Farmington musician performs weekly concert series from front porch of his home
Jose Villarreal finds way to continue playing despite shutdown
FARMINGTON — Having taken up the guitar at age 9 and performed his first paying gig at age 12, there isn't much veteran Farmington musician Jose Villarreal hasn't seen when it comes to show business.
So, even though he's a full-time performer on the Farmington-Durango, Colorado, circuit, performing several times a week at clubs in and between those two cities, he has chosen to take a decidedly calm approach to the COVID-19-related shutdown that has prevented him from earning a living for the past month.
"It has hit me, but I've made provisions for that," said Villarreal, a husband and father of three sons. "You learn to live on less than you make. I'm a survivor."
Villarreal may not have had the opportunity to go out and play paying gigs since nonessential businesses were ordered to close in March to help prevent the spread of the virus, but that doesn't mean he isn't still doing what comes naturally to him. Villarreal began performing a weekly series of free concerts from the front porch of his Farmington home east of Butler Avenue and Mojave Street on April 4, with the next installment taking place at 5 p.m. April 18.
"Everybody comes out," Villarreal said, smiling at how the weekly shows quickly have found an audience of people starved for live entertainment. "They come from everywhere. They stay in their yards or they dance in the street."
Villarreal performs for two or two and a half hours and said he plans to continue the weekly performances — which he jokingly has dubbed the Going Hard in the Yard sessions — for the duration of the shutdown. He began performing the shows at the suggestion of his wife, Marquita, and said the reception he has gotten has been very positive.
"I was surprised by the response, especially for the second (show)," he said. "(The audience members) keep getting closer now. They dance on the street corners and some of them are singing along. Some people are coming from two or three streets over. It's catching on."
Villarreal performs for free, declining to even pass around a tip jar. He said the concerts are a low-pressure way for him to remain sharp during the shutdown, and he explained that he spends a good portion of most days rehearsing anyway.
He simply asks that those who come out for one of the shows maintain appropriate social-distancing restrictions to keep everyone safe.
"Just keep your distance," he said. "You can sit along the fence or even inside the yard a little bit or stay in your car."
Beyond that, he said, there are no rules. Villarreal, an Antonito, Colorado, native, plays a mix of rock 'n' roll, country, blues and easy listening, in addition to a handful of his own songs, and he said he's perfectly willing to take requests. He said the concerts have allowed him to build a better relationship with many of his neighbors, some of whom had never seen him play before, despite the fact that he has lived in his current home for a dozen years.
He said many of the people who have shown up for the concerts are grateful to have live entertainment again after several weeks without it, and he gets the impression that even people who normally don't go out to see live music have been attracted to the series. Villarreal recognizes that his shows have helped some people battle the social isolation they have been feeling during the lockdown.
"Music is definitely a huge therapy for that," he said.
The weekly concerts may not be financially rewarding for Villarreal, but they carry a sizable emotional payoff. He said a lot of listeners have expressed their gratitude to him, and he said the series allows him to get back — on a limited basis — to the kind of life he has known since becoming a full-time musician 12 years ago.
"To me, the most comfortable place in the world is behind a microphone, holding a guitar and entertaining people," he said.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.