Country music lovers with an affinity for its roots, classic songs, and seminal performers are most likely familiar with Dana Armstrong. Known around town as DJ Dana, Armstrong is behind the Valley Fever event that features live country acts with the spinning of country records in between band sets by herself or DJ Johnny Volume.
For a decade, Valley Fever happened every Sunday at the Yucca Tap Room until about a year ago. Armstrong decided it was time to hit the brakes, slow down the event’s frequency, and shift the focus a bit. “We went for 10 years every Sunday at Yucca Tap Room,” she says. “I wanted to just focus on it in a different way — quality over quantity — and I think it’s more fun to have nights where I can put more energy into it and really curate the night, get more people out, and make it more exciting. I still play old country records every time, which adds another level that makes the event even more unique.”
This Sunday, January 10, is the next installment of Valley Fever, taking place at Crescent Ballroom. Armstrong is pretty jazzed up about this one.
“What’s most exciting is that the Herndon Brothers are going to be playing at the Crescent for the first time, and they’re bringing so much history with them — the Herndon family has owned Handlebar J since the 1970s. Before that, Handlebar J was Wild Bill’s and Waylon Jennings used to play there in the 1960’s. The Herndon Brothers have been playing there five or six nights a week for so many years. They’re pretty much the most seasoned country band we have here and it’s going to be fun to see them outside of their home turf.”
They’ll be performing their own set, which features an array of classic country and western covers, before they perform with Tony Martinez.
Martinez, a country singer who left Phoenix for Nashville a couple of years ago, made his debut as a solo performer at a Valley Fever event around 2007. He has recently been on tour with honky-tonkers Whitey Morgan and the 78’s. While he’s here, Sunday’s happening at the Crescent will be his sole performance in Arizona.
“Tony will have the Herndon Brothers backing him," Armtrong says. "He’ll be doing a lot of originals, including all the songs from a new EP that he came out with earlier this year.”
Arizona honky tonk country singer Tommy Ash will take the stage first to kick off the night. Ash, who has been performing since she was a kid, has a voice that easily hooks you, whether she’s delivering the vocals with a hypnotic, angelic twang or a sultry sassiness. It’s found her a following, that’s for certain; she has now opened for legends like Merle Haggard and won several awards, not to mention the lengthy list of press accolades under her belt.
Armstrong couldn’t be happier about the lineup.
“It brings Arizona country history together with this mix of performers – it’s like an Arizona country powerhouse night,” she says.
As far as the future of Valley Fever, Armstrong says that she’d like to do one every couple of months or so. “A few bars have approached me to do a weekly or monthly night but at this point I am just happy to have the event happen a little more randomly — when it’s the right time. I don’t want to oversaturate anyone. I just don’t want to get burned out or burn other people out on the event.”
The one to watch for after Sunday happens April 28 at the Rhythm Room, and it features Dale Watson and Trailer Queen. She’s also planning her annual event, Quarantine. That’s an all-day event with bands starting at noon and going until midnight. Generally, this has occurred at Yucca Tap Room, but she’s looking to do the next one in Cave Creek, most likely next fall.
In between Valley Fever events Armstrong says she’s been DJing some disco nights and also doing a night called Catamaran, where she spins soft rock tunes.
“There’s a group of us forming a band to play that kind of music, in the vein of Toto, and Steely Dan,” she says. “It’s fun, and fun to dance to.”
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Speaking of dancing, she wants to see you doing some on Sunday, if you make it to the Crescent.
“Sunday will be a great night for dancing; the floor is usually full of two-steppers. The goal is to turn the Crescent Ballroom into an old honky tonk for the night. And it's fun because we're all fans of classic country, which now seems to appeal to all generations.”
Valley Fever may not be happening every week these days but Armstrong remains as passionate about it as ever.
“The most important thing,” she tells us, “is that we do have a very extensive and rich country history here and we have bands that are still continuing that timeline and it’s important to let people know it. ... We support the music that’s authentically country and represents Arizona at the same time."