Partying Hard on Mill Avenue

It’s Friday, and you need to put the week (and especially the memory of that lousy Psych 101 exam score) behind you. Mill Avenue beckons.

Will you start on the patio at The Handlebar? You will, because you’re trying to be pandemic-conscious but also because you like to start slow, with a couple of cold brews, and the Handlebar beer menu is impressive. The sausage sandwich at the next table looks tasty, but it’s too early in the evening for food. Maybe at the next stop.

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Local rapper Jacob Railford fights for social justice and civil rights in the streets and behind the mic. As an activist and community organizer, he's wielded a megaphone while participating in dozens of protests since the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and is a founding member of anti-police-brutality organization W.E. Rising Project. As rapper Roqy Tyraid, he dexterously spits lyrically complex flows in weekly Twitter videos calling out local cops for brutal tactics and politicians for misrepresenting his group and Black Lives Matter protesters as criminal gangs. (Sample cut: "Most BLM protests were people / Predatorily arrested / Felonies for yelling in the street / Instead of misdemeanors.") Railford, who's been performing since 2005, told the Arizona Republic in July his rap career helped him segue into being an activist, and both pursuits ultimately have the same goal: working to inform others about social ills like police brutality and systemic racism. For Railford, there's more work to be done and he'll continue spreading the word with both microphone and megaphone.

Phoenix's rave scene has been a breeding ground for dynamic DJs for decades. One of its more recent standouts is Srija Serineni, who has worked her magic on the mixers as FAIRYDVST at desert parties, warehouse ragers, and forest campouts since debuting in 2016. What separates Serineni from other local DJs, other than being a south Asian woman performing in a scene largely white and male, are her forward-thinking mixes that weave new music from undiscovered bass house, U.K. garage, and future house artists with darker and weirder grooves. She was dropping producers like Qlank, Nostalgix, and Moksi on underground crowds well before they became staples of EDM playlists. Serineni still gigs at raves, including her own, but has crossed over to more mainstream events, bringing her outsider mentality and early adopter savvy to clubs and festivals. Local EDM promoter Relentless Beats began tapping her for events after she placed highly in a 2019 DJ battle. She's also lit up house music nights at Bar Smith, Hi Score Club, and Zuma Grill, putting clubgoers on the dance floor at each spot under her sonic spell.

Renowned Phoenix concert promoter Danny Zelisko has done and seen it all — and he's the first to tell you about it. In his 2020 memoir, All Exce$$: Occupation: Concert Promoter, he spins unforgettable (and often wild) yarns from 45-plus years of producing more than 10,000 gigs since the mid-'70s for a who's-who of music legends in the Valley and elsewhere. Like helping Pink Floyd sell out back-to-back nights at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in 1988. Or booking Paul McCartney at Sun Devil Stadium in 1990, or smoking weed with Perry Farrell when the now-defunct Compton Terrace hosted the first Lollapalooza show in 1991. As enthralling as this behind-the-scenes glimpse was to read, it told us what we already knew: Zelisko has profoundly shaped and influenced the local concert scene for decades, from mentoring Crescent Ballroom/Valley Bar co-owner Charlie Levy early in his career to advising the current proprietors of Celebrity Theatre after longtime owner Rich Hazelwood died in March. And he keeps bringing icons like Styx, Cheap Trick, and George Thorogood to town for fans of a certain age to enjoy and younger fans to discover. Keep going, Danny — we aren't ready for you to hang up that backstage pass yet.

It never fails. Every weekend night, a crush of clubgoers invade Scottsdale's bar-heavy entertainment district by the thousands to drink, dance, and debauch. Typically, the destination for this roving horde of 21-to-35 party monsters is the intersection of Saddlebag Trail and Indian Plaza. This T-shaped crossroads is a nightlife epicenter of the Valley: There are a dozen hotspots within stumbling distance of each other, each with its own vibe, DJ selection, and amenities. Along Indian Plaza, there's a posh nightclub (Pretty Please) next to a beer garden (Bottled Blonde) next to a tequila-and-tacos joint (Casa Amigos) topped with a boutique bowling alley (Skylanes) across from a pool party haven (Maya). Over on Saddlebag Trail, hip-hop hub INTL, country bar Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row, and open-air dance club Hi-Fi compete for attention spans. The scene is chaotic, bordering on shitshow territory, and Scottsdale Police usually block off both streets to traffic, so forget about rolling up in your ride. Stick with those speedy golf carts instead to get you to and from the madness.

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