Longtime Punk Promoter Will Anderson Leaves Phoenix with a Legacy
There's an amusing photo meme that's been traversing the Internet in recent months depicting alter kocker rockers Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins and declaring: "Punk isn't dead. It just goes to bed at a more reasonable hour."
Try telling that to the pack of aging punks who have forgone an early bedtime in favor of hanging out at Hollywood Alley in Mesa around midnight on Thanksgiving eve, including scene veterans like Tom Reardon of The Father Figures, Jamie Monistat VII of Blanche Davidian, and Jeff Barthold of JJCnV.
Officially, tonight's show is the birthday party for former Hollywood Alley bartender and Valley expat Robert "Fun Bobby" Birmingham, who returns every year for the event with Japanese punkers Melt-Banana in tow. Unofficially, however, it's a farewell for longtime local rock promoter Will Anderson, who helped Birmingham set up the show and is days away from moving east after 20 years of putting on concerts in Phoenix.
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While L.A. hardcore band 400 Blows thrashes out "Black Tie Affair" inside the venue, the tall and stout promoter — clad in his standard outfit: punk T-shirt, camo shorts, and a soiled Avail cap — is taking a break from running the door and puffing on a cigarette outside the Alley while chatting with old friends about his impending departure.
One of them is Michael Pawlicki, the former co-owner of Eastside Records, who's reminiscing with Anderson about shows he booked at iconic (and defunct) venues like Nita's Hideaway in Tempe.
"You're way too nice to have been in the business as long as you were," Pawlicki says. "Anyone who usually survives in that business is brutal. It's such a nasty-ass business being a promoter."
Anderson is famous for having booked shows at practically every notable Valley music venue over the past two decades, ranging from bygone favorites like the Mason Jar and Tempe's Green Room to modern-day hotspots like the Trunk Space, Rhythm Room, and Marquee Theatre. He's equally renowned for his magnanimous nature, fervorous devotion to the DIY aesthetic, a love of all things punk, and his roaring belly laugh.
A South Carolina-born military brat who grew up listening to Black Flag, Anderson arrived in Phoenix in the late '80s and got his first exposure to local punk while attending a house show in ninth grade. It was only the beginning, as Anderson recalls seeing gigs by Nomeansno, Bad Religion, and Meat Puppets at VFW halls or such defunct venues as Tempe's Sun Club or the old Dagobah skate park in Mesa. He later got into promoting, including handing out fliers for shows such as Fugazi's performance at the legendary Silver Dollar Club in downtown Phoenix (which was torn down in 1993).
Before long, Anderson wound up working with local promoter Corey Adams, who asked him in 1994 to help out at his new venue, the Nile Theater in Mesa.
"The first time I ever made money was doing something for Corey. It was like, 'Woah, you can make money doing this?' he says. "We were doing things at the skatepark and Boston's and stuff. And after the skate park kinda fell apart and shut down, we didn't have a lot of places to do shows, so that's when he started the Nile."
It was at the original incarnation of the concert hall where Anderson earned his renown, as he was a punk of all trades behind the scenes, handling booking, promotion and everything else in between. ("I just helped get it open, built stuff, did the grunt work, got kids to go . . . everything."). He worked some big gigs, including shows by Oasis and one of two Valley appearance to date by Radiohead.
Anderson was also having the time of his life.
"I did a lot of crazy shit at the Nile. Just being a total fuck-up," he says. "Jumping off stage [and] doing whatever the fuck I wanted."
Sam Means, a former member of The Format who also worked at the Nile in those days, says that Anderson was certain at that time that promotion was his life's calling.
"Will was pretty young when he started working for Corey, so I think that was all he ever really knew," Means says. "It was a natural thing to him."
A major upheaval came in 2000 when Anderson, Means, and fellow Nile employee Mike Jarmuz had a "major falling out" with Adams, resulting in the formation of their own promotion, AMJ Concerts (an acronym signifying all three of their surnames).
Means recalls how they immediately got rolling, running things out of a Ahwatukee condo that he and Jarmuz shared and booking 40 to 50 shows a month ("Anything from small punk shows to stuff at the Club Rio before it got demolished") in Phoenix, as well as Tucson and Albuquerque.
"Once we started going, nothing really skipped a beat. Mike and Will were the main booking agents," he says. "Will worked really hard and fliered, did everything old school, and anyone who knows him knows he's a nice, super-lovable dude."
Fliers are a weapon of choice for Anderson, who prefers such DIY methods to online promotion or Facebook. ("Because if you try to hand a flier to a kid now — unless they're a punk kid — they don't take 'em," he says. "Screamo kids are like, 'Nah, man. It's cool, man. I'm cooler than you.'") He's notorious for carrying around large flier-filled Rubbermaid tubs in his beat-up pickup truck during massive fliering sweeps throughout the Valley.
"Up until a week ago, I'd go out and flier high schools at two o'clock in the morning, hit telephone poles [everywhere]. That's the way you do it," he says. "I once fliered the Mesa Police Department with Cop Shoot Cop fliers. They never caught me."
Anderson, a self-described workaholic, eventually had to run AMJ on his own. As time went on, Means split off to start The Format. Jarmuz also got involved with managing the band, spending more time on his duties with The Format and less time promoting shows. By 2003, both he and Anderson had become overwhelmed by the rigmarole of the concert industry and increased competition from other agencies and started co-promoting shows with Nobody in Particular Presents, which was run by concert guru Tom LaPenna.
Ultimately, Jarmuz moved to New York and Anderson merged AMJ with LaPenna's operation and became Lucky Man Concerts. Anderson served as talent buyer, using his vast connections and friendship with countless rock and punk acts to book venues like the Marquee Theatre from 2004 until 2010.
Maria Vassett — a longtime punk scenester, onetime promoter, current concert photographer (who also freelances for New Times), and former girlfriend of Anderson's — says that his connections with a "who's who of the rock and punk world," not to mention his affable personality, was one of her former beau's strong suit.
"I think if you asked anyone in a band he's booked — despite all the changes in the music business and everything that's changed with booking — they'd say that he not only was punk rock about things, he was loyal to bands about everything: the booking, the money, everything," Vassett says. "And the bands would stay true to him. No matter how he [had to get] the money, he always paid his bands. And that's why people really respected him and came back and played for him — because he was a good promoter."
That includes scrappy Virginia-based act Avail, which is Anderson's favorite band, to say the least (as demonstrated by his well-worn cap emblazoned with the band's logo, as well as the two tattoos he sports on his body). A number of times during the past decade, Anderson not only would fly the band to Phoenix for epic sets on his dime but would put them up in his house.
Danny Marianino, whose band Northside Kings was booked numerous times by Anderson, says such treatment wasn't exclusive to a high-profile band like Avail.
"He understood what it's like for a band to be on tour, coming into town, spending a shitload on gas to get to Arizona; fed the bands, put them up at his own house after the show. That's the shit that some promoters used to do but don't anymore. Will was just one of those guys. This town suffered a great loss with Will Anderson gone."
In 2010, Anderson left Lucky Man. He declines to speak about specifics but stated: "I learned a lot working at Luckyman. I learned how to do an arena show. I learned how to do a lot of stuff. It just wasn't making me happy, so I left," he says. "I just [wanted] do my own thing and I'll see how it works out."
Anderson returned to booking shows at the Nile, which was reopened last year by indie promoters of Mantooth Group, which was started in 2009 by several ex-Luckyman staffers.
Michelle Donovan, owner of Mantooth, says she was impressed by his knowledge of the concert and music industry, which he shared with her during their time together at Luckyman. She wasn't the only one who sat under Anderson's knowledge tree, as he had a habit of schooling others in the finer points of booking and promotions.
"He's maintained friendships with the local scene for more than 15 years now, and anybody you ask about Will Anderson, nobody really has a bad thing to say. And it's rare to say that about anyone in this scene," Donovan says. "And the people who got to work with him and were influenced by him should consider themselves fortunate."
Naturally, she and other Mantooth staffers recruited him to help book the Nile.
"It was like going home again. It meant a lot to me," Anderson says. "I wasn't making as much money as I had been, but I was having fun again."
So why did he leave Phoenix? Anderson says he decided in the past few weeks after a "couple bad shows." He wouldn't elaborate, however. "I don't wanna talk shit about bands or anybody else," he says.
"I just love punk rock. To be honest with you, it was getting to a point . . . I didn't want to get to the point as a promoter [where] I have a lot of friends [who] are gambling big and writing checks that ain't gonna clear. Gambling on shows, they lose a bunch of money, write a bunch of checks, the check don't clear. I ain't gonna be like that," he says.
So two weeks ago, Anderson hastily packed what's left of his record collection (sold off in recent months to pay for vet bills for his basset hound, Angel) and headed for South Carolina, where his mother resides. He'll spend more time with his daughter, possibly attend culinary school, put on occasional shows, and might just wind up in Richmond, Virginia — home of Avail (natch).
"I'm just a punk kid that got lucky. Any kid could do this. That's kinda the problem, too, now — all these kids doing shows. There's just so much competition here, it's ridiculous. It's like L.A. But I've got no ill will toward any of the promoters out here. I've co-promoted with everyone, like legends like Bill Silva Presents and Danny Zelisko," Anderson says. "It's funny that I pretty much started my career here at the Nile and then ended it at the Nile. It's just my time to leave. I've got a daughter and stuff . . . I can't be living paycheck to paycheck and wondering if I'm going to have to sell my car to fucking pay some band."
For once, Anderson feels that money is an issue.
"I don't want to write anyone a bad check. I'm probably gonna leave here with, like, $1,000 in my pocket. That's all I'm gonna have. But I made sure I cover everything. I don't want to leave on a bad note to anybody. I don't wanna owe anybody money. Other than Steve [Chilton, who promotes as Psyko Steve], because I'm gonna owe him rent money, because I gotta get across the country somehow. My mom's coming to get me. How punk is that?"
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