By Jeff Moses
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The Sound Strike, the boycott of Arizona by popular musicians opposed to Arizona's controversial anti-immigration law SB 1070, has been a divisive topic among Arizona music fans. While its intended effects, which include raising awareness of the law and targeting a national spotlight on the topic, are clear, many music fans in Arizona — people who didn't ever vote on the law — felt slighted.
Tim McIlrath, guitarist and vocalist of Chicago-based punk band Rise Against understands that. A vocal member of the Sound Strike coalition, he's been a part of the organization's shift away from a commercial boycott, and this weekend, Rise Against is scheduled to return to Tempe, for a date alongside Hot Water Music and Gaslight Anthem.
"We thought a statement had been made. The point of it had come across and we felt like it was moving in the right direction," McIlrath says. "In terms of the four of us, we were uncomfortable with the passive nature of what we were doing. We felt like we could do more if we were in Arizona, but we also wanted to respect the boycott and respect the Sound Strike."
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Though the most controversial part of the law, the "papers please" provision, went into effect on Tuesday, September 18, McIlrath believes that the band can make a positive difference from within the state. The band is donating 100 percent of the ticket sales from its Thursday, September 27, show in Flagstaff (after expenses and taxes) to local human rights organization the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. McIlrath spent time in Tucson and Nogales to see the border fence and witness court proceedings of undocumented immigrants. By working with the Florence Project, he learned that some deportees had an American lineage without knowing it.
"It was a really hard thing to say to our fans that we're not going to play there anymore," McIlrath says, noting that the band fondly recalls its first Arizona show, in the Nile Theater basement. "But at the same time, we just couldn't compare a fan's disappointment of not seeing a rock show with the families that were suffering on the ground because of this legislation that we felt was adding discrimination to a country that we love."
The triple-threat lineup of Rise Against, Hot Water Music, and Gaslight Anthem could be considered the Dream Team of contemporary punk, with both Rise Against and Gaslight Anthem citing Hot Water Music as a noted inspiration. "They're heroes of old punks, including ourselves," McIlrath says.
Members of nostalgic New Jersey punkers The Gaslight Anthem hold Hot Water Music in the same esteem. "That's a band that we all grew up listening to," says drummer Benny Horowitz, "a band I saw in a basement when I was 15 years old."
In May, the recently reunited Hot Water Music released Exister, its first album in eight years. "You go on a nine-month tour, and at the end of that, you're not doing anybody any favors. You're burnt out, your voice is blown out, and your body is just beat down," says guitarist/vocalist Chris Wollard. That the band needed a break makes sense. The time off served them well, as the album embodies the same raw fury as some of the band's earlier work, a fury both Gaslight Anthem and Rise Against share.
Though Rise Against is undoubtedly the most overtly political band on the lineup, McIlrath knows that the positive message issued by the bands has the potential to help foster change in Arizona.
"I've always felt like we're plugged into something more with our audience," McIlrath says. "Our audience is engaged. We have an audience that gives a shit that we've [boycotted] Arizona, whether they agree with it or disagree with it. We have an audience that is talking about it and cares. We're very lucky to have the audience that we have and we're especially lucky to have an audience in Arizona."