Friday, May 04, 2012

R.I.P. David Lescht

Terrible news.

David Lescht, the man who for years headed an organization that brought untold hours of free music -- local and national -- to the Plaza each summer in the popular Santa Fe Bandstand program, died early this morning. He was 64.

A mutual friend told me that it was a massive heart attack that killed David. I haven't officially confirmed that yet. David had just appeared on KBAC radio yesterday to talk about the 2012 Bandstand schedule. (Joe "King" Carrasco is the first headliner in July! Damn, David, you're going to miss it!)

David also was the founder and head honcho of the Outside In program, which brought music to jails, hospitals, rest homes and other institutions.

He also was a KUNM DJ. The man just loved music and loved bringing it to people.

The first time I interviewed David was in 1995 when he was doing one of the first Outside In shows at St. Elizabeth homeless shelter. This was years before the Bandstand program.

xxxx

UPDATE 10:30 am. Friends of Lescht are planning to get together at 5:30 pm at the Cowgirl to toast his legacy.

xxxxx

As you'll see in the story below, David had big plans since day one. I'll admit I was skeptical at first, but David worked like a maniac to make this program a reality.


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
November 12, 1995


It was an outdoor gig on a cold night. A guitar string had broken in the middle of a song. The cops came and unceremoniously brought the show to a halt after a neighbor complained.

But to Nathan Moore and other members of ThaMuseMeant, a local acoustic band that performs mostly original tunes, the St. Elizabeth's homeless shelter show was successful beyond expectation.

The show was part of a program -- organized by music promoter David Lescht and called Outside In -- which brings quality music to the homeless, sick and incarcerated.

At St. Elizabeth's, people clapped, smiled and then grumbled when the officers apologized for having to shut the performance down.

``She sings just like Buffy St. Marie, '' a woman said when bassist Aimee Curl took a turn at the mike. ``I saw Buffy at Carnegie Hall back in the '60s.''

After the band had broken down all its equipment and shelter staff and residents had taken in the folding chairs, Moore was in a pensive mood.

``As we were playing for the homeless people, lyrics in some of our songs started taking on new meaning for me, '' Moore said. ``Our band -- myself, Dave (Tiller) and Aimee -- we started out in Virginia and went to Austin and now Santa Fe. We all spent a lot of time in which we were homeless. But because we had our music, we never felt like we were homeless.''

The song lyrics that most jumped out at Moore:

You won't find me beggin'/Straight up on the street/I've got nowhere to go/But I've got dancin' feet.

Such introspection after a concert is not uncommon, according to the bushy-bearded, 47-year-old Lescht. While he has no illusions that bringing music into an institution is going to solve the problems of audience members, he says it can be enriching -- can increase the chance for ``dancin' feet.''

Of course, ``dancin' feet'' is more of a state of mind than physical reality. On a recent Tuesday at La Residencia nursing home, many of cowboy singer Sid Hausman's audience sat in wheelchairs.

But the spirit was in the air.

La Residencia folks tapped their fingers and sang along as Hausman -- in his bright red shirt and tall cowboy hat -- sang and played banjo, ukelele and 12-string guitar. When he tried to leave, the crowd called him back for two encores.

Music can help people deal with boredom, isolation and despair, Lescht said.

``I just try to bring a little light from the outside into dark places, '' he said.

But the audiences are not the only beneficiaries.

``Musicians tell me this is therapy for themselves, '' Lescht said. ``The effect on the artist is amazing.''

ThaMuseMeant's Moore agreed. ``It really was a special feeling, '' he said a few days after the gig.

Hausman said he favors nursing home audiences to rowdy bar crowds.

``If you play music, you play for people, and if you can reach people, you've done your job, '' Hausman said. ``Unlike playing the bars, I can tell the people here were really listening.''

The concert by ThaMuseMeant was not the first time the St. Elizabeth's shelter had seen a show produced by Lescht. In late July, local bluesman Jono Manson and The Mighty Revelators played there.

Outside In also has performed at a local youth shelter. In June, Virginia singer/songwriter Vicki Pratt Keating entertained there. Although most teens are more into rap and hard rock than folk, Keating related well to her audience, Lescht said.

``She spent some time in a shelter for runaways herself when she was a kid, '' he said.

Later in June, Lescht organized a show by Cajun Connections, a band from Los Alamos, at a dance for developmentally disabled people at New Vistas in Santa Fe. The next month, Outside In brought a bluegrass band, Ain't Misbehavin, ' to Horizon nursing home, and Carlos Lomas and his flamenco troupe to La Residencia nursing home.

In August, Lescht brought a local rock group, The Withdrawals, to inmates at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas. And Jono Manson and his band performed at the women's prison in Grants in October, Lescht said.

So far, Lescht is paying musicians out of his own pocket.

``It's not a bad paying gig, '' Moore said. ``I've made more at parties, but I've made less at bars.''

But Lescht hopes to stop bankrolling the venture.

``I'm doing it myself now to get the ball rolling, but I'm actively seeking contributors, '' he said.

Outside In is affiliated with the Santa Fe Council for the Arts, so donations made through the SFCA are tax deductible, Lescht said. His first year projected budget is slightly more than $55,000.

Lescht said he was inspired by a similar program in California called ``Bread and Roses.'' Created by Mimi Farina, a folk singer who is a sister of famous folkie Joan Baez. Bread and Roses -- which organizes 30 events a month -- has been around for 20 years, Lescht said.

But long before he became acquainted with Bread and Roses, Lescht was experimenting with ways to mix music and social consciousness. He moved to Santa Fe in 1974 and lived in a commune, working at a now-defunct hostel on Manhattan Street.

Out of the commune, grew a rock group called The Brotherhood Band, which Lescht said contained elements of gospel music, The Grateful Dead and preachy ``peace and love'' sloganeering. He was the group's manager.

The band focused on playing in prisons, hospitals, youth shelters and other institutional settings in the West. The band did a tour of virtually all the prisons in Spain.

In 1984, The Brotherhood Band played a Bread and Roses gig in California, where Lescht met Mimi Farina. At the time, the band was suffering from the usual type of personality and ego problems that doom some of the best groups. The Brotherhood Band sputtered to an end about 1988.

Lescht then moved to England, where he met his wife Sarah. He kept his hand in the music business by managing a rehearsal space for musicians.

One of his friends from The Brotherhood Band era who was living in Massachusetts sent him a copy of Farina's Bread and Roses Handbook . The two talked about, and eventually planned, moving to Santa Fe to start such a program here.

However, soon after the Leschts arrived here, his friend died in Massachusetts at age 49.

``That kind of gave me an extra push to go ahead and do this, '' he said.

Lescht worked for awhile at Seeds of Change, but quit earlier this year to pursue Outside In fulltime.

Whether he can get the financial backing to make it work remains a question. But one thing is for certain: He will always have audiences whose days could be made a little brighter by some music. And there undoubtedly are enough musicians around to do the shows.

``I'm not really sure who it means more for -- the performers or the audience, '' Moore of ThaMuseMeant said.

UPDATE: 11:08 am Earlier versions of this post said Lescht died "last night." I'm now being told it was early this morning. The text has been corrected. (Also cleaned up a little gibberish in the first paragraph.)

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