It’s late in the afternoon on a weekend in Patagonia, and the party is about to start at the Patagonia Lumber Company (PLC) cafe/bar.
A number of people are here early for the live music that usually runs from 5-8pm, sitting at picnic tables, some near the outdoor stage and dance floor. As the sound equipment is set up, some folks get something to eat from the food vendors nearby, while others head into the PLC’s small building to choose from a wide selection of beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages. Soon the music will start—duos, bands, solo performers, and whoever signs up for the occasional open mic—and the picnic tables will be filled.
For local musicians and music lovers, and others looking for a friendly place to casually socialize with neighbors and tourists, the PLC has become the place to be on weekend evenings.
“Good music is at the heart of all great communities,” said Carrie Whitehill. “The PLC provides a much needed outdoor venue for live music, neighborhood cheer, and shared fun and dancing for all ages. Locals and visitors mingle and share stories and tales of
“I see people that I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Jon Larsen. “Some small children play or dance with their parents. Everyone seems to have a good time.”
“It’s wonderful to have a place where the community can gather and listen to live music,” said Mark Berg. “I’ve even been invited to sing with a band for the first time in my life, and I’m 71 years old!”
The success of free live music performances at the Lumber Company has been a pleasant surprise for PLC co-owner Zander Ault.
“Live music at the PLC was something we wanted to achieve, but we had no idea how it would impact our community or the business,” he said. “Turns out offering live music on the borderlands is something our rural communities had missed having access to for years. We’re honored to welcome such talented artists from near and far to play at the PLC for everyone to enjoy.”
Here’s a look at some of the local musicians who have been gracing the PLC stage regularly in recent months.
Melanie Morrison, lead singer of The Tanagers, always wanted to play the guitar. But she first played the trombone in a marching band in high school and received a scholarship to attend the University of Arizona, where she continued in the marching band to keep the scholarship.
Though she did not study music in college, or have formal training for the guitar, Morrison began playing and singing in coffeehouses in Phoenix as a duo with Rochelle Raya, who sings and plays the harmonica. Morrison let go of her fears and enjoyed it. Then at age 50, she went on a Grand Canyon rapids rafting trip. Playing music and interacting with other people on this adventure “got my energy going” she said.
When she moved to Patagonia in 2020, Melanie met drummer Cindy Mohr, who, she said, “constantly encouraged me to play together and form a band.” Morrison feels very comfortable at the PLC. “Playing here in Patagonia is the most supportive place,” she said. “I can be expressive and not feel intimidated. I am grateful and happy to be playing and singing. I enjoy playing and will do it as long as I can.”
Morrison has made two CDs. Some songs are blues songs, and some are originals. She also enjoys hosting special open mic nights at the PLC. The next one will be on Dec. 3, when Morrison and guests will perform hits from the ’80s. “Everyone’s invited to come and sing,” she said. “There was a good turnout on Joni Mitchell Night and ’70s Music Night when many people came to the microphone and sang.”
When she was eight years old, Cindy Mohr played a snare drum in a junior drum corps. What helped her most in learning to be a drummer was taking private lessons. She also took piano and cello lessons and played in the school orchestra. While earning a master’s degree in art about 30 years ago, she purchased a drum kit she had been yearning for and discovered that jamming freestyle with musicians and art students thrilled her. She also played guitar, piano and electric violin, and vocals.
About seven years ago she formed the Gratitude Drum Circle in Patagonia with her friend, Lori Carol. Mohr realized she needed to find some musicians to jam with.
“I never had the intention of performing with a band, but that was a natural progression,” she said. “I first played with Jacques Taylor here in Patagonia, and various musicians who joined us. Afterwards I met Melanie Morrison, and invited guitarist Jeff Latham to join us to become The Sashas.”
Mohr was then recruited for a local band, The Sunday Drivers. In between, she formed a band named Lue Buck and Cindy Rock and Roll Trio. With piano man Scott Ramsey they are the local band, Full Tilt.
Keith Spooner began singing with her twin sister, Karen, when very young. Her parents listened to all the popular songs with them.
“We learned songs from the ’70s and ’80s,” she said. “Karen and I were always singing together. Each of us heard different parts of a song.”
But Spooner did not sing for a large group until Morrison invited her to sing to an audience at the Lumber Company.
Spooner has been a sculptor since 2004, later adding welding and design with metal. She is a three dimensional environmental graphic designer.
Singing keeps her centered, she said. “Music makes me feel myself, complete and whole, and connected to the universe. I need to sing every few days or I don’t feel whole. It makes me happier. The words are important. I have no interest in words that I don’t relate to.”
Jeff Latham grew up in a musical household. His mother played the piano and his father played the clarinet. They listened to recorded and live music, especially jazz and folk musicians. “I picked up the guitar and never put it down,” Latham said. He attended the Chicago School of Music where he played both jazz and classical guitar, before moving to Santa Cruz County in 1972. Latham played the guitar and sang in the Hog Canyon Band, performing in Patagonia and Sonoita for many years. He hosts a music program on KPUP every Thursday from 7-10pm, and is now playing with The Tanagers and The Sunday Drivers.
Latham says that real music happens when two or more people gather to play. Then magic can happen, as the group harmonizes.
“When we know the tunes, play them over and over, we can move into an aspect of magic,” he said. “We can be playing along and find ourselves stepping aside. Something is playing through you—and better than you personally play! It is always possible that this magical moment can happen.”