Bernalillo is becoming a bit of a music mekka, if you will, with Kaktus Brewing providing a steady rhythm of blues and jazz at its South Hill location and as the backbeat behind a whole weekend of music at Loretto Park.
Saturday, June 17 will be the annual Farmhouse Ale Event, featuring country-tinged music. And Sunday, June 18 will be the Bernalillo Bluesfest, an added addition that makes for a full weekend of not just music – but a cornucopia of family friendly activities.
“We decided to add blues because people were asking for it,” said Dana Koller, owner of Kaktus Brewing and organizer of the music events. “This whole thing was built around relationships with musicians.”
Koller already hosts three blues shows per week on Thursday night and weekend afternoons, in addition to jazz on Wednesday night at Kaktus Brewing. A lot of the musicians that will play at Bluesfest have already played at the bar, including, of course, the house band, the Kaktus Kats.
The lineup for June 18 also includes Joe “Daddy” Warner, Stanlie Kee & Step In, Joanie Cere joining the Kaktus Kats, and the regionally popular Chris Dracup Band to close out the show.
Saturday’s Farmhouse Ale Event is headlined by Albuquerque’s Nathaniel Krantz. The Fifth Element, Sarah Rowe, The Memphis P-Tails and Sim Balkey fill out the slate.
While shows at Kaktus Brewing are free, the Farmhouse Ale Event and Bluesfest is $15 at the door. However, discounts are available by ordering tickets in advance or by attending both shows.
The gates open at 11 a.m. each day and the music runs from noon to 6 p.m..
Beating the COVID blues
Kaktus Brewing was born of humble beginnings.
“We started brewing out of a two-car garage,” Koller said.
When he opened the brewery to the public about 10 years ago, he wasn’t sure how it would go. The brewery is almost hidden in a tight space at 471 South Hill Road.
“People were worried when we opened that nobody would go down here,” he said.
Kaktus Brewing serves several varieties of its own beer and has a limited food menu built around specialty pizzas. It built up a following and music became a thing.
“At first, the music was indoors. We’d have to remove two tables to make enough room,” Koller said.
The music became more frequent and was moved to an outdoor patio when the weather was nice.
Things were humming along until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Everyone got the blues over that, but when the governor closed businesses you couldn’t hear it at Kaktus Brewing or anywhere else. After a couple of stops and starts with the governor’s health order, Kaktus Brewing re-opened in March 2021 and the music was back.
Without a source of income during the shutdown, Koller did his best to turn a negative into a positive. He applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan and put it to use to make it a better live music venue.
“A lot of that PPP funding was used to help the musicians out,” he said. “Since then, it’s turned into something we can’t even control.”
Still nothing fancy, the outdoor patio is partly covered and the floor is a tiled stone. In addition to patio tables, there are lounge areas along one perimeter. And there’s now an outdoor bar from which food and drinks can be ordered.
“He made a lot of improvements,” said Kyla Wood, whose husband is one of the Kaktus Kats. “It used to be gravel out here and now it’s tiled. It’s better than dancing on gravel.”
Koller also leveled the stage and created an atmosphere that people enjoy.
“People feel real comfortable coming here,” she said.
On one recent Sunday afternoon, about 100 people were on the patio to hear the Kaktus Kats and their guest performers.
The Kaktus Kats are guitarist Lloyd Wood and bass player Steve Whitman. But they herd their friends to play along with them, often with a featured performer. Michael Matison showed off his blues-singing bona fides that day with the support of Brant Leeper on keyboards, Arnaldo Acosta on drums and Joe Mancuso on harmonica and engineering the sound.
Lloyd Wood says the Sunday event started off as more of a blues jam. People would sign up and play along with the Kaktus Kats. Post-COVID, however, the Kats started inviting their friends to perform.
“From there, it’s just taken off,” he said. “We have top-quality people coming from Albuquerque and Santa Fe.”
Wood said the Sunday shows provide a mix of blues music.
“It’s not a straight ahead blues thing on Sunday – Joe Warner handles that on Saturday – and as a result there’s some variety,” he said.
In addition to Warner’s Bernalillo Blues Guild on Saturday afternoons, Wood also noted Jim Casey hosts “Got Soul” Blues Thursday evenings and jazz music on Wednesdays.
“It’s quite a musical place now,” Wood said. “Kudos to Dana for making the venue available not just for us, but for all the musicians.”
Into the community
Koller is happy to do it. The idea behind the two-days of music at Loretto Park is to take the music coming out of Kaktus Brewing and “bring it out into the community of Bernalillo.”
He promised there would be more than music. Food trucks, cars on display, cornhole and other games will all add to a family-friendly atmosphere, he said.
Koller thanked the Town of Bernalillo for its support of the events. While he said he’s spent “a ton of money” on the weekend, the Town Council swung $20,000 their way to help with expenses.
Mike Kloeppel, Bernalillo’s director of Economic and Community Development, said Kaktus Brewing has helped draw attention to the town.
“He’s been there a number of years and it’s growing over there,” he said. “It’s great to see he’s providing music and fun for residents and nonresidents alike to enjoy … One of the things we appreciate from Dana and his events is he helps fund nonprofit organizations who do good work.”
Kloeppel said the Farmhouse Ale Event has been successful in past years and he doesn’t doubt that the Bluesfest will be too.
The weekend of music is one of nine events the Town of Bernalillo sponsors, including the Indian Arts Festival last month, the Sheriff’s Posse Rodeo in August and the Christmas tree lighting and parade in December.
Next up on the calendar is the Fiestas de San Lorenzo Musica y Mas at Rotary Park Aug. 9-11.
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