hardships and survival. Vesta Siemers, 92, remembered the empty seats in her classroom, after the 1929 stock market crash. Each empty seat represented a child away at the funeral of a father who had committed suicide.
There are pieces of history all around us. Clues and stories about triumphs and tragedies, role models and cautionary tales.
Whatever your attitude toward history, it’s a good idea to pay attention to where we’ve come from, and how it affects where we are and where we’re going ... and what we leave behind.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at