Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Duck Rock

The folks in Hillsboro did the right thing when they pulled the plug on their annual Apple Festival. How could they do that? everyone asked, the event was extremely popular, drawing a few thousand folks from Southwestern New Mexico and El Paso. It seems that the legions of  drunken bikers loitering around the crowded main street, brawling and pissing in public, clashed with Hillsboro's quaint historical status. Ultimately, the Apple Festival became a nuisance. The time and expense of cleaning up after the sloppy drunk masses outweighed the money being pulled in. 

The Deming Duck races like so many money grubbing festivals held around New Mexico, was once a loosey goosey gathering with an ambiance that was both genial and inviting. A good time was advertised and more often than not, that was the case. Sadly, just like the Balloon Fiesta, the State Fair, The Whole Enchilada and the Hatch Chile Festival it's been taken over by professional vendors. Every last one of them feels that the consumer should foot the bill for their travel expenses and this is reflected in yearly price hikes.

Eight dollars for a turkey leg, is a bit much and any burrito worth more that five bucks better feed the entire family. And no, the vendors won't take EBT, the preferred method of payment for most of Luna County's cash strapped residents. The Deming Duck races are a prime example of minimal effort resulting in mediocre results. It's an artificial event, without any real purpose other than to milk the area's citizens of their hard earned dollars.The Duck races have run their course and even the organizers appear to go through the motions without much enthusiasm. Some would even say that The Duck races create a negative image for the city of Deming. 

The event continues because it still serves a purpose. The motels fill up, the restaurants stay busy  and all retailers see a spike in sales. It's an innocuous way to boost the local economy without disturbing the local routine or mobilizing a large police force to keep gang bangers in check. The one percenter rejects that ruined Hillsboro haven't gravitated to The Duck races (that long hot 100 mile run on I-10 from El Paso keeps them at bay ) The races are on the last weekend of August, which is when the Deming heat  really gets oppressive. Sitting in the makeshift bleachers watching meaningless duck sprints becomes a challenge as the sun beats down with brutal intensity.

The actual duck races are pointless and hardly entertaining. That wasn't always the case, when the event started the races were meant to be the primary attraction. This drew a small cadre of competitive duck breeders who took the duck races as serious as The Kentucky Derby. Enter Robert Duck (that's his real name) a man who understood the credo that drives anyone involved in competitive racing (be it horses, autos, dogs or ducks) "He who works harder and cheats a little, wins more races."  R. Duck bred his ducks for speed, carefully selecting the fastest and weeding (or eating) the slowest. 

He built a replica track at his home in Bosque Farms and put his ducks through their paces, just like Kentucky thoroughbreds. The natural outcome of this lopsided competition is that for the first 5 or 6 years, Robert Duck handily swept all the races. Duck was up to the challenge, almost daring anyone to beat him. His name became synonymous with duck racing, he made an appearance on the Tonight show, gamely submitting himself to Johnny Carson's quips. Local folks, started griping about his success and rumors were even floated about, that he was gaining the upper hand through the use of illicit performance enhancing feed additives. 

Robert Duck's success built the Deming Duck Races and in the end it almost killed it. Race organizers schemed to put an end to his dominance. Unable to do it on the track (Deming Duck Downs) they resorted to the tried and true All American method of exclusion. They banned Robert Duck from the races. "We'd like to spread the price money around to other folks" retorted one organizer when questioned about the questionable decision. "It's not fair, he always wins" exclaimed one sad eyed lady as she watched Robert Duck celebrate yet another victory.

"He's Cheatin" drawled an area rancher as he stroked his gander, aptly named "Today's Loser, Tomorrow's Supper" I guess something had to give, Robert Duck wasn't just winning first place, he was throttling the competition. The surest bet at Deming Duck Downs was Robert Duck to win, place or show. And yes, there was action on the races. In the shadow of  the courthouse minaret, bets were being placed. Under the shade of the giant cottonwoods around Deming's picturesque Court House park, sizable amounts of money were changing hands. Although, to bet against Robert Duck was a sucker bet, Demingites are natural born suckers. 

At some point the race organizers came to the conclusion that  the ill will created by Robert Duck's dominance and subsequent banishment was running counter to the "let's have some good old fashioned fun" spirit that the event's founders had fostered. To remedy this, they did away with serious racing. Now, you pay a fee and select a duck from a nearby enclosure (the trick is to try and not pick one that looks wilted or near death) This means that invariably some random kid will win the damn thing and step up to the podium to collect his prize money.

They drained the piss from the event and now the duck races amount to nothing more than buying a Belgian waffle ($7 U.S. no pesos accepted) and strolling around the park.  Local legend would have you believe that some colorful local cowboys, started the event while bending elbows at a local saloon. It's actually the brainchild of newspaper editor Harold Cousland and some tipsy  "fun-loving cohorts" The true locals avoid Duck Race weekend like the plague, so the crowd is heavy with out of towners looking for that quintessential small town, All American experience.

There is a sentiment within the business community that perhaps its time to move on to something else. The Duck Races were created to fill the void left by the demise of  "Butterfield Stage Days" an event that celebrated Deming's wild west past. It ran out of steam and at the end was reduced to little more than a shabby parade through town. That's probably what the future holds in store for the Duck Races  Due to public sentiment my choice of "Hang 'em High Days" probably won't ever happen (in 1916, several of Pancho Villa's Columbus raiders were hung from the Court House park cottonwoods) 

Dirt City Chronicles is a music blog, so there has to be a music angle to all this... and there is. Granted the entertainment isn't on the same level as The Silver City Blues Festival and the one truly accomplished musician that lives in Deming (Bob Forbes aka RedEyeC) stays clear of the event. Although Bob and his old band Red Eye Country recorded "Duck Race Song" for the event in 1981. For the seventh year, Shattered Faith Entertainment is promoting the event, which is sponsored by PNM. I suspect that Shattered Faith has some connection to one of Deming's most prominent non-denominational storefront church. 

My suspicions are confirmed as Friday's entertainment kicks off with The New Life Youth Praise Team, who according to The Deming Headlight "play classic hard rock with spiritual lyrics. (that's a roundabout way of saying they're a Christian rock band, or is that not cool to say anymore?) also on the bill is Reality Lies, "they are a new hard rock band from Deming and are causing quite a stir, "you might remember Anthony the drummer from Rock, Paper, Scissors" again I quote the Deming Headlight. "causing quite a stir!" who the fuck is writing this stuff... Dirt City Chronicles?

I do remember Rock, Paper, Scissors and I also remember that their drummer couldn't keep a beat. Reality Lies?.....  because naming your band Reality Sucks would get you blackballed from Shattered Faith events.  Let me guess, they also play hard rock praise music?  Speaking of praise or blasphemy, God Damn! I miss the Barb Wire Dolls. "The Living Word Church will headline the evening with Christian music that will have the crowd on their feet and hands in the air" Seriously who is writing this stuff?... "put your hands in the air, wave them like you just don't care"

Muslims, Buddhists or anyone that prefers their music not be impregnated with religious dogma is shit out of luck.  That the Living Word Church is "headlining" doesn't surprise me. The pastor of that church (which holds services in a downtown building that once housed a Sprouse Reitz store) is Andres Silva, who also happens to be Deming's mayor. Silva is a slimy prick with reptilian features who cruises around town on a $30,000 Harley Davidson, wearing black leather (that makes him look like he's trolling for rough trade) He's in the preachin' business... and business is a boomin'

Saturday's lineup starts out with a bang and ends with a whimper. Dirty Rotten Kittens from El Paso kick things off.  With a name like that I would bet that they're a gob spitting old school riot grrrl punk rock band, but they're not. Of course they're not, this is after all a Shattered Faith promotion. Dirty Rotten Kittens refer to themselves as a wild west Texas rockabilly band that plays church festivals all around town during the summer. Their name comes from a chew toy preferred by their mascot, a miniature dachshund named Rudi. 

Saturday goes downhill from there, the day's only saving grace (from a musical point of view) is that throughout the day  Max Crook will entertain on the ragtime keyboard. Crook has rubbed shoulders with some of pop music's greats. He is best known for co-writing Del Shannon's monster hit "Runaway" However Max is also an electronic music innovator, who invented a monophonic synthesizer in 1959 that he called the Musitron. Wikipedia describes it as  "a clavioline enhanced with additional resistors, television tubes, and parts from household appliances, old amplifiers and reel-to-reel tape machines" 

If you're wondering what the musitron sounds like, just give "Runaway" a spin and when you get to the funky keyboard solo break.... that's Max Crook. He was a member of Del Shannon's band for several years before branching out as a solo artist and recording several overlooked instrumental tracks under the name of Maximilian. His best know single "The Snake" became a favorite of British mods in the early 1960s and was released in the UK as a single on London Records. Later in the 1960s he worked as an electronic duo with Scott Ludwig, billed as "The Sounds of Tomorrow" (just imagine Esquivel, minus the Latin flair) 

Max returned to the pop music charts in 1970 playing keyboards on Brian Hyland's hit "Gypsy Woman" A native of Michigan, Max attended UNM out of high school and after living in California for many years, returned to make his home in Deming. On Sunday the Duck Races wind down and so does the entertainment. Reality Lies returns for an encore performance, closing out not just the day's events but the entire festival.... lucky them. 

For an event partially  funded and promoted by local government agencies and utilities (PNM), the music program really carries some disturbing religious overtones. And what's with this sweetheart deal that Shattered Faith Entertainment seems to benefit from? It all reeks of favoritism. Attendance at a church affiliated with the non-denominational movement appears to be a  prerequisite to get on The Deming Duck Race music bill. These fair feathered friends have overstepped their bounds, this whole affair smells of duck shit!

Park Entertainment Schedule:
Friday, August 24th
4-5 pm New Life Youth Praise Team (Christian Rock and Roll)
5-6 pm Realities Lies (Hard Rock)
6-8 pm Living Word Church (Christian Music)

Saturday, August 25th
12N-1 pm Dirty Rotten Kittens (Classic Rock-El Paso)
1-2 pm Jessica Juarez (Tejano Country)
2-3 pm New Life Blues Breakers (Blues)
3-4 pm Rein Garcia (Acoustic Country/Pop Rock Las Cruces)
4-5 pm Mariachi Diamontes (Mariachi)
5-6 pm Mario (Classic Rock/Acoustic Guitar)
6-7 pm Mariachi Rosas (12-15 year old girls) (Mariachi)
7-8 pm Mariachi Corazon (Mariachi)
In between Bands- Max Crook (Ragtime Keyboard)

Sunday, August 26th
12N-1 pm Veronika Barnes (Accordion)
1-2 pm Ramblin Rose Line Dancers (Line Dancing)
2-3 pm Justin Reyes (Country Music)
3-4 pm Mariachi Corazon Del Desierto (Mariachi)
4-6 pm Realities Lies (Hard Rock)

On a side note, my favorite Great American Duck Race memory was in 2002 (the year it was dedicated to founder Harold Cousland) Duke Energy North American had signed on as the corporate sponsor. At the time Duke Energy was involved in building the power plant north of town (Deming Energy Facility) Just before the Duck Races took place, Duke Energy filed for bankruptcy protection and bailed on the project. 
As the corporate sponsor they were responsible for collecting and disposing of all the trash during the three day event. Nobody caught this glitch and that year the event was marred by overflowing trash cans and huge piles of garbage piled up around the park. I had never seen so many half gnawed turkey legs, corn cobs and buzzing flies in my life.