When I first started delving into this live music feature for Las Cruces magazine, most everyone I interviewed was in agreement that the scene has changed in recent years. But while some noted a decline, others saw an upswing with new venues continually offering live music nights and more support for original music. One thing everyone could agree on, however, is that, if you know where to look, there’s no shortage of talented musicians, singers, and songwriters covering the entire gamut of musical genres.
Nowhere was that more clear than on the night we were invited to a jam session with DAMN Union, a musical collective that incorporates a number of different local musical acts spanning everything from bluegrass and rock to country and even a little hip-hop.
Their Facebook page describes DAMN Union as “an infinitely expandable collective of musicians from all over the world. A core group makes up the body of the hydra. The DAMN Union is able to accompany each other and other songwriters, and plays a wide variety of genres.
Musicianship, community, and involvement in local and independent art and music is highly encouraged.”
If that sounds a little confusing, you’re not alone. Tucker, a founding member of the group, explains, “It’s hard for a spectator to understand what it is, because we honestly don’t even know ourselves. It’s very fluid and constantly evolving. It’s shaped by whoever is around and involved at any given time.”
Tucker, a Las Cruces native, first picked up a guitar at age 18 after being inspired by the music his friends (including fellow DAMN Union-er Danny Graves) were creating. He soon switched to bass and joined first, an AC/DC tribute band, and then others. He’s been touring with various groups for the better part of 10 years now.
DAMN Union initially stemmed from an idea Tucker had to create an “umbrella” group for the different acts all his musician friends were playing in. The focus would be on creating one recognizable name that everyone could then branch off of to promote their other projects and endeavors. Other musicians threw their input into the mix and the concept slowly started to develop back in 2012.
After jamming together for about six months, the original DAMN Union headed out on the road for their first 28-week tour. “It was all DIY. We promoted it ourselves. At one point there was eight of us in a 15-passenger band with all our equipment,” Tucker remembers.
Since that memorable tour, some of the original members have moved to other parts of the country or taken on full time jobs that don’t allow them to travel as often. Tucker says that while they may no longer be part of the “core” of DAMN Union, they’re still considered part of the group and they still play together whenever possible. “We have a saying about DAMN Union: ‘You can’t quit. You can’t retire. You can only die,’” Tucker explains with a laugh.
The current core of DAMN Union gathers together for practice and jam sessions on what they have dubbed The Farm. The collective community of artists, musicians, and farmers that live there not only grow and sell produce, they also offer workshops covering everything from soil and gardening to music theory and drum lessons.
When we visited on a crisp January night, six of the DAMN Union members—Tucker, Danny Graves, Chavo Budlong, Aaron Ransbarger, Chris Smith, and Larry Ramos—were jamming inside a barn. Other members of The Farm community lounged around talking and enjoying the music.
Most all of the DAMN Union musicians are multi-instrumental songwriters. Throughout their sessions, they shift between who takes the lead and who plays back up. They play original songs, moving easily from Latin Cumbia music to gritty, soulful rock to laid-back bluegrass from one song to the next. They also delve into indie, country, blues, hip-hop, folk, and Americana. While out on tour, Tucker says they’ll pick up other musicians on the road to play with them.
When they’re not on tour or jamming on The Farm, DAMN Union plays at various venues around town. They say they enjoy playing at joints like NM Vintage Wines in Mesilla and Art Obscura, an art gallery by the railroad tracks in Mesilla Park that often features live music. “Those are the venues where musicians can still be artistic,” Danny explains. “At other places you usually have to be more of a bar band and cater to popular tastes and people who are there just to be entertained, not to be moved by the music as an art form.”
The group agrees that Las Cruces is home to an extremely talented cadre of musicians, but admits that the live music scene could use more community support, especially for songwriters who want to play their own material. Want to support your favorite band or musician? DAMN Union says start by attending live music shows and downloading music on sites like Bandcamp.
Overall, as Las Cruces magazine delved into the local live music scene, we came up with one solid conclusion: The musical talent living right here in the Mesilla Valley is something we should all be extremely proud of, and we as community members need to show our support for this niche in our local arts scene by buying their music, attending live performances, and sharing our favorite musicians with friends on social media.
The next time you start thinking there’s nothing new and exciting going on in our local nightlife, flip the page and check out the many venues in town now offering live music performed by local musicians. If we let the music speak for itself, the future of our local music scene is looking bright.
Core Members: Tucker, Danny Graves, Chris Smith, Chavo Budlong, Aaron Ransbarger, and Larry Ramos
other regulars: Audra Rodgers, Neeshia Macanowicz, Joe Hecker, Bud Budlong, Blas Budlong, Victoria Budlong, Mike Granado, Ben Cantrell, Chuck Drexler, Andrew Levi Hiller, Sean Lucy associated acts: Rawdogs, Bourbon Legend, Beans and Crackers, ALHHLA, Blue Gramas, Little Table Contraband, La Maldita Unión, Danny Graves, Sean Lucy, The Legendary New Mexico Playboys, The Legendary Two-Steppin’ Studs, Alma y La Tierra Muerta, Legao, Esuper, Vixxyfixxit, Everett Howl and The Wolves, Balls Kotton Zipper, The Supersonic Bogeys, Lillis Urban Band, Mo Kingman, Trophy, and Ross Russell and The Staggering