From Chevel Shepherd to local indie films, it was a big year


FARMINGTON — As 2018 draws to a close, there is little doubt that many of the more positive stories that emerged from San Juan County this year centered on the arts and entertainment industries.

Foremost among them was the emergence of 16-year-old Chevel Shepherd as a country music star. The Farmington High School junior was the winner of the 15th season of NBC-TV's "The Voice," earning a Universal Music Group recording contract and developing a national following in the process. Her three-month run on "The Voice" was capped by her crowning as the season winner on Dec. 18, and Shepherd was welcomed back to Farmington with a raucous rally at FHS on Dec. 22. Her future looks very bright, as she plans to begin work in January on her debut disc.

Elsewhere, there were several new developments in regard to local arts facilities. An $11.5 million expansion project at the Farmington Civic Center was completed in November. The work included a new east-side parking lot, improvements to the meeting rooms, new landscaping and pathways, and improved accessibility for people of all physical abilities.

Just a few blocks away, the Farmington Museum system opened a new satellite branch with the addition of the long-awaited Museum of Navajo Art and Culture in June at 301 W. Main St. The facility had been in the planning stages since 2013 and allows the museum system to showcase its extensive holdings of Navajo materials.

And 116 W. Main St., local art gallery owner Karen Ellsbury opened a much-needed new downtown outdoors performance and events space this summer with a pocket park located in the former parking lot of her Studio 116 gallery. The park, partly funded by a $3,500 grant from the Resilient Communities Fund of the state MainStreet program, includes a pergola, a lighted stage, a covered patio, planters and other amenities, and is available for parties and other private events.

The park helped launch the popular San Juan Jazz Society jam sessions in July. The music events, held every Wednesday evening, were organized by local jazz band leader Delbert Anderson and featured a rotating cast of local musicians, as well as free hot dogs and water. The first several weeks of the sessions were funded by a grant from the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation, and when the series moved indoors to the Civic Center this fall, local businesses continued to underwrite it.

Elsewhere on the local music scene, two local rock bands continued to make waves in 2018. The metal outfit Signal 99, signed to the indie label Dead Sea Records, performed twice in Mexico in addition to headlining a California festival before 20,000 fans. The group also is recording songs for its new disc and has a busy January planned, with shows in California, Las Vegas and Phoenix scheduled between Jan. 23 and Jan. 26. The group also performed in November with the New Zealand group Alien Weaponry and was filmed for a new music industry "mockumentary" film due for release in 2019 or 2020.

Another Farmington band, the instrumental trio Cinematica, continues to ride the success of its debut release "Ultraviolet Waterfall" in March. The band already has a return engagement booked in May at the famed Whisky a Go-Go in Hollywood as a co-headliner, in addition to other engagements in San Diego and Tempe, Arizona. Cinematica plans to be back in the studio in the summer or fall of 2019 to record its sophomore disc with an eye toward releasing it in 2020.

Meanwhile, the group will have some of its songs featured in the new independent film "Aurora's Law," which was shot in the Farmington area earlier this year and debuted the video for its single "Galaga" – which was directed by local independent filmmaker Brent Garcia – in October. Garcia's "Aurora's Law" features the acting talents of Steven Michael Quezada of "Breaking Bad" fame and Quinton Aaron, who starred in "The Blind Side."

Another independent film with a pronounced local flavor was released early in 2018. Farmington High School alums Mark Gould and Greg Tucker collaborated on "Gone Are the Days," a Western starring Lance Henriksen, Tom Berenger and Danny Trejo. Gould directed the production, while Tucker wrote the screenplay.

Finally, the Farmington Public Library mounted its most ambitious undertaking ever in March when it opened the traveling "Maurice Sendak: 50 Years, 50 Works, 50 Reasons" traveling art exhibition. The show celebrated the 50th anniversary of the publication of Sendak's classic children's tale "Where the Wild Things Are" and featured his original drawings and sculptures. The exhibition remained on display through April 22 and attracted thousands of visitors.


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