Vigilante Band part of 49ers tradition
Setting the tone for New Mexico Tech’s 49ers Celebration once again this year is the infamous Vigilante Band, a merry-making musical group set to perform three consecutive nights at the homecoming party headquarters, the Capitol Bar.
Originating in Socorro, the band traces its roots back nearly 35 years. Although the loose group of musicians are now scattered across several states, the Vigilante Band has staked a claim as the traditional house band at the “Cap” during the 49ers Celebration.
“It just sort of happened that way,” says Dave Thomas, one of the two band members — the other being Bill Giebitz — who still resides in Socorro. “When we first started playing here, we didn’t play the Capitol very often. Once we did start playing at the Capitol, 15 years ago or whatever, it did start to become tradition. We’ve become a part of the alumni process without really trying.”
The Vigilante Band performs at the Capitol on Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 22-24, beginning at 9 p.m.
The group is made up of nine band members — Denby Auble, Jeff Baseheart, Bradley Gale Billings, Giebitz, Barry Hembree, Bruce Mitchell, Borden Putnam, Thomas and an accordion player known simply as “the Booty King” — one sound guy, Shaun Wilson, and several adjunct and emeritus members.
Through what Thomas describes as a blur of memories and good times, he still recalls the birth of the band that manages to reunite for three gigs a year — the others at old haunts in Jemez Springs and Katy, Texas.
“It was the summer of ’76 or so,” Thomas says. “It was just some students playing music — country and bluegrass — to blow off steam and have a good time.”
The band made its first public performance at the “Ore House” in the basement of Driscoll Hall and frequently played at the old “Tin Can” on the Tech campus when the band was first finding its form. It eventually graduated to public places off campus, such as the Roadrunner Lounge and the Val Verde Hotel. The group delved into the Albuquerque and Santa Fe music scene and eventually gained enough notoriety to open shows for Leo Kottke and the Austin Lounge Lizards.
The group suffered a major setback when the driving force behind the band — banjo player Ed Brandt, who came up with the band’s name and coined its motto “Loose to the Last Minute” — died from congenital heart and lung defects.
For the others, their lives pulled them in other directions and the Vigilante Band more or less disbanded.
“In the ’80s, after everyone graduated, we took a few years off,” Thomas says. “After a while of not playing at all, we had a couple of reunions and that evolved into playing three gigs a year. It’s really a pretty nice deal; we have a lot of fun getting together to kick out some jams and we still have our careers and families.”
Thomas says the Vigilante Band still plays many of the same songs they did 30 years ago. Most of the material are covers of songs from back in the day, with a few originals mixed in.
The group tries to add a few new songs to their sets each year to keep things fresh, Thomas says, but there are a few songs popular with the 49ers crowd they are almost obligated to play each night. Among them are the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Fire on the Mountain,” Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya,” and the Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman.”
Thomas says the Vigilante Band is looking forward to its upcoming performances at the Capitol Bar during 49ers Celebration and playing its traditional role leading the collective merriment at Tech’s alumni celebration.
“It’s an opportunity for not just the band, but the whole extended family, to get together, reconnect and catch up on what’s happening, celebrate old times and make new times,” Thomas says.