Getting Ovah It: CenPho Scenesters on Why Downtown Phoenix Is Still the Hub for Valley Music

I was, by happenstance, in Tempe when the shit-storm started: Sitting in one of those outdoor booths at Casey Moore's drinking with some friends and playing with my phone only to discover a bunch of angry @martincizmar messages from tweeps pissed about my latest column.

It raged on from there. Before the weekend was over, I'd heard reports of some dude from a local band screaming "Fuck Martin Cizmar, fuck New Times!" from the stage at a CenPho music showcase.

The actual title of the piece that inspired such fervor matters little now. I'll just yield to popular opinion and call it the "Downtown is Ovah" column. It's a phrase I coined in arguing that Tempe, not Phoenix, will be the center for live music in the coming years now that Modified Arts, the heart of the downtown scene, has decided to be a lot more like a regular art gallery than an underpowered concert club.

Music editor Martin Cizmar wearing an "ovah" shirt (identity obscured for security reasons).
Jonathan McNamara
Music editor Martin Cizmar wearing an "ovah" shirt (identity obscured for security reasons).

That phrase has since taken on a life of its own — it's even a URL,, where you can buy the shirt.

Yes, there's a shirt.

I've thought long and hard about what to follow up with, but sitting down to write a response after a guy who was in The Format printed T-shirts with my phrase on it seems pretty pointless. Time will tell who is right, and I'd be happy to be proved wrong. So, in the interest of promoting a real dialogue on the matter, I've turned over this week's column to four downtownies who think I'm wrong. Here's why they have hope for downtown Phoenix, music and otherwise.

Lou Kummerer, musician

"Downtown is Ovah." Hours after Martin Cizmar published those now-infamous words, a goddamn war of opinions erupted, with the who's who of the Phoenix and Tempe music community calling for Cizmar's head on a fucking platter. But Martin missed the point: This isn't a question of Phoenix versus Tempe. The closing of Modified and [Modern Art Records head] Ben Collins' move to New York is a change that will propel Phoenix and Tempe's music scene to even greater heights.

I've been involved in the local music community in both Phoenix and Tempe for over 10 years. I played bass for The Loveblisters (a "Tempe" band), and we played Modified frequently. I also played for Miniature Tigers (a "Phoenix" band), and we played Tempe venues all the time.

Music happens, has happened, and always will happen in both cities.

Right now, Phoenix is without a venue. So what? Modified has already proved that a music venue in Phoenix can draw a crowd. Something else will inevitably pop up. And if you've got the scratch to put together a venue in downtown, you'd be an idiot not to at this juncture. Meanwhile, we have Tempe. And when this Phoenix venue opens, crowds will readily return to Phoenix.

In my years as a musician and a fan, I've seen countless venues come and go. Remember Nita's Hideaway? Boston's? Neckbeards? The Green Room? They were all, at one time, the epicenter of a disjointed music scene, and their closings were seen as huge blows.

There is a lot to be said for what Modified has done for the music scene in the metro area. But the stage was too small, the P.A. only half-worked, the A/C was shoddy, at best, and the lighting was straight-up creepy.

We now have a close-knit and determined music scene that crosses city lines, as well as talented musicians, promoters, and fans who will carry the baton to the next relay point without thinking twice. The bar has been raised. Downtown ain't ovah. It's just getting started.

Lou Kummerer is a "too-hip-for-Scottsdale oldster looking to buy expensive art for the loft he furnished at CB2." He was also a founding member of The Loveblisters and spent a year as the bass player for the Miniature Tigers. He lives downtown.

Jacqui Johnson, CenPho.TV host

It can be discouraging to walk around downtown and see all the empty condos, and hear stories of CityScape and other [developments] scaling back. After all, weren't they supposed to fill up downtown and provide everything anyone could need in just a few city blocks? But if you ask me, those were never going to do the trick.

You can't build some pretty towers, point to them, and say, "This is the cool spot." If it doesn't happen organically, it never will. It takes people who are here for the long haul, who are committed, motivated, and involved, and I meet people like that everywhere I go downtown. So what gives me hope for downtown Phoenix are the people who are already here and making it better every day. Some have been here for years, and more keep trickling in. We're here because we love it, and it's where we found our home. I don't just hope downtown will thrive, I know it will, because I see it happening right in front of my eyes — slowly maybe, but I'm not going anywhere, and I've got a lot of patience.

Jacqui Johnson, 35, is the host of CenPho.TV. She is an accountant by day and lives downtown.

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melted cassettes
melted cassettes

"@meltedcassettes Re: Your long boring comment on my story. You were not the band I heard about. I assure you no one knows/cares you exist."

hahahaha! more elitism dribble spewing outta your fat-fucking face i especially like the last line you plastic piece of shit. you really make yourself look like a shithead.

none of you and your fake asshole scene-friends know about us, that's for damn sure- and thhat's a good thing.and its good to know other bands realize you're a piece of garbage, and are vocalizing it, please go choke on a donut and/or have a heart attack you bag of living waste.

melted cassettes
melted cassettes

just a slight correction, martin.

this band you mentioned that said "fuck martin cizmar" (if this the cenpho show i believe you're referring to) was not saying it in the context of a phx vs tempe turf-war, as the members of said band live in different parts of the valley, and also realize that other great venues such as the firehouse and the trunkspace are in the same neighborhood, and will naturally/eventually absorb all the good music that passed through modified arts. they are also aware that the major population of the entire valley is extremely transient, and kids will come and go, college, etc.. tempe kids will go to some phx shows, phx kids will go to tempe shows- aside from maps/taxes/signs, it's all one big valley, with a half-decent lightrail running through it all.

they said "fuck martin cizmar" not because of your recent article and/or goddamn t-shirt. they said it because you're a shitty journalist. because you write about garbage. because you write about really, really bad music all the time. because you write so sweetly about elitist scene-bands with $$ pouring out of their asses while dishing out bad reviews to bands you consider to be shocking, edgy or too aggressive without even ever trying to understand their intentions, or just ignoring anything new and interesting or original growing in our own backyard, so then you'll go write about U2, and actually tell people not to go to their show in your article. because you're one of the people that keeps the local music scene from evolving into something much greater. because you lack objectivity in crucial situations. but definitely don't think its because of your latest scheme, or because you think said band wants a new times article good or bad (as said band gets enough radio/label/release/tour attention to wipe said asses with any article written by you) and definitely not because of your imaginary scene-status points, as said band cares only about good music and art that has heart and presents something meaningful and unique and not about who you know or which hip locations you frequent. its because they want you to go somewhere else, some other far away land and print your generic dribble there, away from here, so we can let strange, unique and sometimes offensive (oh no!) artists flourish in the arizona soil without people like you poisoning their roots.

we are said band, and we are tired of it. we are arizona natives. we're tired of elitist scum-leeches sucking the life out of potential artistic endeavors here in the valley of the sun as well as stifling their growth with their often overly-cynical and narrow-minded opinions on music.

so go ahead, respond or don't. blast us for our supposed 'negativity' or bad grammer. deny everything that was just stated and try to twist it around, and perhaps even talk about it in one of your next articles, as it wouldnt surprise us based on your lack of aesthetic-awareness. tell your friends not to support us, some of them might even already dislike us. tell them we're jerks, because you'd probably be right. tell them we'll go nowhere, please. maybe you'll even find something more personal about us, and assume we have any sense of shame or embarrassment. confront us, personally, its not hard to find us. you can pretty much try to take us apart anyway you want to, but it won't matter, simply because we are just a tiny little particle in a large collective of other particles of true artistic expression/social evolution that will thrive and grow beyond the clutches of pretentiousness and elitism.

-melted cassettes


Well said, Courtney.

Cizmar is right about one thing. Ideally, a venue the size of modified (or even slightly larger) from which the indie-rock flag could be flown downtown would be good.

But the lack of it isn't quite the harbinger of doom it's being made out to be.

Cizmar's gently depressing "dewey defeats truman" columns notwithstanding.


Your responses have said it all, guys.

I feel a responsibility as a Phoenician to stand up for my town, and as a journalist to write what I have seen: I like how the only thing this article has done is show the passion and support that people have for Downtown Phoenix and its music.

I am a Phoenix native and Downtown resident, who has seen and heard NOTHING (until Martin Cizmar's comment) that points to the comment that "Downtown is Ovah."

I am surrounded by Downtown Phoenix lovers, livers, and music enthusiasts who elicit and contribute to it's growth.This includes: eating locally, drinking locally, playing in local bands/venues, and attending local concerts.

Also, a simple search online, vacation, or "speaks" with someone from out-of-town will show the national commentary that points to the growth and positive opinion of Downtown Phoenix.

Time will tell.. and we won't be wrong.



Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending Crossing 32nd Street's "Music of John Cage" @ the Phoenix Urban Research Laboratory (PURL). The concert was no dry litany of a dead composer's work. Instead, x32st beautifully captured both the playfulness & urgency of Cage. Despite little fanfare and a hard-to-find venue (the concert is on the 8th floor? really?), approx 100 people were in attendance.

What's that got to do with downtown being supposedly allegedly "ovah", you ask? I'm glad you asked that question.

Historical references to The Refreshments or Trunk Federation can be countered with references to the Sun City Girls or Life Garden.

The point being: in the 20-odd years I've been kicking around this dusty town, there's typically been this ebb and flow in phx. The mainstream (or "indie-rock", as the kids call it) gives way to the more experimental (or quote-unquote "different", as the shanes call it) and back again.

Whereas Tempe has been more like a reliable car or comfortable pair of loafers. And I mean that in the best way possible.

Venues come and go but the music plays on. We can quibble about the definition of music I suppose, but it may be more productive to focus on what's there versus what isn't anymore.

Like, duh.

By the way, I'd love to see a "New Times is Ovah!" t-shirt complete with Cizmar's pixelated mug on it. We can decide whether or not it's ironic later.

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