Profiles published by date: Playa Mazatlan proudly presents Lance Vient and the fine family affiar; Retrato de un artista, Antonio López Saenz; Ken Woods – still playing around; It’s more than stilettos and a crown; Lori Davidson; Rafael Rodriquez; Conductor Gordon Campbell;  Claudia Lavista; Mike Veselik;  Anne Murphy; David Robb; Delfos; Lucila Santiago


Playa Mazatlan proudly presents Lance Vient and the fine family affair

By Sheila Madsen (August 2014)

In 1953 American adventurer and contractor, Ulysses Solomon George, built a family-style hotel miles north of the popular Olas Altas strip. Everyone thought he was nuts. Except John Wayne, Rock Hudson and a bunch of other celebrities who flocked to the Playa Mazatlan Beach Hotel in 1955 for hunting, fishing, swimming, sun bathing, whale watching and various other sports. The friendly Mazatlecos who had never seen Americans before, welcomed the California visitors with open arms. And vice versa!


Ulysses’s son, Robert Vient, carried on with the management of Playa, as did his son, Donn Vient. Today, Donn’s son, Lance Vient, is operations manager of the hotel which turns 60 years old next year. This mom and pop hotel, as Lance prefers to call it, is now the third largest hotel in Mazatlan. Four generations have wrapped their arms around guests, employees, and the mission statement: “we want you to feel better here than you do at home.”

Lance left a lucrative position as corporate director of sales for the University of Phoenix to return to his hometown and family business. He was used to working independently in Phoenix and now, well he’s surrounded by family and lots of opinions. As a husband and father of three he embraces family life, but it’s been an adjustment incorporating the family members into a business career. “I’ve only being doing this job for four years and my father has 40 years of experience, he sees things I don’t see yet. I have a lot to learn from him. My 92 year-old grandmother, Bernetta Vient, has a point of view, as do my aunts and uncles and other family friends. I am not without input. Sometimes I feel I have all the responsibility and none of the power to make changes! Yet changes are made and we are exceeding our goals of being the number one family hotel in Mazatlan.”

If you want to know the real Lance Vient, that’s easy – just read TripAdvisor. He responds to each and every posting. He does not delegate that task, it’s not scripted, there are no templates for answers. He cares about your complaints (there are hardly any) and he passionate about correcting any mistakes the hotel has made. That’s the way this blue-eyed, energetic manager starts his day – at the computer, scanning posts and responding. That’s the reason 85% of his business is repeat business. People freely write “we’ve been customers for 51 years (insert, 20, 15, 5 years) and we’ve already booked for next year. Please thank (insert employee names) and we can’t wait to come home again.” Too good to be true? Nope, this is the real deal. This is what makes Playa Mazatlan a mum and pop hotel. “We are not into real estate, we are not selling timeshares, we need full occupancy, this is our legacy” says Lance.

Playa Mazatlan by the numbers

  • 1955 – Lance Vient’s great grandfather, Ulysses Solomon George, adored Mazatlan – the wildlife, the beautiful Mexican women, the Sinaloa cuisine and decided to build a hotel; it opened with 80 rooms in 1955
  • 2010 – Lance Vient assumes position of operations manager
  • 2014 – third largest hotel in Mazatlan
  • #1 family hotel in Mazatlan
  • 405 rooms
  • 437 employees
  • 85% repeat business (the night pie slices this way: 12,000 hotel nights, 20,000 condo nights )
  • Playa Mazatlan has it’s own: carpentry shop, butcher shop, bakery, seven pools, 600 foot zip line, rock climbing wall, a temazcal (sweat lodge), 11 food and beverage areas, fitness centre, a spa, and The Venado Showroom

Rewind. Lance begins his day by dropping his daughters off at school, then has breakfast with his grandmother and then he hits the office computer. After that, he walks through the hotel, around the grounds, talking (and listening) to guests and employees. He loves to point out the time span in the architecture – flat concrete roof, to clay tiles, to the more ornate wrought iron balconies. Playa Mazatlan represents the construction changes from 1953 to 2014. On the way to The Venado Showroom he shows me the different tiles embedded in the stairs. It’s another family tradition; whenever a bathroom is renovated some of the tiles are saved and inserted into the next new construction. It’s a way of preserving past styles. Nothing says the past and present better than The Venado Showroom. It was his dad’s idea to have the changing balcony-scapes and Lance updated this charming room with state-of-the art staging, lighting and sound system. It’s the perfect example of how this family continues to honour the past with an eye for the future.

When you are twenty-year old bilingual man with dual citizenship there’s more on your mind than hanging around the family hotel. Lance set his sights for Arizona and followed his dream to become a cop. He was close to completing all the necessary requirements when an incident occurred that changed his career path. He went to university majoring in business with a minor in marketing. Day jobs included being an office clerk at Mail Boxes Etc. in a dreary Phoenix strip mall. In his down time he created ornate tattoo designs. Lance is rather famous for his tattoo designs – he himself has never been inked. (His latest artwork project is much larger than a tattoo pattern; take a look inside the Kids Club at Playa, all the murals are hand painted by Lance.) At thirty with a wife and three children, Lance knew it was time to return to the family business – because he always felt that’s where he really belonged.

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At four-years old Lance would twirl in his father’s leather swivel chair, hands laced behind his head, proclaiming “some day this will be my office.” Lance’s ten year-old daughter is doing much the same thing, but being a girl (and girls can do anything) she’s got bigger ideas. She’s not after an office, she’s eyeing the whole property and already making improvements. What a relief! Playa Mazatlan will continue to be a fine family affair.

(Playa Mazatlan hosts “really big shows” for its guests and for the public  – from fiesta galas to the new Mazatlan Comedy Club to the popular Brenster & Carrum Country Concert Series. For all events please click here and scroll down.)

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Antonio López Saenz was born in Mazatlan in 1936. He is perhaps Sinaloa’s most famous living artist and sculptor. He graciously agreed to an interview with the host of Artists Studios, Cecilia Sánchez Duarte. Of course this is not the first time Maestro has been interviewed, but it is the first time he’s allowed his originals to be reproduced digitally, or via giclee printing. All under the watchful marketing eye of his nephew, Victor Manuel López de la Paz. The artist spoke to Cecilia about his early life (he left Mazatlan for Mexico City when he was 15) and the great masters who influenced him. He also gives advice to all young artists: travel, be open, surround yourself with culture, and keep on being inspired. Antonio López Saenz still paints every single day. The conversation between Antonio and Cecilia is so warm, intimate and animated that to distill a section of it into English would be like ripping a finished canvass in half. This dialogue must remain whole. Besides, his work does not require a translation, it flows directly to your heart.

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Meet the super-successful piano player Ken Woods. 
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Meet Queen Lupita 1964 and Queen Lissy 1995 – one of the first mother daughter Carnaval queens

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Lori – lean, lovely, live!

By Sheila Madsen

DSCN1182 ProfilesOn a humid Friday morning at 11 a.m singer Lori Davidson could not get a pulmonia. Her long auburn hair is swinging in the breeze, she’s wearing tight hot pink jeans teamed with a black tank top, revealing milky white skin, dusted with freckles. A single silver heart is dangling from her neck. Her corn flower blue eyes light up when I hand her a glass of cold water and she drinks in the ocean view. This gal’s a babe.And she couldn’t get a pulmonia?

This gal hails from San Francisco. Lori began playing the guitar when she was eight years old. The classical music phase lasted two years. The rock, blues, jazz and all the alternate sounds eventually wooed her away from Bach. She was a traditional young woman by day, attending Pepperdine University, but at night, she’d take a walk on the wild side; she’d hitch hike to Santa Barbara, sing and play her guitar in the streets earning a few dollars. Lori transferred to San Francisco State University, and graduated with a degree in English literature. What does a beautiful redhead, with a killer voice do with an English lit degree? You marry bass player Ken Embrey, take day jobs and sing at night.

Lori says: “Ken Embrey’s finger prints are all over my back. He challenged me, he pushed me, he gave me confidence in my singing, he did nothing but encourage me and make me a better performer and songwriter.” Wow, not many ex wives say that about their ex husbands. Together they played with Bay Area blues favourite, Tommy Castro, and performed in hundreds of other blues gigs. Together they “drove truck” for seven years. 5,300 miles every week from Sacramento to Dallas, 24/7. Together they bought houses, and a boat, wrote songs, and shared dreams.

Ken was playing bass for the legendary blues pioneer, John Lee Hooker. His only lead female singer got sick. This was no small venue, this was LA’s Hollywood Bowl, this was the annual Playboy Jazz Festival. Ken suggested his wife, Lori, to the humble sharecropper. The master of the R&B rock said, hell yes, bring her in. No rehearsal time, Lori does her sound check. The great John Lee Hooker has a single comment, “you can kick it up.” Lori Davidson steps on revolving stage and asks, as she always does at every gig, “who’s ready for the blues?” 18,000 people screamed and applauded, that’s a high this redhead will never forget.

Four years ago Lori and Ken sailed into Mazatlan to duck a storm. To everything there is a season, and it was time for Lori and Ken to go their separate ways. Lori’s dance card is booked solid in various Mazatlan venues. She’s a band with many names: The Lori Davidson Band, Wingin It!, Lori Live at Social, or Lori and Rob at Social. By day she reads (heck she’s written a book, Cedar Creek, you can find it on Kindle) and treats her voice as an instrument. She mists, drinks tea (with honey and lime), does vocal warm ups and then practices silence. “I’d admit I love to talk, so the most difficult part is not to speak two hours before a performance!”

I ask the question that has been on the tip of my tongue for months, “what’s it like to have a Mexican boyfriend?”  Lori strokes her silver heart (we know who that belongs to) and simply says, “he’s the best of the modern world, he’s the best of the old fashioned world. He’s chivalrous in all the ways I want from a man.” This gal is lovin’ her man, her simple life, and the lack of consumerism she happily ditched in the United States. Lori wishes for nothing more, she wants nothing more. Well, perhaps one tiny wish –  to sing with Bonnie Raitt.

(Lori’s summer singing schedule includes: summer nights at Pedro & Lola, – Wednesday, Thursdays and Saturdays between 8:30 and 9 p.m.  The “Fairly Accurate Daily Music Schedule” will keep you current. Lori returns to Social with piano man, Rob Lamonica, in October)
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The Music Man from Mazatlan, Rafael Rodriquez

By Sheila Madsen
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“Rafael, all you have to do is say his name and everyone knows who you are talking about…a very talented guitar player and singer, he draws people into his music, from romantic, to up-on-your feet dancing – he’s a true gentleman.” That’s an enthusiastic quote from Eileen Moore co-owner of the restaurant Topolo. Ardent fans of Rafael, Mary and Wally Glavind, have this to say: “Arriving in Mazatlan we had no idea it would be a musician that would make our stay so memorable. But sitting under the palapa listening to Rafael Rodriquez our first evening, we knew we had found something special; excellent music from a very talented guitarist and vocalist. From the first note we felt, rather than heard, the soul of Mexico.”

Rafael arrived for his interview two minutes early dressed in pressed khaki pants, and a beige shirt with a repeat pattern of bamboo shoots, socks on, shoes polished. He’s a serious, soft spoken man who only asked for a glass of tepid water; nothing too hot, nothing too cold to spoil his voice. At 49 this professional knows what he wants, he’s clearly focused on his goals. As with many musicians his journey has taken its twists and turns. There are three children, two ex wives, stints in various universities from Mazatlan, to Guadalajara, to UNAM in Mexico City and gigs with bands named Los Navegantes and Extasis. He briefly wanted to be an accountant (he’s good with numbers) but since he’s been strumming on a guitar from the age of eight, music became the food of his life and he played on.

The good with numbers bit is important; his first gigs were with Sr. Peppers, Gus Gus and Casa Club El Cid. He knew not to rely on tips, but to ask for a flat fee. And thirteen years later after he went solo, he still plays that way. Rafael does confess he counts on tips and sales of his cds. He also quickly adds that he pays into the musician union and the various branches of the tax department. This once upon a time wannabe bean counter takes care of business. Perhaps that’s why owners like Jen Woodman of Social, and the volunteers of Hospice dinner dance so enjoy hiring him. He shows up on time, every time, and puts on a really great show.

His music inspiration comes trova, Cuban trova. One trova definition is: to qualify as a trovador in Cuba you must be able to sing songs of your own composition, accompany yourself on the guitar and deal poetically with the song. Trova began around 1885 and the traditions continue today in Cuba. Rafael has composed four songs and just recorded them in Guadalajara. If you see him around town, perhaps ask him to play an original. I think it’s safe to say Rafael meets the criteria of a trova.

Born in Mazatlan, he learned English here and in his travels to universities. He has a genuine love for English music and studies the words, the nuances and meaning during the day. Currently, Adele has captured his interest and Rafael is learning some of her hits. Whenever I hear Rafael play, I want to tell people to stop talking and to listen.  “Does this make you angry?” He’s matured and his response is: “At first I was very mad, I wanted to stop the music! Eventually I understood it’s part of my job. My voice is stronger, now I know I have a talent, I was born for this. I am very proud to be a musician. I enjoy every night. I imagine I am putting on a concert.” Rafael Rodriquez does not need to imagine he’s putting on a concert, he does.

(you can follow Rafael’s musical whereabouts on our “fairly accurate daily music schedule” or if you wish to hire Rafael just call his cell – 669 161 2772)

Rafael Rodriguez "Mazatlan" El Trovador

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Let’s see what’s new with David Robb

To see more of David Robb’s oil paintings: contact the Luna Gallery, or e mail David directly at:

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Contemporary dance lights up our stages

By Sheila Madsen

Claudia Lavista and Victor Manuel Ruiz ignited the creative torch in 1992 by forming Delfos danza contemporanea. Based in Mexico City, the dance troupe quickly became internationally famous. A smart and very sensitive person with vision in Mazatlan’s, Cultura office, Mr. Ricardo Urquijo, wooed Delfos to Mazatlan in 1998.  At the same time as Delfos was receiving rave reviews, the government encouraged Lavista and Ruiz to design a four year BA program for dance, known as EPDM – Escuela Professional de Danza de Mazatlan, The Professional School of Dance of Mazatlan. This is where the torch of eternal flame gets passed between Delfos and the school. If you are chosen to be part of the EPDM family, only 22 students each year, then you also get to share in the Delfos’ massive creative injection of international proportions. Just look at what they are doing and the interesting workshops being invited here to enhance their education.

Delfos and the school collaborated for the “Let it Be”, an extravaganza at the baseball stadium- a tribute to the Beatles and Queen. I was there and was in awe of this complex, talented, joyous performance. I particularly enjoyed watching Maestro Enrique Patron de Rueda doing some serious multi-tasking.  He’s a famous opera orchestra conductor and had no problem directing “Freddie Mercury”, the “Beatles Band”, the Angela Peralta and the Guillermo Sarabia Chorus, the Britania Quintet and high flying dancers. Imagine. Imagine being a dance student on that stage with 8000 people in the audience clapping and cheering. Between the fireworks, dry ice, music, the constant, yet ever changing videos and Patron’s baton, how much more exciting does it get for a twenty year old?

Even when they are off stage, the lights are on and plenty of people are home to further their dance education. Lyn Wiltshire, is a professor of dance in the Department of Theatre and Dance at The University of Texas, Austin. She recently met with the Mazatlan Institute of Culture and Arts Director, Mr. Raúl Rico, to establish an exchange program. Students from Austin and Mazatlan can now obtain academic credits while studying and gaining new cultural and artistic experiences. Laura Faure, Director of the Bates Dance Festival in the U.S., gave two conferences on contemporary dance in the U.S. and the upcoming Bates dance festival. The festival, according to Claudia Lavista, “is a fantastic space for contemporary dance, which every year turns out to be a paradise for the dancers that have the opportunity to live the experience. This festival integrates a magnificent group of choreographers, teachers, musicians, dancers, students and lovers of dance.”  Students soak up these lectures like solar panels.

The light gets brighter with Shamou’s visit to the dance school. He’s a fantastic percussionist from Iran. He plays live music during his workshops providing an enriching experience for students and teachers. April brings Argentinean choreographer Leandro Kees and the Colombian dancer Marcela Ruiz for a five week workshop. They will collaborate with the Delfos dancers to create two new choreographic pieces. On July 2 you’ll see those results when Delfos and the graduating class present a Gen.X performance.  However, on May 9, Leandro Kees will be presenting his own show; Antropomorfia, at the Angela Peralta Theatre. This project has many Mexican financial contributors and is bound to stretch all creative boundaries.

Last weekend I thought I was in a funky New York gallery. But no, it was our local Recrea, which had provided space to 4 (The Delfos Dance Company and the school, EPDM, are both located right beside the Angela Peralta Theatre, in the Municipal Centre for Arts. It’s easy to spot the dancers gliding through the Plazuela Machado: look at their posture, their hair, their make-up, their clothes and the sparks of energy emitting from their long limbs.)

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Born to paint – Lucila Santiago

Born in Mexico City in 1952, Lucila followed her mother to Mazatlan 20 years ago. She has been drawing as soon as she could grasp a crayon: “since I was three years old all I wanted to was draw and paint; no dolls for me.” Her father always kept her supplied with art books. There were no family discussion, no debates; Lucila was to become an artist. Her parents even built her a private art studio in their backyard so she could experiment with all forms of art, including sculpture. No tree house for this girl.

Santiago5 235x300 ProfilesAs a teenager she was inspired by Vincent van Gough, and then at 16, “I skipped school and visited the house of Frida Kahlo in Coyacan and Diego Rivera.” Besides these great artists I asked who else inspired her: “all my teachers; I studied visual arts, which includes video, installation, multi media photography, copper and enamel, I loved it all.” Just look at her mystical, fuzzy impressionistic paintings and you can see her influences. In a follow up e-mail: “you asked about my favourite painters and I told you about a German group back in the 80’s called Jóvenes Salvajes, among them, my favourite is Anselm Kiefer, but I have many favourite painters, also of all times, like Velázquez, Tápies, Orozco, Toledo, and Tuymans.”

Santiago1 300x263 ProfilesSantiago is the size of a crayon, very shy, and whispers that she currently teaches in the Municipal Arts Centre. I believe the school has been re named – The Ricardo Urquijo Betran Art School- in honour of this great man who did so much for the arts of Mazatlan. Ricardo and Lucila would often travel to the small country towns on Sundays and give art classes. She misses this kind, wonderful man and mourns his death. “Who will go to these pueblos now and teach the children about art, flowers and birds” she wonders.

Lucila’s paintings are hanging around the word: Mexico City, Spain, Athens, Brazil, New Zealand and Canada. She admits she works quickly and she can finish two canvases a month. Often she has a photo, but most times the idea is already formed in her mind and the acrylic tubes get squeezed and the brush dances over the canvas. She listens to jazz, Brazilian and classical music while she paints. She is part of the Glen Rogers’s printmaking exchange group and was recently in Bluseed, Sarnac, New York State. “I felt blessed to be in another environment, another country to be sharing and painting.”

As she was sipping her ginger ale her body language indicated she was terribly uncomfortable talking about herself. She would be much happier at home painting in her living room. I cut the interview short, because after all, her paintings are worth way more than any of my words.

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Tags: dawn dave mazatlan people look up, rafael rodriguez trova dor, wally glavind mazatlan mex

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