News Column

Sunday Spotlight: Outside In organizer works to enhance city's summer music experience on the Plaza

August 17, 2014

By Chris Quintana, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Aug. 17--Residents and tourists alike have grown accustomed to gathering on the Santa Fe Plaza on summer nights for free live music shows. Some dance near the stage. Others spread a blanket on the grass and relax to the sounds of a mix of artists, from local to worldly, from rock 'n' roll to folk to country.

And organizer and curator Michael Dellheim is always there watching.

Santa Fe Bandstand started in 2004 under the direction of the late David Lescht, but performances on the Plaza have been a mainstay since the mid-1980s.

Lescht was a local music promoter with the nonprofit Outside In. He organized music shows for homeless shelters, detention facilities, nursing homes and treatment centers throughout New Mexico. He told The New Mexican in 2004 that city officials had asked him to put together a music series for the Plaza Community Stage, and the program proved popular. Lescht organized the summer concerts for several years until his death in May 2012. Dellheim, a close friend who was involved with Outside In, then took over the nonprofit's operations.

Born in Baltimore, Dellheim earned a film degree from Boston University and a master's from the University of Southern California. He worked in the trenches doing film production and eventually became a locations manager.

He moved to New Mexico from California in 1986 to work on a film production of The Milagro Beanfield War and then continued to work on notable New Mexico productions, including Young Guns and the Lonesome Dove series starring Tommy Lee Jones.

During one arduous night on a film set, Dellheim first heard Lescht on the radio. He said he appreciated Lescht's style and music selection. So he called in late one night, in part to answer a question for Lescht that he felt all early morning DJs must occasionally ask themselves: Is anyone listening?

Dellheim became a regular caller on Lescht's show, and their friendship grew off the airwaves, as well. Dellheim also started working as the treasurer for Outside In.

After Lescht died, Dellheim said, he thought he was only temporarily stepping into the man's shoes at Outside In until the nonprofit found the right person to head its operations. But that person never came.

"I realized it was me," Dellheim said.

Dellheim contrasts himself with Lescht, who had a big personality, a distinctive look and fought hard for social justice issues. Dellheim said his friend "was very much, in the best sense of the word, a child of the '60s."

Dellheim is quiet and reserved. He cares about social justice, but it's not his career. And he jokes that his hair is long, but it doesn't mean anything special.

"I wanted to be him," Dellheim said. "But I found I couldn't. I slowly let go of ... 'What would David do?' "

The local music industry had grown accustomed to Lescht, and even though Dellheim had worked on Outside In's board of directors, he still felt like an unknown, he said. Some musicians treated him with suspicion, he said, especially when he made changes.

Dellheim did away with a selection board, and instead selects performers personally. Musicians used to drop off CDs for review, but Dellheim prefers online links to video footage of their performances. He also toned down the speaker system on the Plaza so the performances wouldn't disturb a local symphony group a block away.

His changes drew some criticisms, but he feels that he's making positive changes to Santa Fe Bandstand.

"You can't please everyone," he said. "It was a hard lesson to learn."

Dellheim said he's strove to increase sponsorship of the series, urging restaurants, banks and even Public Service Company of New Mexico to support the community program, which is partially funded by the city of Santa Fe. Inviting PNM to participate would have riled Lescht, he said. But the company's money means Outside In can offer more free music.

And Dellheim has worked to make that happen. He has added more Bandstand performances each summer, and the shows last longer. Last year's performances averaged 825 attendees, he said, joking that the Lensic Performing Arts Center can only hold 821.

Outside In has a contract with the city to host the Bandstand series through the 2015 season. Dellheim said it's unclear what will happen in the coming years, but he's happy that he has kept Lescht's series alive.

"You reach people," he said. "I am very pleased to have become a part of the fabric of summer in Santa Fe. Music on the Plaza is something that goes way back. It feels good to be part of that continuum."


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Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)

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