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Veteran Farmington comic expanding his production portfolio with Native music showcase


James Junes hopes to provide greater exposure, opportunities for artists

FARMINGTON — James Junes has made his living for the last 30 years as a comic and public speaker. But he'll be wearing a different hat this weekend when he promotes a Native music showcase at the Farmington Civic Center that features four Navajo performers at different stages of their careers.

"I wanted to put this together to help out musicians because the whole COVID thing is crazy, and I wanted to help them get back on their feet," Junes said of the concert, which takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. in Farmington.

Describing the show as an "artist helping artists" situation, the Farmington resident will serve as the emcee for the event. The lineup for the concert features Jalen Junes, Sage Bond, Billy Crawley and Levi Platero. The four musicians will perform acoustic sets that mix original material with cover tunes.

Junes hopes the event provides the four artists with exposure to a new audience and sparks some additional opportunities for them. He said it's unfortunate that so many casinos across the country, aside from those in the Southwest, still haven't caught on to the amount of musical talent that exists among indigenous performers and offered them opportunities to play.

"I feel like we have this doubt that stretches to casinos all across the U.S.," Junes said. "Once you get outside of this region, no, they won't even consider you."

Junes understands the struggles of Native artists better than most. While he's been able to make a living for three decades in comedy, he said he hasn't been able to take that leap to bigger venues that would mean significantly higher exposure and guarantees.

He doesn't want to see his fellow Native artists on the music side bound by the same limitations he has faced, so promoting concerts with his wife Rose is his way of addressing that situation. He said this could be the first of a regular series of concerts he promotes in the region showcasing Native performers.

"We thought, 'How can we start breaking our own artists?'" he said. "So Rose and I have taken on the production side of it."

Junes already has experience promoting comedy shows, having brought the Native improv comedy troupe 49 Laughs to the Civic Center in 2019. He is in the process of scheduling another comedy show in Farmington in May.

His first foray into music promotion in Farmington will feature a mix of well-established performers and those still looking to gain a foothold in the business. Platero and Crawley already are relatively well known to music fans across the region through their longtime work with their bands, while Bond and Jalen Junes — the son of James and Rose Junes — are younger artists who are still making their presence felt.

Junes said he has known Platero — who fronts the Levi Platero Band, a rocking blues outfit in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Los Lonely Boys — since the latter was a child. Junes acknowledged that not many Native musicians work in the blues genre, but he said Platero, who lives in To'Hajiilee, has carved out a niche for himself.

"He's kind of our Jimi Hendrix," Junes said. "He's the only one who can make a guitar cry."

Crawley is a veteran player himself, having spent the past several years fronting the metal band Ethnic de Generation. The Kayenta, Arizona, resident also performs frequent solo shows, and Junes said he appreciates his music so much, he even booked Crawley to perform at his son's graduation celebration.

"He's become a good friend — not just a good friend, but a brother," Junes said.

Junes said Bond may not be as well known in the region as Platero or Crawley, but he said that won't be the case for long. He said she has a phenomenal voice, and her music is steeped in the sensibilities of the 1980s rock 'n' roll upon which she was raised, along with metal and R&B.

Jalen Junes, a recent graduate of Piedra Vista High School, also favors the metal genre and is planning on performing a version of the iconic Metallica tune "Enter Sandman" this weekend. His father said the younger Junes is still finding his voice as an artist, and the concert will provide a chance for him to step out of his day-job role as a staff member at the Civic Center and move into the spotlight on stage.

James Junes will introduce each of the four artists this weekend as he continues his transition from full-time performer to impresario.

"I feel like I'm stepping into the role where I'm the old, wise person now," he said.

In that capacity, he feels compelled to warn anyone who chooses to pursue a show business career to have a realistic perspective on what awaits them.

"I always say, 'If you're going to follow your dream, be prepared for the nightmare that's going to come,'" he said.

That doesn't mean he's trying to discourage anyone from following in his footsteps. In fact, he seems committed to doing everything he can to make things easier for his fellow Native performers.

"I don't want to stop my hustle," he said. "My attitude is, 'Let's turn the page. Let's see what else we can do now.'"

Tickets for the concert are $18 and can be purchased by phone at 505-599-1148 or online at fmtn.org/shows.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.