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The raspy-voiced singer-songwriter/bassist, born Lora Elizabeth Heiniemi, devised the idea for the all-day blowout after relocating from her native Minneapolis to Phoenix in the late '80s with her band, the Fake McCoys. She had spent the previous six years migrating from Minneapolis to Hawaii to New York -- with a short stint in the Valley in 1983 -- and had come to some sobering conclusions about the limited prospects for independent musicians and performers.
"When I got here, I thought that I really wanted to do something that would really benefit independent artists," she says. "From traveling around America, I could see that there was a gap -- there was the club scene and then there were huge festivals with major corporate sponsorship. I wondered what I could do to start bringing together a community, to bring together music under one title, to try to create more buzz around it."
Her first effort at a large musical gathering, dubbed All Together Now, was held in 1988 at 11 East Ashland. The following year, after putting on a series of performances at the Alwun House that she called Musical Mind Jams, she renamed her festival The Mind Jam. "Then, some of my friends started having kids, and it became real obvious that there weren't a lot of live-music options out there for mothers with children. So the Earth Mother part was added out of respect for that."
It's all perfectly understandable, but, as Ralo well knows, any event called the Earth Mother Mind Jam carries some heavy baggage with it. The name instantly conjures visions of granola-crunching, tie-dye-wearing, incense-brandishing, Birkenstock-stepping hippies arrhythmically swaying to an endless series of jam bands. But Ralo always saw her festival as the kind of gathering where different genres and modes of performance could joyously bump heads with each other and provide a little mutual inspiration; where every form of music was welcome.
For that reason, she's gratified that this year's Earth Mother Mind Jam, the 12th she's produced in the Valley, will be at a respected club like Nita's Hideaway, after years at the Mansion, on Baseline.
"I think it's the perfect location for it," she says of Nita's. "One of the problems I've had is that people used to just deem this a hippie festival, and it's not. It's a multicultural independent music and art festival. There's pop artists, there's performance artists, there's dancers, there's blues, jazz, Native American, Native American punk. And having it at Nita's will help shed some light on that. When it was at the Mansion, in a lot of ways, that worked against me, because it was a private property and it had a certain kind of reputation."
This year's Mind Jam -- conveniently divided onto the yin (inside) and yang (outside) stages -- certainly lives up to Ralo's claims for diversity. Covering everything from the exotic world-beat of Hammertoes to the take-no-prisoners hard rock of Big Blue Couch, the bluesy soulfulness of Rena Haus (backed by local legend Chico Chism), the performance-art karaoke of Vic Masters, the Native punk of Blackfire (a group touted by Joey Ramone near the end of his life), and four dance troupes, it's the kind of aesthetic buffet that few people would have the audacity to even attempt.
Ralo herself was so overwhelmed by the financial and logistical demands of the Mind Jam that after losing considerable money on a 2000 edition in Flagstaff, she didn't attempt one last year. But this year, she's not only returned, but expanded the reach of the festival, planning to take it to Nashville for the first time, and putting on a Minneapolis version for only the second time.
The multi-city approach allows her to take some of her favorite artists and put them in front of an audience that would never see them otherwise. She notes that if some of the Minnesota performers came through Arizona on their own, "people wouldn't know who they are and it would be hard for them."
Ralo credits much of her performing and promotional instincts to her father, a onetime professional wrestler who worked under the name "Luscious Lars" Anderson. A bleach-blond villain in the mold of big-talking superstar Gorgeous George, he later went on to open a non-alcoholic, late-night, all-ages warehouse dance club at the height of the hedonistic '60s, prompting Ralo to say, "I think my dad was the original rave man."
Split between her own career ambitions -- she's currently recording demos in Nashville with Keith Urban's producer Matt Rawlings -- and her drive to promote the work of others, she says she'll never abandon the Mind Jam, no matter what happens with her own musical career.
"There's a need to have more independent music festivals in this country," she says. "I'm just trying to do one little step at a time. I believe if you keep a certain quality, where word of mouth spreads about it, in 10 years it could be huge."
The Earth Mother Mind Jam is scheduled for Saturday, January 26, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe. It runs from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Visit www.themindjam.com/lineup for the complete schedule.