It's 1 p.m. on a blustery Sunday afternoon, and more than 100 music fans are lined up outside downtown Phoenix's Modified Arts. The doors to the intimate venue don't open for another hour — and the headliner, Courtney Marie Andrews, won't take the stage for nine hours — but that doesn't deter the throng of people waiting.

During recent folk festivals in the Phoenix area — featuring local artists in their late teens singing stylistically updated singer-songwriter music in the vein of Bob Dylan and Carole King — people came from all over the country. One carload of teens traveled all the way from Ohio.

Today's turnout is no exception: the line snakes 75 yards down Roosevelt toward Fifth Street. Because Phoenix's reputation for this musical form has burgeoned, these fans aren't taking any chances of getting turned away.

All photos by Jamie Peachey
At a recent CD-release show at the Trunk Space, Michelle Blades performed to a packed house.
At a recent CD-release show at the Trunk Space, Michelle Blades performed to a packed house.
River Jones
River Jones
Blades and Andrews have seen national and international success while living in Phoenix.
Blades and Andrews have seen national and international success while living in Phoenix.
Brent Cowles moved to Arizona from Colorado for the local pop-folk scene.
Brent Cowles moved to Arizona from Colorado for the local pop-folk scene.
Andrews, according to Jimmy Eat World's Jim Adkins, is about to hit the big time.
Andrews, according to Jimmy Eat World's Jim Adkins, is about to hit the big time.
Jim Adkins at his Tempe studio
Jim Adkins at his Tempe studio

Nine hours and 14 bands later, it's finally Andrews' turn. Modified Arts (which has since ditched nightly concerts after changing ownership) is packed with teens, some of them fellow musicians sitting knee-to-knee on blankets spread out on the floor. Many are hyper-focused on the songstress with long black hair and bangs that cover her eyebrows. One teenage girl, who clutches a pink lunchbox depicting the Beatles, seems especially hypnotized.

The room is silent as Andrews launches into a song from her latest album, Painter's Hands and a Seventh Son, a disc that listens like a pared-down Björk playing a singer-songwriter set for her best pals in a park. Andrews, wearing a black dress and brandishing a black acoustic guitar, sings with closed eyes. Her stage presence is deceptively mature for a 19-year-old, and her songs contain wisdom that's accessible to both the teenagers and adults in the room.

As she closes the 30-minute set with "Darling Boy" — a simple yet powerful aria about love that's just out of reach — the girl with the lunchbox is so wrapped up in another world that it would take a human-size spatula to pry her off of Modified's wood floor.

Over the past few years, the Phoenix area has quietly become an epicenter for a new breed of folk-centric musicians. In the past, many talented creative types have ditched the Valley for more culturally relevant places like New York City and Portland, Oregon. However, thanks to the growth of the pop-folk movement here, a number of musicians have moved to the Phoenix area to become part of a grassroots community.

Some who aren't able to relocate here pine for Arizona over the Internet, whether it's exclaiming, "I Wish I Were in Phoenix!" in their MySpace profile headlines or traveling from the Midwest to see locally produced music festivals. A Seattle band even wrote a song that chronicles its perceived magical view of Phoenix.

The reputation of the area's pop-folk — which encompasses other styles, such as indie rock, and whose themes range from unrequited love to poppy front-porch-style storytelling — has made noise throughout the country.

Largely because of Courtney Marie Andrews. The recent high school graduate and face of the movement built the community by recruiting talented musicians from across metro Phoenix and playing do-it-yourself shows all over the country. Says a prominent musician with national cred, Andrews, who will make her major-label debut this fall, is on the verge of making it big-time.

Though the Valley is an affordable place to create music — thanks to the availability of inexpensive recording technologies, as well as the Internet's ease of getting music out there — the area remains, culturally, a small town. One legit label owner, who's been integral to the pop-folk movement, claims that a larger indie label would have signed Andrews if she lived somewhere like the Pacific Northwest.

Because only a few are anchoring the local pop-folk trend, the price of notoriety has taxed the scene's limited resources, causing a number of inexperienced producers and engineers to emerge. As a result — and coupled with the loss of Modified Arts, which was the music's main home base for live performances — the Phoenix area's pop-folk scene and its homegrown future are at a crossroads.


Courtney Marie Andrews makes a beeline to her car at a downtown Phoenix parking garage. The rear window on the driver's side of the gray four-door sedan is gone, the result of a burglary months earlier, which is why Andrews takes her acoustic guitar (which needs new strings) from the vehicle wherever she parks.

She walks to the front of the vehicle, where the front bumper hangs near the structure's concrete wall. To lift the bumper off the ground, she must maneuver her petite, 5-foot-3-inch frame into the small gap between the car and the wall. Otherwise, she will drag the bumper along the pavement on her way to a job interview. If she doesn't secure employment, she won't be able to fund her next tour or pay to re-string her weathered instrument.

Six days earlier, the Valley native and two girlfriends hopped in the car, which has seen better days, and drove to Topanga Canyon, California, where Vincent Pascoe — who's made videos for disturbed alt-rockers I Am Ghost and Cuban-American rapper Sen Dog — filmed a $20,000 piece on spec. According to Andrews, the shoot for her six-minute-plus song "The Buffalo and the Bird" went well, but the jaunt to the Topanga bohemian colony near Los Angeles (unintentionally founded as an artist enclave by Woody Guthrie in the 1950s) did have its tense moments.

Before leaving Phoenix, she had only $54 to pay for gas and food. Her friends didn't have money to spare, so Andrews asked her mom, who raised Courtney without a father figure, for a loan. That didn't work because Andrews' mother had just made a mortgage payment.

Once in Topanga — which continues to be a neo-hippie spot made famous by past residents Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, and Marvin Gaye — the film crew trespassed to put up a tree swing attached to a 50-foot piece of rope. Luckily, they documented the key shot just before an old man in a pickup made it clear that they weren't welcome.

Three days after the shoot, Andrews recorded six tunes at the Tempe studio of Jim Adkins. The vocalist and guitarist of major-label pop band Jimmy Eat World had heard about Andrews from a member of local emo-core group Reubens Accomplice. At the time, Adkins listened to her MySpace tracks and was impressed enough to attend one of Andrews' album-release shows.

A few months later, during one of Adkins' solo performances, he invited Andrews — who's drawn to great black female singers Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin, as well as to the dark lyricism of Elliot Smith and the simplicity of Nick Drake — to sing Wilco/Feist's "You and I."

"She did a pretty good Feist," Adkins says, "so I thought it would be fun to use her on a few songs in the studio."

The tunes that Adkins cut with Andrews will appear on Jimmy Eat World's upcoming album (scheduled for an early-fall release) — a major breakthrough in Andrews' career. About the two days of sessions, Adkins says, "She brings it. She's super-solid on pitch and delivery. I've never heard her do a bad take, just different takes. She's all pro for how young she is."

The quiet and pensive Andrews, who writes all her songs, comes across as grounded and humble; she learned the hard way through an impoverished upbringing in the West Valley. Despite the upcoming music video and major-label debuts, she continues to live the life of a starving artist. When she's not scratching out lyrics in a spiral-bound notepad or talking adamantly about her astrological chart (she's a Scorpio), she finds support in a community that she helped create.

Andrews has spent her entire life in northwest Phoenix. In school, she always felt like a weird eccentric, and she was prone to lying to fit in. When she transferred to a new school in sixth grade, she tried to be cool by telling people she was a surfer in San Diego during the summers. "It didn't work," Andrews says.

Things didn't improve much during her freshman and sophomore years at Barry Goldwater High School. At lunch, her classmates would sometimes toss fries at her and her friends.

Outside school, things were happening. The 14-year-old Andrews started booking shows at coffee shops that didn't typically host live entertainment, such as Mama Java's on Indian School Road and the Coffee Bean in Peoria. Her first gig was at Fiddler's Dream, a place that hosts weekly acoustic music showcases.

At 15, she started sharing the bill with Ryan Osterman, an Ahwatukee-based singer-songwriter who now plays under the name Owl & Penny. A year later, Andrews and Asher Deaver, who lived in Cottonwood at the time, found each other through MySpace. Shortly thereafter, Andrews played a Gilbert coffee-shop gig and met Bradley Cluff (a.k.a. Bradley and the Materials), who ended up as her first tour mate. In just two years, many young and talented musicians living in the sprawling Valley had found each other, thanks to Andrews.

As she played more out-of-state shows in modest venues up and down the West Coast, Phoenix's reputation for pop-folk grew. "I remember one of my first shows in L.A.; the kids there were singing all of the lyrics to my songs. I was like, "Whoa, where did they come from?'" says Andrews.

Some in the Pacific Northwest took it a step further. The Benjamin Clocks, a Seattle-area indie-rock band, wrote a song called "The Medicine" that shrouds the Valley in a sonic cloak of anonymity, thanks to the bridge: "Phoenix sounds like / Phoenix sounds like / Phoenix sounds like such a mystery."

Now, musicians and bands from Washington are planning to move here for the scene. Says Andrews, "The kids I talked to in Seattle say that it's one band for itself there, [and that] nobody wants to have a community. They think it's so crazy that [musicians here] hang out together."

Aside from the alternative-rock scene pioneered by Meat Puppets, Gin Blossoms, and The Refreshments in the '80s and '90s, Phoenix has never been the center for any musical genre. In terms of folk music, John Stewart was the one heavy-hitting singer-songwriter in town during the '70s, says Erich Sielaff, who hosts the AZ Music Café show on KKNT 960 AM. But, technically, Stewart was an off-and-on relocated California boy whom Phoenix adopted as its folk hero, Sielaff says.

Though Arizona is crippled with statewide budget crises, the Pacific Northwest's larger cities have been worse off since the dot-com crash in the early 2000s. (For example, the current unemployment rate in Portland is 11.3 percent, compared with Phoenix's 9.2 percent). The creative communities in those cities find themselves especially leveled as overpopulated artist enclaves compete for a slice of the dwindling pie.

Meanwhile, metro Phoenix remains an affordable area to live and create. Outside the Courtney Marie Andrews circle, the Valley is also home to other talented singer-songwriters, such as Matthew Reveles and Stephen Steinbrink, the latter signed to Tempe-based Gilgongo Records.

There's also the 25-year-old Tobie Milford, whose Alyosha recently came out on Surface to Air Recording. The local indie label documents music in a $150,000 facility, complete with 20-foot vaulted ceilings and oak floors, near McClintock Drive and Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe.

To the label's Cary Miller — who learned his audio skills from Shelly Yakus, the renowned audio mixer who engineered John Lennon's "Imagine" — Milford sounds as though he were plucked straight out of folk music's heyday.

"Musically, he could be a new Jeff Buckley," says the 29-year-old Miller. "Artistically, he can be the next Bob Dylan. I'm really impressed by [Tobie], and I'm not impressed by much."

It makes sense that the nation's fifth-largest city — which has a unique acoustic showcase known as The Train Tracks, featuring non-amplified musicians playing songs on the Valley Metro light rail — is starting to make sonic waves nationally, says Jimmy Eat World's Adkins.

"Phoenix is cool because there's room to do something here," he says. "You know how many people move to L.A. or New York and can't do anything because everyone else is trying to do the same thing? With the Internet, there's no reason to move to a place like that."

As for Andrews' progress, Adkins says she is doing everything that she needs to do: "She's writing songs and touring. Those are things you can count on to make a difference in your longevity.

"The worst thing that can happen for any musician is to blow up out of nowhere without building that foundation, because you run the risk of fizzling out quickly. It bodes better for your longevity if you build it up naturally, and that's what she's doing."


River Jones stands barefoot outside his second-floor downtown Phoenix apartment. In his left hand is a lit cigarette. In his right, an iPhone connected to somebody in the music industry.

On most days, this tiny concrete patio is the farthest Jones gets from his live/work recording studio, which he shares with his fiancée. Decked out in a faded shirt and a pair of skinny jeans, the blond, bed-headed Jones hangs up the phone, takes another puff from his smoke, and explains that he's way over his cell-phone minutes for the month. However, he says it's all worth it.

"If somebody had told me that I would be running a folk label at age 32, I would have told them that they were crazy," Jones says. He's not even a folk-music fan — he much prefers Stereolab over Sufjan Stevens — so he can thank Andrews for his surprising vocation.

As Andrews' reputation ballooned, she ran into a problem: Aside from two personally produced CD-R albums housed in homemade disc sleeves, she didn't have a proper recording to sell at shows.

One night at Holgas Gallery, an artist cooperative on Third and Garfield streets, Jones and his fiancée, Shalon, were introduced to Andrews. Jones, who had recently moved back to Phoenix after living the rock 'n' roll lifestyle in Los Angeles, knew of Andrews, but in the midst of launching a record label, he had never heard her music.

Moments after the meeting, Jones, his fiancée, and Andrews found a quiet place at Holgas, where the then-16-year-old played a song for the couple. Jones was blown away. "I dropped everything to record Courtney," he says.

However, Andrews wasn't exactly enthusiastic, dismissing Jones' dreams of documenting her music as another all-talk, no-action plan she'd heard before. Says Andrews, "I didn't take it seriously. Even when he was doing these free recordings, I was like, 'Yeah, whatever.'"

Over time, though, Andrews noticed that Jones actually knew what he was doing. Plus, studio time was free, with an agreement that part of the recording cost would be recouped from sales. The sessions turned into Urban Myths, an album that wasn't even mastered because the label didn't have the money.

Despite the disc's anonymity, the CD-release show for Urban Myths was a huge success, thanks to Andrews' blossoming songwriting and a heavy online marketing campaign engineered by Jones. Because fans of all ages packed Modified Arts, many were turned away. Andrews and Jones couldn't believe it, especially considering that a startup label had released the record.

Soon, the circle of musicians Andrews had built since age 14 began working with River Jones Music. Since then, more out-of-state artists have recorded at Jones' home/studio.

Brent Cowles, who goes by You Me & Apollo, moved here from Colorado Springs, Colorado, after finding River Jones Music's MySpace page. The Pioneers of Prime Time TV, one of the label's only full bands, want to move here, but they're tied down in New Mexico (the lead singer heads a construction company); instead, they make trips to the Valley regularly to record and play shows.

The hyperactive Jones, who has signed more than a dozen artists in the past few years, shuns the spotlight. He insists that he's about the music, rather than the money and notoriety. Because it's a full-time gig that doesn't turn a profit, his fiancée "keeps the lights on," says Jones, who spends up to 16 hours each day recording, mixing, marketing, and making sure his artists' albums are stocked in independently owned record stores across the country. He's especially found success building the brand through social-networking outlets, including Facebook and MySpace.

The seeds of Jones' artist know-how were planted in west Phoenix, where he was born and raised by his single mother. In his teens, he played shows and organized gigs in unoccupied desert areas around 99th Avenue and Jomax Road.

After high school, Jones — who claims that at the time he knew only how to "play drums and deliver pizza" — moved to L.A. for a music-production job. When he wasn't sleeping on a mattress in the kitchen of a West Hollywood apartment, he was making connections in the music biz, thanks in part to Chester Bennington, the Linkin Park frontman, whom Jones had met at Greenway High School.

Jones has some crazy tales from those days. He says he got drunk on straight vodka in a parked car and sang oldies with Grammy Award-winning artist Fiona Apple. He says Apple went to kiss him, but he was so freaked out that the star was going in for a smooch that he turned his head. "I never heard from her again," Jones says.

After settling into the fast-paced lifestyle, Jones started playing high-profile gigs on MTV's Total Request Live and The Sharon Osbourne Show. As a touring drummer, he shared the stage with N*E*R*D and Avril Lavigne.

After two years of madness, the gigs, which paid $1,000 per week, tapered off and the cutthroat drama of the entertainment business increased. Though Jones loved L.A., the circumstances started to wear on him. "I got to go through the entire rock 'n' roll lifestyle by 28," Jones says. "Now I know what it's really like to be a musician."

In 2007, Jones moved back to his mom's house in Phoenix and continued to write and record his own music. For income, he worked odd jobs, ranging from busing tables to washing dishes. He thought about leaving Phoenix again.

That's when he met Andrews, and Urban Myths — an album Jones put together mostly on the living room floor of his childhood home — was born.

A year later, thanks to some turmoil and a randomly thrown dart, Jones discovered another talent comparable to Andrews.


In 2008, nearly 2,400 miles from Phoenix, Michelle Blades pondered her Plan B.

The 17-year-old senior at Felix Varela High School in Miami was all set to leave a frantic home life for school in Hawaii, where she and her boyfriend would begin anew. At 16, she'd moved out of her parents' home and in with her grandparents because of problems with her dad. She was willing to try anything, no matter how rash it sounded, to get out of Florida.

Then Blades and the boyfriend broke up. Poof went the island dreams.

One day during Blades' senior year, Les Rose visited her high school. Rose, a cameraman for roving journalism correspondent Steve Hartman of CBS News, talked in depth about Hartman's way of discovering news: He would throw a dart over his shoulder at a world map, and wherever it landed, he'd go there and find a story — the idea being that you can find something worthwhile anyplace you go.

Blades, who had played in a number of bands, found her Plan B: She would imitate the dart-toss trick. Wherever the dart landed, she would move there by herself.

Alone in a classroom, she threw a dart at a U.S. wall map. It landed in the Pacific Ocean. She tried again. This time, the titanium point struck in Arizona's capital city.

After getting accepted at Arizona State University, Blades moved to Phoenix in January 2009. Without a car to haul her stuff across country, she brought only one thing besides her clothes — a ukulele she had started playing two years before.

As a college freshman, she majored in religious studies and philosophy at ASU's downtown campus. She became known as the "girl with the ukulele," thanks to her on-the-spot sets at open-mic nights at Conspire, a coffee-shop/artist co-op on Fifth and Garfield streets. She instantly stood out from the rest of the poets and musicians, not only because of her olive skin and long blond hair (now dyed black) but because she sounds like Joni Mitchell on a tropical bender.

In spring 2009, Blades wandered across First Street from the Taylor Place dormitory and over to Downtown Civic Space Park, where Sean Bonnette of local punk-tinged folk group Andrew Jackson Jihad (signed to indie-renowned Asian Man Records) had just finished a set. Bonnette spotted Blades and Jones, who had been hanging out for the show, and introduced the two.

Blades told Jones that she played the ukulele. Bonnette chimed in: "You should listen to it. She plays it really different."

"What is [Sean] doing?" Blades recalls thinking.

But Jones was receptive. He told her that he had to make a trip to the record store down the street. Did she want to come? Sure, Blades said.

"Bring your ukulele," Jones said.

In the car, Blades played him a song. Jones had one question, she recalls: "Can you record tomorrow?"

Says Jones about Andrews and Blades, "Some producers go their whole lives trying to find one amazing musician to produce. I've found two in the past two years."

The Panama-born Blades has a music pedigree, in the sense that her uncle, Rubén Blades, once a presidential candidate in Panama, is a famous Latin-music star and character actor. Plus, Blades' father has produced Latin artists such as Marc Anthony. However, because her relationship with her dad's side of the family went sour years ago, Blades says her music career has been her own doing.

An extroverted 19-year-old, Blades isn't a typical acoustic musician. Her songwriting is more jazz improvisation, mostly because she doesn't write down anything. Everything is done on the spot, from the lyrics to tempo to chord progression.

She says, "When River and I recorded the first day, I was really self-conscious because he's like, "All right. Play a song." So I played a song. Then he said, "Do you want to do another take?" I said, "Yeah. The words aren't going to be the same." He was like, "No? What?"

Jones remembers being taken aback by Blades' make-it-up-as-she-goes approach: "I was a bit freaked out at first, but I soon realized that she has a constant flow of songs and thoughts."

In February, River Jones Music released Blades' first studio recording, Oh, Nostalgia!, in digital format. Jones decided to offer the album through an iTunes-like site called www.thinkindie.com at a bargain cost of $4.99. Jones took a similar route with Andrews' Painter's Hands and a Seventh Son, a 14-track, full-length LP. (At the time, Think Indie site manager Tony Davis called Jones and asked whether he had listed the wrong price.)

The move paid off, especially with Oh, Nostalgia! When Think Indie's Davis heard the tracks, he decided, for the first time, to become actively involved in promoting an album on the Web site's home page.

"I listened to [Blades' album] and thought that if this was heard by the right people, it could really take off in a Lisa Germano-type of way. All it needed was press," says Davis, who adds that Jones' decision to offer downloadable albums at $4.99 "is a very smart price point for a developing artist."

A French outfit took notice of the record, too, and booked Blades on a three-week tour of Europe, scheduled this month. The European label is pressing a bunch of CDs, as well, all at no cost to Blades, who is taking the semester off from ASU.

Blades needed to figure out a way to get overseas, and River Jones is making it possible. He had 45,000 frequent-flier miles from his days as a touring drummer that would soon expire. The label is using the airfare credit to get Blades to Europe. Total out-of-pocket cost: $133.20.

When she returns from her summer tour, Blades plans to meet with Mark Kramer, who sought her out through MySpace. Kramer is a former member of the Butthole Surfers and has produced Ween, GWAR, and Daniel Johnston. Kramer and River Jones Music are planning to co-produce another record for Blades beginning in August.

All this for a southern Florida girl who's lived in Phoenix for only 14 months.


In cities with more established cultural scenes, Andrews and Blades might've achieved national success without leaving home. However, in a place like Phoenix and its environs, the pair's career advances are starting to max out the area's humble resources.

"If Courtney were in Seattle, she would have been signed to a bigger indie label by now," Jones says. "There just aren't any bigger indies in Phoenix."

Because there's only so much that one person can do, River Jones has been forced to give up some responsibilities. Andrews and Jones are no longer booking shows, and the label has become more of an artist-development company that tries to take its talent to the next level, à la Andrews' upcoming appearance on the new Jimmy Eat World record.

As a result, other do-it-yourself outfits like The Color Group (which promotes local pop-folk concerts) have tried to pick up the slack. A number of wanna-be labels are attempting to fill the void, too. However, Jones says, they soon realize that they are in over their heads. Jones says these well-meaning labels, many of which are run by people in their early 20s, call him frequently for pointers.

Also, there's no a central venue right now to showcase the music.

For example, on a recent Friday evening, Andrews performed at Hidden Elements Studio. It was only her second gig in town since December 2009. The only reason she played at the warehouse space (accessible only by traveling down a neighborhood street, through a large and confusing parking lot, and into a smaller, concealed lot) was for an art opening, although most of the walls were bare with several 5-foot-tall portrait paintings of African women resting against one wall.

When Andrews finally started playing, seven people were in the audience. Toward the end of the set, she debuted a Dylan-esque ditty chronicling all the places she's traveled to and played at along the West Coast. By then, a few people wandered in, bringing the grand total to nine.

An Andrews performance has become a rare occurrence since Modified Arts passed on the indie-rock game. Days after December's folk festival, longtime Modified owner Kimber Lanning handed the reins to Adam Murray and Kim Larkin; the husband-and-wife team decided to make the 10-year-old venue mostly about visual art.

Shows like the one at Hidden Elements are a far cry from the packed affairs that Modified hosted. About the change, Andrews says, "Modified made me feel like there was a music scene, but now that it's gone . . . I don't know. Modified, for me, was the first venue I thought of when you think 'Arizona music venue.'"

Many artists on River Jones Music, including Andrews, are scrambling to find a spot to showcase their new songs in a live setting. Other spaces have appeared in Modified's stead, such as the Hello House — where nine residents attempt to put on haphazard shows in the space's living room — as well as Fractal on Grand Avenue and The Dressing Room on Roosevelt. However, none possesses the grit and soul of Modified.

Another venue mentioned in the fray is the long-established Trunk Space. The six-year-old spot on Grand Avenue, which occasionally hosts pop-folk acts, tends to feature a wider variety of genres than Modified showcased. There just aren't enough open dates on Trunk Space's calendar to accommodate all the artists performing this type of music.

In the past, some talented local musicians have found it necessary to skip town. On the other hand, some Phoenix-area groups – including Jimmy Eat World and Greeley Estates – have seen nationwide success without leaving.

Local show promoter Stephen Chilton (a.k.a. Psyko Steve) doesn't think that local musicians need to establish themselves in more so-called culturally relevant cities. Instead, he says, Phoenix-based bands need to hit the road more often.

"I think it's possible for Phoenix to foster this scene, just as long as some of the artists go on tour," Chilton says. "The only reason we hear about bands from Austin and Portland is because they get their name out there on a professional and national level. Phoenix needs more of that. You can talk about how great a local band is, but if they never leave, who cares?"

As far as local indie labels, Phoenix's closest comparison to River Jones Music in terms of size and resources, Modern Art Records, did get out of town last year. (The Tempe-formed label moved part of its operations to New York City.) Modern Art founder Ben Collins says it's easier for him to push music-industry buttons in New York than in Phoenix.

On the other hand, Collins says his label wouldn't exist without the legwork he did in the Valley.

"If it wasn't for Phoenix, there would be no place for me in New York. True, it can look attractive to move, but if I hadn't stuck to the Phoenix scene for all of those years, I wouldn't be able to connect [in New York]," says Collins, who believes that indie labels like Modern Art and River Jones Music can place their fingers on the pulse of a smaller town's music scene where big labels, such as Sony and Warner, cannot.


On a Sunday afternoon, Andrews sits inside Mama Java's coffeehouse. Her spiral-bound notebook rests on a table alongside a hot cup of coffee. Inside the notebook are lyrics to her soon-to-be-recorded songs on River Jones Music.

Since the release of her latest CD months ago, she's written enough material to fill two albums. It's not because she's tied down to a recording contract, but rather that she loves creating new music instead of entering the "real world," even if that means drinking coffee for lunch instead of eating a solid meal, which she's doing at the moment.

Andrews takes another sip of java and starts flipping through the pages of the notebook. She's pensive and melancholy. According to her, she's having a "Cancer day," which refers to the astrological sign where her moon (in astrology-speak) is located. However, she's happy and hopeful overall with writing songs and recording albums in Phoenix.

She comes upon a page with words scribbled outside of the margins in black ink. It's a tune that she had written just days before, a song that she plans to play during her upcoming summer tour with The Pioneers of Prime Time TV and Asher Deaver.

Along with getting her music out there, she hopes to hip more people to the pop-folk sounds created in Phoenix, even if it means losing money on tour. "We don't want to be rock stars — we all just want to play music," says Andrews, who pauses for a moment before resting her chin in her right palm and gazing out the window into the Phoenix sky.

Moments later, she turns her attention back to the notebook, looks at the words on the page, and says, "I have so much faith in what we're doing in Phoenix. With all of the positive energy and how hard we work, it should pay off. I mean, why wouldn't it?"

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47 comments
NJ evictions
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Guest
Guest

Dave Brookhouser must not remember when River Jones did a fundraiser for Dave when Dave's video equipment was stolen in Phoenix last year. River raised $300 for CenPho TV to have new equipment.

That "boring ass trend" that Dave was referring to helped Dave buy a new video camera and laptop.

Peace out. That's cool if you don't get it.

Dave Brookhouser
Dave Brookhouser

Great article. I had been wondering why this boring ass trend was so popular nationally.

In the immortal words of David Lowery:

"What the world needs nowis another folk singerlike I need a hole in my head."

Josh Rodriquez
Josh Rodriquez

I think I visited that place! I went there to eat and loved it, went back maybe a month later and it was gone... very unfortunate. Funny, I remember this because stephen was in there when I was, and I thought it was weird. We talked for a bit but he never mentioned being affiliated with the place. Was it called the Lawful Falafel? Place was tasty! Stephen knows his music AND his food!

corey martinez
corey martinez

once stephen steinbrink and his uncle monty lent me $1,200 to start a taco/falafel/boba stand in north scottsdale back in 2008. he would drive up there everyday and eat so many tacos, leave, then come back a few hours later, eat a pound of falafel and then leave. up until i went out of business, he was pretty much my only customer, except he never paid... but i did (and still do) owe him money.

a few people said that it was the location that ultimately did me in, but that doesn't matter. he allowed me to follow my dreams, and eventually achieve them although they were swept away from me all to quickly. praise allah for stephen steinbrink's giant philanthropic spirit.

secret admirer
secret admirer

Stephen Steinbrink died for my sins. I worship at his alter.

Thomas Thorp
Thomas Thorp

Shalon.....you are loved and apprieciated greatly

Aa
Aa

i think the "not a fan" gripe, from the get go, has more to do with the theory that "really good for being 19" doesn't necessarily mean "really good".....????? no matter what you think of the artists featured in the story, good or bad, (and I'm not taking sides here AT ALL) there is definitely some attention brought to Courtney because she is brilliant "for her age." maybe that's why throwing rocks from behind a keyboard is easy for some?

Shalon Jones
Shalon Jones

Dear "Dream Big,"

Even though I do not have to prove anything to a nameless and faceless wimp, I’ll go ahead and list a few things just for fun. To start, River and I started this label together, so I am not feeding off his success. His success is a combination of teamwork from many people working together. Much of the work and financing has been done by me, but I don’t go around seeking credit. That is why I work full time and attend school full time to keep things going. That alone is a contribution to the community, but if you feel like you need more, I have helped multiple local businesses and non-profits in both the Tempe and Phoenix area. In addition, I have developed 2 curriculums for ASU, and working on developing another for GCC for Rock Music History. I am working with a notable professor of music there. I find it interesting that you feel I am somehow suckling from the success of River since I have never once sought any credit for myself. In fact, I refused to interview with Steve when he asked because I’m not a fame hungry hipster. That is why I chose to remain behind the scenes and help the artists in any way that I can while attending school full time and working full time to keep things afloat. To add, the reason I do not play my music out is because I am not a good musician like some of the people around me. I know that because, like I said earlier, I am a music critic myself. I prefer to help musicians in the community that do have something great to offer.

Ginae Klasek
Ginae Klasek

Hey Dream Big, RJM wouldn't exist without Shalon Jones being the backbone. Go ahead be angry, but at least focus it on something true. Also in the mean time here is the number for Touchstone Behavioral Health Services 623-930-8705 they provide free anger management classes.

With Love,

ginae

Thomas Thorp
Thomas Thorp

Hey..."Dream Big"...put your real name up, you weak little worm. I dont think you have the balls. Its easy to pick off people from the bell tower. So go a head a prove that you have an opinion and show who you are. You disgust me with your pathetic lack of nerve and instigation. What do you contribute to community? I guess the body does have to have an @$$h*le. To expel all the crap no one wants to see again. End of the chain you are....so since we dont know your name (and Im convinced that theres no way in hell that someone like you would have the nerve)at least we can all have a visual as to what you look like.....Sphincter Boy

DREAM BIG
DREAM BIG

Haha, oh brother. Shalon, it's cute that you try, but when you stop suckling off of your fiance's success and actually contribute something (hell, ANYTHING) to the Phoenix/Tempe community then I'd be a little more inclined to do anything other than laugh at every word that comes out of your mediocre, tasteless brain. Go listen to a Devendra Banhart record and choke.

Alexis
Alexis

actually, he is in this article. is says "the valley is also home to other talented singer songwriters such as Matthew Reveles and Stephen Steinbrink, the latter signed to Gillgongo Records."

sounds like someone saw the cover and didnt even read it! lol :)

i really like the article. i went to the folk show myself and it was awesome. i wouldnt say pop-folk is my fave kind of music, but these artists are still good. congrats you guys!

Thomas Thorp
Thomas Thorp

I havent got a chance to say it yet but, Courtney Im so proud of you.

R. J.
R. J.

To "whatever"

Did you even read the article? Stephen is IN IT. And, no one said anything bad about him. Are you dense? I bet all these posts are by James Fella anyway.

jason rpbertson
jason rpbertson

i dunno the only time i saw stephen steinbrink was at some house show a long time ago and he was singing about being in a love triangle and other stupid shit. he had blood all over his shirt and two other people were making loud distortion noise and stuff and then he passed out in a base drum. i think he was drinking or something.

Thomas Thorp
Thomas Thorp

I would have to say that stephen is a genius. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform at a show recently. He set up 2 amps and a couple of pedals..(delay and some reverb)and ran the whole thing sterio. so sitting upfront was a really great listening experience. He would create walls of beautiful noise and then a wonderful melody would take shape. I was more than impressed when the lyrics would start, great words and what a voice. I knew i was watching something great happen. I havent taken French Quarter out of my player since. Absolute genius

whatever
whatever

I think stephen steinbrink is the most genius singer-songwriter in this town and it gets me sooo pissed nobody appreciates him. everything he's done has been so eclectic and perfect. you'll all be sorry when hes dead and gone and you never gave him a new times cover story.

shame on you all

Shalon Jones
Shalon Jones

It seems that the negative comments about this article stem from people that were not mentioned in the article. Clearly, they do not have the balls to actually put their real name. I bet we all know these people. These are the people that are critics about everything except their own self promotion. Personally, I love music and I, too, am one of the worst music critics out there. However, being a music critic does not require calling someone “Courtney Marie Suck” or whatever other peon brained vocabulary one can conjure. Being rude on a local paper blog is simply not necessary to qualify one as a “critic.”

That being said, let’s really talk about the article! For one, I think Steve Jansen wrote a great article. He covered artists all along this tiny scene that are ALL great artists. Maybe they are not Sufjan Stevens or Cat Power. So what? Courtney’s lyrics are not simply teenage girl angst. Her lyrics are incredibly deep and insightful, especially for her age. And her voice? Amazingly in key and beautiful- something that the average coffee shop girl cannot claim for herself. And keep in mind, as I previously stated earlier, I am one of the biggest music critics out there. But I can vouch for the amount of growth, depth, and hard work that all these artists have done to try to establish a small piece of music in a small town. Anyone who does not acknowledge this simply cannot see the big picture.

Now, are there other great artists that were not mentioned in the article? Of course there are! Despite Steve’s incredible ability to write a great story, do you really expect him to cover everyone? C’mon now. That is just silly. Do you know who my favorite band is in town? Dry River Yacht Club. They are amazing and they definitely deserve a cover story one day. But, the fact that they deserve a cover story does not negate the fact that these artists do too!

I see all the hard work that these artists do together from behind the scenes, and these people are some of the most humble, grateful, talented, and hard working artists I have ever met. A true test of their character? They would never get on a blog and call other artists names. That is just immature, and not a true picture or criticism of anything at all. Healthy criticism involves reasonable reflection and analysis, not just some punk who is jealous that he is not ion the cover of a local magazine.

Thomas Thorp
Thomas Thorp

I can apprieciate that. I may have been a bit facetious myself. I do agree that the best music critics are not musicians. It wasnt the part that you trashed my friends music or her album that bothered me. It was the fact that you worded it in a way that also trashed my friends integrity. I get it, you dont like her music. Thats cool. I appologize for the angry comment. But i still believe in respect and that assuming anything about an individuals life, that you dont know anything about, as ignorant. But Art and music on the other hand is there to be loved or disliked. So have at it. But if you want to play critic, keep the lines clear as to what you are critiquing.

River Jones
River Jones

National Record Store Day is April 17th this year!!

Becky Bartkowski
Becky Bartkowski

It's definitely "Elliott Smith," and not "Elliot Smith."

also not a fan
also not a fan

Martin, I completely agree: the best critics typically aren't musicians. I may have been facetious about it, but that was what I was trying to convey in my last argument. I'm usually in complete disbelief over the reviews you give, but even if I dislike your column 80% of the time I still support your (or anyone else's) right to not like someone else's music. That's the whole fucking point that all of these "indie" toddlers seem to miss. There doesn't need to be a schoolyard fight just because someone trashed your pal's album.

River Jones
River Jones

If this is Jake Greider! I'm honored. You have one of the best voices in town. Everyone says so, and your song-writing is immaculate! Love you, xoxo.

jake
jake

haters wanna hate... lovers wanna love...

my world has been enriched by getting to know courtney, michelle and everyone in the phoenix music scene. positive people who love each other and love making music. the rest is bullshit power trips.

Martin Cizmar
Martin Cizmar

Also,

I feel the exact opposite about critics in bands. The best critics -- meaning the ones I like to read -- don't play anything. Once you relate too much to the subject you lose your objectivity and start pulling punches. That's why Charles Barkley and Michael Irvin made terrible TV commentators, for example. Music criticism is not some joke thing where you talk about how awesome your friend's band is, at least not for me. It's about giving people something to think about while they listen, and putting things in perspective.

Some dudes in bands can do that, but most dudes in bands play guitar 'cuz they wanted to impress a girl in 10th grade English, and joined a band because they wanted to impress a girl in college English, and don't have much of anything interesting to say about it...

River Jones
River Jones

Nice. It's obvious that there is tons of talent in Arizona. Let's support it... AJJ, Smokus Pokus, Courtney Andrews, What Laura Says, Pigeon Religion, Dakota Jeane, Marianne Dissard, Naim Amor, Fatigo, Haunted Cologne, Dry River Yacht Club, The Pods, Tobie Milford, The Other 49, Coats and Villa, Matthew Reveles, J.D. Stooks, Zachary James Dodds, Hooves, Superstereo, Baby Aviators, Soft Drink, Fathers Day, Black Carl, The Whisperlights, Chandails, all of the awesome stuff that comes from Bob Hoag, Flying Blanket, 513 Analog, Modern Art, Gilgongo, Conspire, Firehouse, all of the local DJ's, dance nights, pool parties, street fairs, and tons more! Help me please, what are some other great bands/places/things in Arizona? Let's talk about something positive for a change. Let's celebrate our favorite local artists and places. I understand that it's not controversial, but dammit... It's what's good for the community as a whole.

Thomas Thorp
Thomas Thorp

just so we are clear. installation and 5 lbs bag of bird seed is free with purchase of two or more birdhouses.

also not a fan
also not a fan

To also quote AJJ:"If this is how you folks make art, it's fucking depressing." In addition, Morgan, "Go out and make your own music. Give people a reason to care what you have to say instead of making gross generalizations based on age and appearance."OH, SHIT. Somebody needs to call MRR, Razorcake, RollingStone, and every other music/cultural zine that ever existed (including our very own New Times) and let them know that they CAN NOT critique anyone's music if they themselves are not in a band. Forgive me, I'll take off my shoes and pick up a tambourine right now so that next time I'll be more prepared.

P.S., that Pigeon Religion post was hilarious.

haha
haha

tom,

thank you for the novel, and your stats. however, i regret to inform you that the music still sucks. i'll send you an email if i'm ever in the market for a birdhouse or an after-school special.

Morgan
Morgan

If you think that Courtney's music isn't saying something, then you're not listening.

I can't speak to the work that other local indies are doing, but I've been lucky enough to catch a very small glimpse of the MASSIVE amount of work these kids do and while you may not like the music, at the very least you can respect that they're doing it.

To quote AJJ: "If that's what gets your dick hard, telling people they're bad at making art."

You don't like it, don't listen to it. Go out and make your own music. Give people a reason to care what you have to say instead of making gross generalizations based on age and appearance.

River Jones
River Jones

Why did Stephen Steinbrinks post disappear? Martin C has done cool things for my label, and Stephen Steinbrink makes great art. Here's what his post that disappeared said...

"I don't desire or need a New Times cover story, I recorded most of my albums with garageband with the onboard microphone of a beaten-to-hell iBook, and Gilgongo Records (which is run by one man, James Fella, out of his closet) has put out my records, but I never "signed" anything on paper. No need to harsh my mellow with all that legal mumbo-jumbo... See More. Not that kinda scene, y'know? I did have to give a blood oath of eternal loyalty to serve Mr. Fella 'till death.

Thanks River, for the kind words, and Michelle, I am totes' jelly of working with Kramer.

PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION PIGEON RELIGION"

also not a fan
also not a fan

I agree, Stephen IS great. That's why he should have the six page spread instead of Courtney-Marie Suck.

Thomas Thorp
Thomas Thorp

I understand that not everyone is moved by the same thing. I understand the cliche that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. I also understand what it is to be courteous and respectful of other people sharing this planet with you...and although some of these posts did a bit more than boil my blood through their ignorant and hateful nature....i will do my best to not return the favor. Courtney is my friend....Michelle is my friend...every single person in that scene is my friend. Meaning...i know them. I have never heard a conceeded word out of any of their mouths. I have never seen them be anything but genuine and kind to everyone around them. I didnt read anything in that artical about Courtney "claiming" to be anything. I have on the other hand heard back handed comments behind their backs and seen them shunned. and for what? the last i checked, this artical that we are all commenting on wasnt written by Courtney....or River....or your mom. It was written by a local paper, about someone who has a great talent and passion for what she does. If only we could all be so lucky to believe in something like that. Phoenix is blessed to have the art scene that it does.....really...and it pains me to see such unprovoked prejudice amidst something so great. Its not just the music, its the visual art, its the people. and whether you like it or not, you are those people. Art is community, and when i look at Phoenix, i see that. I also see some haters....but yes it does come with the territory..... and having said that...."not a fan"..."still not a fan"..."also not a fan"...(Im not sure if those are the names that your mom gave you, and if they are, im guessing you are all siblings and your mom is your dads sister but...) if youll notice I was courteous enough to put my real name so you would know who was talking smack to you. I implore you to think a bit more before you go to typing hateful comments about people. It affects them. It hurts them. It also pisses people off that care about them. and in this case its not some gangly hipster prick that works at urban outfitters....its a 6'1" 215 pound carpenter that was raised on a ranch in southern New Mexico where people treat each other with respect. You should look into it. so next time you want to blab about people i suggest you do it in person, or in an insightful way ,or with not so much contempt and hate on your tongue. but i understand... your soft little keyboard fingers sometimes get the best of you, dont they? but keep it to yourself and the selfentitled, narrowminded, hypocritical, pubescent, go nowhere click you probably run around with. Your ignorance is bleeding all over the nice white carpet. and I dont like it. Thats all.I can be reached at:Thomas Thorp 22 Gentry LnLa Luz, NM 88337foodnpooptubes@yahoo.comany sly remarks regarding this can be sent there.im also accepting texts(575) 921-7272

River Jones
River Jones

I think Stephen Steinbrink is one of the best songwriters in the valley. He's amazing! Me and Michelle played his song the other day on college radio and gave a shout out to Gilgongo Records. I agree that Stephen Steinbrink should get a cover story also. I actually asked during the process of this story! He's been around for years and has toured the entire US multiple times. The tone is great on his records. Courtney wanted to know who recorded him, she really liked it when I plyed it for her. There is a lot of great music in the valley. Congrats to all. xo Sorry if this posts twice, the first one was not showing up on the New Times comment box.

also not a fan
also not a fan

Really?Stephen Steinbrink > Courtney-Marie AndrewsBubblegum doesn't need attention, and even worse this generic, 19-year-old hipster is a carbon copy of every other girl that idolizes Chan Marshall. It's incredibly insulting for this person to say that she "built" the music scene, even for it's genre. That's complete bullshit and I know I'm not the only person reading this that would agree. Why don't we have more female musicians actually saying something, and less teenage girls that think their the only one in the coffee shop with their nose in an ever-so-cliche "spiral ring notebook"? Baffling. Write about shit that really matters, not the boy at Urban Outfitters that never called you back.

Eric Snyder
Eric Snyder

Love it! So glad Courtney and Michelle and the whole River Jones Music crew are getting this attention. So much hard work and great music has been happening! This scene is important and Modified Art or not...it needs to be supported! So excited for what is to come for these guys! But let's just enjoy this moment. Spectacular.

Still Not a Fan
Still Not a Fan

I'll defend my opinion by saying yes! she is talented, but there is nothing Special or telling about her music. I've seen her play and her presence is calming and cute but playing guitar and singing pretty songs has been done and overdone in the valley and all around. Phoenix has more to offer than that and the haters are all around and will remain. S'all i'm saying.

Elliott
Elliott

I'm glad New Times finally did an article about this scene in Phoenix. We have so many good artists here that go unnoticed.

A Fan
A Fan

how is Michelle Blades that much better (if at all)? They have very similar sounds and they're both honestly very good. It seems you're more wrapped up in the details of the musician instead of they're music. Haters gonna hate.

Not A Fan
Not A Fan

the other day a song came on the radio and i was like "ugh is this courtney marie andrews on the RADIO?!" then i realize! "Oh wait, NO! Its just joan baez!"

any cute female in Phoenix with a guitar and some kind of voice will "make it". Average Average Average.

Michelle Blades FTW.

 
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