Israel Vibration Opens The Bridge-Santa Fe

Article Contributed by Janie Franz | Published on Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Santa Fe Brewing Company’s new event space, The Bridge, opened Thursday June 9 with the Kingston, Jamaica group, Israel Vibration. Since the brewery and the concert venue are in the middle of vast expansion and remodeling, this first show was outdoors.

The Bridge is a much-needed middle-ground venue in the area. There are many small clubs in Santa Fe, NM, where you can hear a singer songwriter or a small band, usually with postage stamp dance floors.  The Lensic offers big ticket, A-list shows in a concert setting, but again with no dance space. And The Downs at Santa Fe has a huge capacity and has hosted top acts like Michael Frani and Spearhead.  Still with no dance space and bleacher seating. The only place where music lovers have been able to see a good act AND dance has been the summer free music events at the Santa Fe Plaza. However, the space is limited and there is a no alcohol policy since these are a city-wide, family events.

When I found out that The Bridge was renovating and expanding the old Sol Santa Fe venue next to the brewery, I was super excited. That space had been leased out to several others and never quite had the draw that it could have had, even though they sold the brewery’s wares and offered food. Shows were sporatic and often cancelled.

When the Santa Fe Brewing Company reclaimed that area in their expansion plan, it was a magical idea. They hired Chris Cole to manage the event space, importing him from a brewery in Ft. Worth, TX. He jumped on board and furthered their ambitious plans.

When I drove in to get a look at renovations a couple of days before the show, I almost didn’t recognize the place. They had bought property around the original brewery that was relocated to this land in 1994, after it had outgrown its original location as a very small operation in 1988. What I now saw what I thought was a big new warehouse with a vast loading dock. It was in fact going to house the new brewing and canning facility, which will be in operation soon. It was absolutely huge, enabling the brewery to expand from 20,000 barrels in ten states to ultimately 200,000 barrels all over the US.

The facility has its own water treatment plant that repurposes gray water. And they have a very unique barrel aging area. You don’t think of beer needing aging but certain craft brews do. The buried three huge cargo containers the size of boxcars into the earth with two doors. The filled wooden barrels are then stacked and kept cool underground. Leif Rotsert, the whiz kid in charge of this aging process, told me that they piled earth on top of the storage containers and planted native grass and milkweed seeds. This was to attract monarch butterflies. He said that the barrels breathe even inside the metal containers and having flowers and butterflies encourages better beer.

I also met Monica Moondragon (yes, that’s her real name). She’s the brewery scientist. She’s a rarity, as a woman, in the industry. Her duty is to insure quality control. She is one of many people who have been involved in this venture for several years and others who are coming on board as the new plans for the future take shape. Relationships are growing throughout northern New Mexico with interested folks, and not just those with big ideas and big money.

With their expansion, the Santa Fe Brewing Company wanted to increase the size of their taproom that was in a small section of the brewing area. That taproom would occupy the space between the two buildings and have a 5,000 square foot courtyard. An overhead walking bridge would connect the taproom with the new event space on the other side of the property. This would allow people who came to a show to get a wristband and move back and forth between the spaces since the taproom could offer more choices than the event space. This would allow as Chris says, “225,00 square feet of drinkable space.” The walking bridge inspired the name of the new venue: The Bridge.

The outdoor venue space now has a new poured concrete dance or viewing area, with tables in the back, and even a small green space to chill on or play hackysack. The inside is much larger since the brewery began its expansion. There will be more seating and dancing space inside, as well as two new pool tables. The lighting arrays and sound systems are new or almost. The $100K sound system came from the Soundblitz Warp Tour. The new techs came on board first just to help out for private events and kept offering good advice about what can happen there that they were finally hired to run it all. This is yet another example of relationship building.

That happened with their current taproom. A woman came in, saw what they needed, and then went out and bought just a few simple things to outfit the space. She’s now their general manager.

Even with that expansion inside, Santa Fe Free Radio occupies a studio in one section of the building. Its huge studio window looks out onto the outdoor stage.  

So on Thursday, June 9, I got to see a glimpse of good things to come at The Bridge. As we waited for Israel Vibration to take the stage, concertgoers got brews and wine and sampled some tasty food. I’d seen the gaps in the coyote fencing as it was going up earlier in the week. Now I saw what they had in mind. The naked fenced areas were really gates that swung open so that two food trucks could roll right up to the fence. Here concertgoers inside the concert area ordered from Santa Fe Barbecue and the Jambo Café tonight. There was a Chinese food truck also in the parking lot. A small list of vendors will rotate those choice spots as the event space gets going this summer.

This is a unique idea for a concert venue. It allows locals and visitors to sample food from restaurants nearby and gives a festival feel to every show. It also reduces overhead for the venue and again builds relationships with vendors in the area.

It was a great night for an outdoor concert. It was cool with a light breeze. Families brought their children to hear this classic band.

It’s not often we get to hear a good roots reggae band. The band started late as the tech crews from the band and the venue worked out bugs in the new sound system. The opening night crowd didn’t seem to mind. I appreciate roots reggae because it’s love affirming and promotes peace. Israel Vibration also showed this audience courage and fortitude. Nearly all of the band members had dealt with childhood polio, either personally or because of family members. Two of the original members, Skelly and Wiss, came up on the stage on crutches after the first number or two, but they stayed for an entire two-hour set without intermissions. 

Skelly and Wiss form Israel Vibration and are backed by Roots Radics. They consist of two keyboard players (one was younger and might have been a son of one of the original members), a drummer, a bassist, and an electric guitar player. Two women backup singers added color to Skelly and Wiss’ vocals. These band members are all seasoned and road-wise. They preserve roots reggae, which has been rapidly replaced by dancehall, ska, and rap.

I was glad that The Bridge chose this band to christen their new venue. With a booking agent in LA working closely with the venue, they are going to be able to pull some big names into the area. Already John Mayall, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Kyle Hollingsworth have signed on for dates here. Look for good things at The Bridge.