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Positive developments mark county's entertainment scene in 2018

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

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Chevel Shepherd reacts to seeing a friendly face during a welcome home rally for "The Voice" winner on Dec. 22 at Farmington High School. The 16-year-old Shepherd became an overnight sensation with her winning performances on the NBC talent competition, earning a Universal Music Group recording contract and attracting a national following. She plans to begin working on her debut album in January with Kelly Clarkson, her coach on "The Voice."

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.

An expansion project continues May 30 at the Farmington Civic Center. Work was finished in November, and the building reopened for a number of events over the holiday season.

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.

Farmington Museum director Bart Wilsey leads a tour on May 17 at the Museum of Navajo Art and Culture in Farmington. The new satellite operation of the Farmington Museum system opened June 8 at 301 W. Main St. and is designed to honor the art and culture of the Navajo Nation.

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.

Studio 116 owner Karen Ellsbury stands under the pergola in the pocket park behind her art gallery in downtown Farmington on June 7. Ellsbury and her husband, photographer Patrick Hazen, built the park with a $3,500 grant from the Resilient Communities Fund from the state's Main Street program and their own money.

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.

Sheldon Pickering, left, Sallyanne Bachman and Delbert Anderson are featured during the Sept. 26 San Juan Jazz Society jam session at the Studio 116 pocket park in Farmington. The weekly jam sessions began in July, courtesy of a grant from the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation, and were so popular they have continued with sponsorship from various local businesses. Since October, they have taken place every Wednesday night at the Farmington Civic Center and continue to offer free hot dogs and water, in addition to the music.

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.

Signal 99 is pictured during its gig on July 15 at the famed Viper Room in Hollywood, where it opened for Dope. The local metal band has signed with the indie label Dead Sea Records and has scored several endorsement deals, in addition to headlining a music festival in California, where it performed in front of 20,000 fans.

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.

The Farmington instrumental rock trio Cinematica is featured on location at the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness during the filming of its "Galaga" music video. The band released its debut disc "Ultraviolet Waterfall" in March and was featured in several high-profile gigs across the latter half of 2018. Cinematica will head back to the studio in 2019 to record a new disc, "The Jaguar Priest."

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.

Director Brent Garcia frames a shot during filming of his independent film "Aurora's Law" on Jan. 11 at the San Juan Country Club in Farmington.

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."

Lance Henriksen stars in "Gone Are the Days," a 2018 indie Western film directed by Mark Gould and written by Greg Tucker, both Farmington High School graduates. The film also stars Tom Berenger and Danny Trejo, and was released in the spring.

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.

Library director Karen McPheeters looks over some of the work featured in an exhibition of drawings and sculpture by Maurice Sendak on March 7 at the Farmington Public Library. The nationally touring "Maurice Sendak: 50 Years, 50 Works, 50 Reasons" show was based on the artist's children's classic, "Where the Wild Things Are." The exhibition remained on display through April 22 and attracted ...

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.