Grand Avenue cuts across the the map of Phoenix like an escape route from the heart of the inner city. The lone ordinal road in an otherwise rigid network bypasses the barrios, the suburbs and the manicured retirement communities from it’s fountainhead at the intersection of 7th Avenue and Van Buren and into the desert mountains northwest of the city.
The desert is dotted with cholla and abandoned mines. The small town of Aguila straddles the highway below the watch of the stone “eagle eye” on the easternmost peak of the Harquahala Mountains.
Rectangular fields of cantaloupe vines stretch out from the highway. Migrant workers, like the harvest gypsies before them, caravan and hitchhike from farm to farm for the cosecha, sleeping in school buses, horse trailers, cramped apartments, and then they are gone.
During the months I spent in Aguila, I saw exhausted men and women who worked 12 hours a day in the desert sun, lifting melons from the ground and into a truck above their heads, forgoing comfort and pleasures to send as much as possible back to their families in Tuxtla Gutiérrez or Quetzaltenango.
In the cemetery in Aguila, there is a gravestone of hand-poured concrete with the name of a young child etched into it. In it, I saw the struggle of the all-too-forgotten workers that toil in poverty and obscurity that struggle to survive and to be remembered. The image has followed and haunted me since I left, and I wrote Aguila to honor the memory of the people there.
Michael Hinckley writes songs that sit at the intersection of roots rock and intensely personal poetry. His 2015 release “Hang a Black Cloth” showcased his intimate writing and earned radio airplay on NPR, BBC, and stations across the US and UK. He began playing club and house concerts in support of the album, and returned to the studio to record a follow up, Aguila.
A native of Omaha, NE, Michael played guitar and fronted groups in the local rock scene before he traded the openness of the plains for the majesty of the Rockies. During this time he wrote, sang, and played guitar for the folk group Engines of Commotion. They toured the US, Europe, and Asia. Engines of Commotion won the second-place prize at the 2010 Telluride band competition at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, after which Michael relocated to Nashville, TN.