Muttonman honored at Gallup fundraiser

(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Performer Paul Ortega sings a song in Apache during a tribute to the late Vincent Craig at the El Morro Theater in Gallup.


By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

GALLUP, Aug. 20, 2010

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

TOP PHOTO: Shiloh V. Craig from Whiteriver, Ariz., holds up a T-shirt at a fundraiser and tribute to his late father, Vincent Craig, outside the El Morro Theater in Gallup.

LOWER PHOTO: Levi Platero from the band Levi and the Plateros from Tohajiilee, N.M., plays his guitar Aug. 14 at the El Morro Theater in Gallup during the tribute to the late Vincent Craig.




There's probably only one man who could bring the likes of the Mother Earth Blues Band, Bloodline, Levi and the Plateros, Drew Lacapa, Jay Begaye and the Apache Crown Dancers together for a concert.

Unfortunately, he wasn't there to see it.

A who's who of Navajo and Apache entertainers donated their talent to "A Tribute to Vincent Craig" Saturday at Gallup's El Morro Theater. The ticket price of $15 (all proceeds went to the Craig family) was a bargain, but only about 100 people showed up, possibly because the event competed with the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial going on at nearby Red Rock State Park.

Craig, a beloved singer-songwriter and the creator of comic strip hero "Muttonman," died of cancer May 14 at the age of 59.

"Man, I think this is what Vincent would have wanted," said master of ceremonies Roger Willie of "Windtalkers" fame. "Enjoying the songs, laughing, having a good time."

You might say Apache comedian Lacapa had the audience in stitches, somehow making his recent open heart surgery funny, but Craig's friend, Apache singer-songwriter Paul Ortega, probably had the most humorous Craig story.

According to Ortega, Craig once told him he was called upon to do a rain dance while serving in Operation Desert Storm.

"It had been real dry and everyone was starting to get worried," Ortega said. "One day the colonel ordered Vincent to come and see him.

"He said, 'You're an Indian, aren't you?'

"Vincent says, 'Yes, I am.'

"The colonel says, 'Indians do rain dances, don't they?'"

Before Craig could explain that Navajos don't really do rain dances, the colonel had ordered him to perform one.

The colonel assembled the men, and Craig found himself in front of a microphone with a tiny, rubber-topped drum he had brought to accompany himself when singing.

"Of course, Vincent didn't know any rain dance songs," Ortega said. "So he started singing, 'Yah-nah, hey-yah, H2O-ooo-aaah-oooh ..."

Needless to say, the makeshift rain dance didn't work.

Even Pat Neff, a bilagáana who teaches music at Fort Wingate High School and is a fixture on the local music scene, turned out to eulogize Craig and dedicate a song to him.

"You meet him and you feel like you have a friend forever," Neff said of Craig.

Navajo traditional singer Jay Begaye said he hoped his songs not only honored Craig but helped those who are grieving for him - including Begaye, who was related to Craig by clan.

"Traditionally, we sang songs to lift ourselves up," he said between acts at the concert. "When you're singing, you can't help but be lifted up."




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