February was Black History Month; March is for Women’s History. And to celebrate and emphasize the contributions of women to music, New Mexico Tech’s Performing Arts Series (PAS) will present the first WomenFest, two days of music featuring New Mexico artists from the Socorro region and around the state.
The inaugural WomenFest will kick off Friday, March 5 at 2 p.m. Music is slated on Friday and Saturday from 2 to 8:30 p.m. Nearly a dozen women singers, songwriters and musicians will perform during the online event which will be streamed from NM Tech’s Macey Center Stage through Facebook, YouTube and Twitch.
“I’m really trying to start something during Women’s History Month and I hope it can be an annual event,” said Ronna Kalish, PAS director. The festival begins following the annual International Women’s Day Luncheon, which this year will be a Zoom talk with Penelope Boston, Ph.D., formerly of New Mexico Tech and now director of Astrobiology at NASA. Other events also are planned at the college during the month.
Headlining the fest of stellar female artists will be Lara Manzanares and Tanya Nuñez from Northern New Mexico. Lara Manzanares was a featured artist in the Kennedy Center’s Arts Across America special last December. Tanya Nuñez, has worked as a bassist in a variety of traditions from classical, tango, Persian and Arabic, to country, rock and funk/soul.
It is a new duo, says Manzanares. “I like to have a roster of people I can play with for gigs,” Manzanares said. Once things open up again and things pick up, she noted, it’s harder to get musicians together, with various gigs going. “(Tanya) is a very versatile musician who plays a variety of styles.” That, said the award-winning artist, fits her style. Manzanares grew up in Tierra Amarillo and sings the Mexican boleros, rancheras, and corridos of her sheep-ranching childhood. She also composes her own style of music in both English and Spanish. Her Land Baby was chosen album of the year in 2018 at the New Mexico Music Awards..
A positive side of the pandemic, Manzanares said, is how it has allowed her to see more artists perform as well as getting to watch her own performances later. “I’m looking forward to seeing everyone else,” she said of the Women’s Fest line-up. “There are so many women putting out music, great songs, hard-working musicians, really authentic.”
Kalish credited Manzanares with introducing her to some of the other women performers for this WomenFest, including Melissa Rios and Chloe Nixon, both young talented artists making waves in the music world.
Chloe Nixon is a 16-year-old Indie musician and songwriter who is already making a name for herself. Her first album, Anomalous Soul, won Best Pop Album from the New Mexico Music Awards in 2019. The album is available on iTunes, Amazon Music, Spotify, iHeart Radio and more. Chloe was featured in a Jeep Renegade Commercial that launched in October of 2017. The campaign included commercials by four female artists including pop sensation Halsey, Molly Kate Kestner and Uri Grey.
Melissa Rios is an Acoustic Soul and R&B singer-songwriter based in Albuquerque. Originally from Las Cruces, her roots were as an award-winning mariachi singer, also playing guitar, vihuela and guitarron. She graduated from UNM in Albuquerque with a Bachelor of Arts in music and now has two albums to her credit, “Love & Time,” in 2016 and “3 A.M.” released on digital platforms in 2018, both more into the realm of Acoustic Soul and R&B. Expect to hear a variety of musical styles and some unique, creative and heartfelt original songs.
Ronna Kalish herself will start each day’s music with a short treat, a great way to remind Socorro of her musical talents as well as her organizing acumen. Other local performers include Tori Murillo, a Socorro favorite, who sings with the Murillo family band. Their repertoire includes Spanish, country, classic and contemporary. She and her band will play Saturday beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Others on the line-up include Gaby Benalil, NM Tech’s well-known and admired music instructor who sings and plays cello, among other instruments;
Colleen Gino and Dylan Etscorn, two of the Flat Note Society members, will perform a mix of originals along with classic and contemporary rock covers. “Dylan and I kinda stumbled into this duo thing just playing for fun for the Social Distance Open Mic nights,” Gino said.
Bethany Lumos is another regular at those Open Mics. Hailing from the Mississippi River Valley, Lumos moved to Magdalena in 2019. She sings original, heartfelt tunes and has been described as intuitively musical, free-spirited and a compelling singer-songwriter.
Saturday’s performers include another Socially Distanced Open Mic regular, Terri Sunflower. She calls her music “songs for the sensitive soul” and spins nuanced tales mixed with sensitivity and care for humanity. She began writing songs in 2002, and at the Rocky Mountain Song School in 2018 found her home as a songwriter. She released her first album in 2019, an EP titled Sunflower’s Debut.
Val and Ben also are Socorro County mainstays in the music community. Val has a voice that is as comfortable singing in musicals and operas as contemporary pop, jazz, rock and folk. She is a theatrical spirit, her performances filled with panache and charisma. “I’m super honored to have been asked to perform and I’m excited to sing,” Val said of the new festival. Ben is the rock-solid guitarist, with expert leads, rooted rhythm and creamy supporting vocals.
The multi-talented 15-year-old twins Kacey and Jenna Thunborg, of Lemitar, are slated to perform at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday. They have been performing in front of audiences since they were eight years old. Jenna is the main vocalist (and yodeler) while Kacey provides harmonies and instrumental accompaniment. Taught by award-winning instrumentalist Mariam Funke, the duo has won numerous awards and recognition.
“I’m really excited about this,” said Kalish. Along with dovetailing the festival with the luncheon speech, she is looking to add short take-outs from New Mexico Tech’s American Association of University Women about local women and women’s history.
Sponsors for WomenFest, “and really for the whole season during this unique pandemic time,” says Kalish, include the Betty Clark Platinum Memorial, Western Arts Federation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Nusenda, A-1 Quality Redi-Mix and the Susan Miller Bronze Memorial. For more information, visit nmt.edu/pas or call 575-835-5688.