Montezuma rocks!

A new documentary depicts the local music scene


Blake Miller and Jessi Reichert are among the musicians featured in the documentary “Montezuma Rocks,” about the local music scene. Photo by Sonja Horoshko

It takes more than just a few venues, some groovy bands and visions of rock ’n’ roll festivals to establish a music scene that transforms a community into a destination music location. Live performance is only one of many magnetic characteristics needed to ratchet up the reputation of individual bands to a collective energy that attracts audiences and other musicians seeking a nest from which they can work, develop and launch their dreams of success.

Montezuma County is developing the musicians, the venues, the energy and the audience. What has been missing until now is the record of its existence – the proof, the marketing tool, the archival video documentary of today’s explosion in local talent.

When R. D. Katz returned to Cortez from a seven-year hiatus in Arizona, he brought his video equipment, writing, editing and production skills, thinking he would write a screenplay from the 800-page book he had just finished and then produce a movie. Instead, almost by coincidence, he walked right into a documentary filmmaker’s dream.

“Montezuma Rocks” was an understatement, in his opinion. It called out to be a documentary subject in film, available for a wider audience and perhaps a tool for transformation for the young musicians. Montezuma County’s live-music scene was rocking with venues, musicians, bands and audiences.

Katz clicked the “record” button at every performance on every stage for 12 months and within a year he premiered the resulting documentary, “Montezuma Rocks,” to the community of musicians he featured in the film.

He captured the moment – seized the day.

“In the beginning, I was just thinking it would be reference material,” said Pat Downey, a singer / songwriter featured in the film who has been playing the local scene for more than 30 years. “But then it just snowballed. Next thing you know, everybody was in it.”

Katz made his way to every performance, meeting music activists such as Moe Coole, a musician and music promoter, and P.A Jackson, a local hip-hop artist. Both are popular local disc jockeys. They expanded Katz’s purview, inviting him to talk about the project on KJSD Dryland Community Radio and the Dolores station, KKDC.

Local venues, too, supported the film, inviting Katz to record at all events and gigs. Blondie’s Trophy Room, White Cup Coffeehouse and Mr. Happy’s, whose owner, Dave Chisholm, had installed a top-of-the-line sound system, were booking and promoting live music every week and the audience was growing, moving from place to place on weekend nights.

Although it is good for business to offer live music, most venue owners do it because they love music. A common ground for musicians and venues was developing and it was aiding the filmmaker’s project.

On the drawing board this past year was the first all-day, all-local rock ’n’ roll fest at the Dolores Riverfest, organized and presented by Cool and his band, The Moetones, and staged at the Dolores River Brew Pub. Katz was there.

During the year of filming, Wayne and Elizabeth Reichert moved back to Cortez from Florida, bringing with them their successful East Coast rock ’n’ roll expertise. They opened White Cup Coffee on Main Street in Cortez, where they invite musicians to perform and offer them advice and guidance. It was an instant draw for the youth musicians.

The bands were doing their thing and Katz recorded it before and after the shows, behind the scenes, the tedious but necessary work of being a musician.

The talent of original singer/songwriters was everywhere in Montezuma County, and so was Katz.

During Katz’s seven-year self-education in film production, he learned animation, audio editing, sound production and interview techniques. All of these are used in the production of “Montezuma Rocks.” Along the way he had developed close friendships and the trust of three musicians who were consistently there to help him. He delegated some of the duties to Blake Miller, Coole and Downey, asking them to become executive producers and for the documentary.

He accepted the help of camera technicians Rhed and John Leonard, the visual effects of Ghost-Render Productions and original music from Little Brother, The Moetones and Arsenic Kitchen.

Katz is a perfectionist. He was willing to do his first documentary without compensation. Downey describes the budget for the Montezuma Rocks as non-existent, but Katz puts the level of funding at about $80 for the year it took to produce the film.

However, many bands and individual members contributed money and help whenever they could.

The young musicians now have an opportunity to view who they were and how they have changed during the length of the film production.

Katz notices the changes from the very first gig. “I see so much in the musicians while I work on the technical production side of the work we are doing.

“Time passes in a documentary. I see Blake’s hair growth.” In the beginning Blake’s hair and his style was less expressive, but at the end of the film his hair is longer, his stage performance style more polished.

“I look at the videos from the first part of the year when we were filming,” Blake said, “and for myself I see too much moving around. So much that I couldn’t play because of that.” The self-criticism has improved his performances now, and his style, he said. The musicians’ comfort with the interview process increased as the filming continue.

“The interviews got better and better as we moved along through the process and the months of filming, and we are learning from how we interview as well,” said Downey “After I watched it, all I wanted to do was practice. At 45 years old, it is a real honor to be in that film with them.”

Jessi Reichert, vocalist for Arsenic Kitchen, and Katz went to school together in Cortez for 13 years. ”We also went through a natural disaster together when a tornado ripped through the playground,” she said.

They knew each other well then, but by the time Katz was filming Reichert had developed the discipline that was necessary to become a hard-working singer/songwriter able to work in multiple bands and under the stress of a performance schedule.

“I started playing guitar when I was 10,” she said. “I got my first acoustic from a distant relative as a birthday present. I’ve never taken a guitar lesson in my life, and taught myself all I know. I’ve been singing since I can remember. I learned from my dad, who was in a church choir. He taught me how to match pitch, and how to harmonize. Other than that, I’ve taught myself everything as well.”

Band members in Arsenic Kitchen also include Miller, and Cameron Coleman.

Miller wanted to be a musician, he said, since he was 6 when he watched Styx and REO Speedwagon in concert with his mother. “But I didn’t get really serious till I was about 15, when my dad bought me my first electric guitar at a yard sale. I’ve been playing guitar, my main instrument, ever since. I’m self-taught.”

The group features in Montezuma Rocks, along with The Moetones musicians Coole, Tomoe Gozen and Peter Ortego.

“Moe and the Moetones bring the crowd,” Katz said. “People follow them in and they always come to our gigs if possible. He has been so helpful for us all, and generous with his time and knowledge.”

Coole said the youth in Montezuma County are benefiting by this intense project. “I love the kids. They are awesome and they’re doing the right thing. I will help them however I can.”

Little Brother band members Kevin Frazier and Isaac James Kimbro are caught in live performance, too, and the band members of Not Quite Dry, Pat Downey, Dewarren Marshall, James Campuzano. Psyality, a band that has been around for more than 10 years, shows popular local musicians Damon Burris, Benjamin Burris, Tom Burris, Colby Gray, Justin and Jarrett Whitmer recording in performances throughout the country’s venues.

Some of the songs played in the video are cover songs. That represents a legal issue for the film’s public release. To use those tunes in production and performance requires written permission of the copyright entities. Reichert is helping the production team overcome that last hurdle. When it is done, “Montezuma Rocks” will be for sale to the public. Katz expects it will be finished by March 2014.

Meanwhile, Katz held a preliminary screening for the musicians and their families at Mr. Happy’s last November.

Everyone on the youthful production team agreed it was thrilling and a little poignant. “It was quiet, actually, as the audience of band members and production workers absorbed the reality of their friends and fellow musicians in the film,” Katz recalled. “They were all listening for their songs, watching their own performances and looking for people they have played with this past year. At the end, people exploded into applause. It felt strong and we all felt good. It felt like we had all accomplished something historic.”

But watching the film can be bittersweet, he said.

“Some of the people in the film have died since the original filming began. Some of the bands are no longer in existence as they appeared in the film. Band members have changed groups. Venues have changed ownership. Life is present in the documentary. It’s recorded, so there it is and it’s how we were for the whole year. It definitely rocks.”

A second screening of “Montezuma Rocks” is being planned to take place at Songbird Studio in Cortez in January. Check out Montezuma Rocks on Facebook for more information.

From January 2014.