Charlie Levy of Crescent Ballroom: 2014 Urban Legend Award, Performing Art
Charlie Levy hits Urban Legend status after about two decades of booking concerts in Phoenix.
Odds are if you've seen a concert in Phoenix in the last decade, Charlie Levy had something to do with it.
While running his own venue, Crescent Ballroom, he also books concerts through his promotions company Stateside Presents at almost every Phoenix and Tucson area venue, not to mention other venues around the state. Coming off the huge success of the sold-out Viva PHX festival, Levy reflected on Phoenix's music scene and what he has in store for the future.
See also: Announcing the 2014 Big Brain Finalists
Originally from Louisiana, Levy moved to Tempe to go to Arizona State University back when Mill Avenue was alive with venues and the university booked huge acts like Cher, Paul McCartney, and Sinead O'Connor at its activity center. Though he majored in sociology, he worked as the student government concert director and quickly found a passion for it.
After college, Levy started booking shows on his own in 1995 and transformed the now-closed Tempe venue Nita's Hideaway into a beloved music hub by booking local and national indie big shots like Neko Case and Yo La Tengo.
Flash forward almost a decade and Crescent Ballroom, which opened in 2011, is doing well, though Levy says it's tough to keep the momentum rolling after the honeymoon phase.
"I think the hardest thing is to not burn out," he says. "At first you're all excited and then fatigue sets in, like on a run or in a relationship."
Levy sees the music scene in Phoenix as unique, with music fans who are truly grateful for great shows. While he believes concerts give people the most bang for their entertainment buck with a relatively low cost and high payoff, he says more locals than ever are beginning to see concerts as the thing to do on a weekend, too.
"I think people here are true music fans -- so appreciative and loyal," he says. "I wouldn't want to open a music venue anywhere else, especially not snooty places like Portland or Seattle -- forget that."
Levy says that local music and venues are thriving, but he doesn't see a major hub for music anywhere in town that compares to the Mill Avenue scene in the late '90s. Instead, several venues around town are destinations. He says Last Exit Live is one of his favorite places to see a show and that he wishes the scene had more all-ages places like the Trunk Space to accommodate the state's restrictive liquor laws at venues. These laws require mid-level venues (those where maximum capacity is less than 1,000 people) to separate the drinking crowd from under-agers, which means extra cost and complication for venues looking to include younger audiences.
Levy's already got plans for the next Viva PHX.
Despite being credited with breathing much-needed life into downtown Phoenix with Crescent, Levy doesn't have a master plan for the city's music scene. He's focused right now on taking it easy after the extensive planning and coordinating that went into the huge multi-venue festival, Viva PHX. The event, which Levy collaborated with New Times to host, featured such local and national acts as YACHT, Sir-Mix-A-Lot, and Wooden Indian and took over downtown Phoenix for one night with a crowd of more than 8,000 people.
Of course, he won't be taking it easy for long. Levy is already planning for next year's festival, slated for March 14, 2015, and he knows the ways he wants to expand it and streamline it to improve the experience for everyone. His ideas include everything from hosting live classical music in an old church to making ticketing lines more efficient and limiting the distance between stages for a more walkable festival. While he hopes it gets "bigger and better" next year, he says his main goal isn't to have the festival grow out of control like South by Southwest has.
Instead, he says he's trying to make something "special for Phoenix, uniquely Phoenix."
"I was just like 'oh, we should do this,' and I had no idea if we could pull it off and we did," he says. "As far as what it becomes, who knows?"
Artopia will take place from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, April 25, at Bentley Projects in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 the day of the event. See more at www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bigbrainawards.
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