Note to self: There are still good people in the world doing good things and having fun.
Note to self (part two): Clean off the kayaks and get ready to rock.
Fifty-nine miles from Paul “PC” Cardone’s house in Tempe is Apache Lake, home to the only independent, Arizona-only music festival in the state. Now in its ninth year, the Apache Lake Music Festival (ALMF), which was started by Cardone and downtown Phoenix music venue Last Exit Live’s Brannon Kleinlein, boasts one of the more unique opportunities for fans of local music who also appreciate our state’s weather, beauty, and charm.
On Friday, October 26, and Saturday, October 27, more than 30 Arizona bands (and about 1,000 of their friends and fans) will descend upon Apache Lake, just east of Phoenix proper along the Salt River. Outside of holiday weekends, the 17-mile-long lake is rarely as busy as the other more frequented Phoenix-area lakes and offers breathtaking views. Like its neighbor, Canyon Lake, Apache Lake offers unfettered beauty with multiple nooks and crannies to explore, as well as tall canyon cliffs and occasional glimpses of wild life.
The charm, and the opportunity, that Apache Lake presents is not lost on Cardone and Kleinlein.
“Finding a place to do something independent and underground is really difficult,” says Cardone, who plays bass in the Sara Robinson Band, which will be appearing at the festival. “We’re just fortunate to have had this place for the last nine years. Apache Lake (Music Festival) is a beautiful thing. It’s my Christmas. All the bands play for nothing. They all come up, and getting 200 or so band members to leave their house for nothing — that, to me, says a lot. My favorite thing is when all the musicians, some who’ve never met before, come together.”
For Kleinlein, it was a no-brainer to host a festival at Apache Lake. For one, he had known the Schuster family, the caretakers of the lake and owners of a nearby restaurant, Jack’s Landing, and hotel. Kleinlein reached out to Cardone, who had previously been putting on his Jeromatherapy Festival for almost as long as ALMF has been in existence, to make sure he would not be stepping on any toes.
“I called PC and asked when he was going to do Jeromatherapy. He told me he wasn’t going to be doing it any more, so I told him about the lake and asked if he wanted to be involved. We scoped out Apache Lake together and it worked out really well,” says Kleinlein.
While Jeromatherapy was a great outlet for Cardone, who qualifies for scene veteran status as a member of dozens of local bands over the last four decades, there were significant challenges that made the timing right to start something new with Kleinlein.
“Apache Lake has a restaurant, and a store, and power, and hotel rooms. It’s a beautiful lake that is kind of undiscovered by Arizonans. It’s like a little mini-slice of Lake Powell, with the huge cliffs,” adds Cardone.
Festival passes are $30 for a single day and $50 for the weekend, which includes all related parking and camping fees. While there is plenty of camping to support several thousand people, Cardone recommends arriving early to get the more sought-after spots.
“We have people starting to camp, usually, on Wednesday to get the best spots,” says Cardone.
Prime camping would be those spots closest to the festival and nearest to the beach. It is common for many areas of the lake to become pretty active throughout the night, especially when you get a couple of hundred musicians together. Cardone and Kleinlein both seem to be completely entertained by the idea of musicians and their fans coming together under the stars for some good, clean fun.
“Camping on the waterfront is a very, let’s say, interactive situation. Everyone has guitars and plays music all night. If you want to sleep, you might want to camp a little ways from the festival,” says Cardone.
Kleinlein continues, “There are all these little parties going on down by the beach during the night. We open the doors at 11 a.m. and the show starts at noon every day. There is a hard curfew of midnight for the outside stage, and then the inside stage ends at 1 a.m. After that, everyone heads to the campgrounds, and hangs out, and has a good time.”
While the weather cooperates more often than not, and this year the high during the day on Friday and Saturday is slated to be around 80 degrees with lows in the upper 50s, the ALMF partners do want people to be aware that the unexpected can happen. During the first year of the festival, a storm blew threw during the first night and left the organizers scrambling.
“The first year, we were a little nervous. Everything was going great but we saw some clouds off in the distance and thought, “Please no.” Then it just came in with a vengeance. We tried to break everything down and move things inside. Fans could see we were struggling, and a bunch of people started grabbing gear, and helping us out, and we moved everything inside so the show could go on. This is what showed us we could do an inside stage, too, so the next year we were able to add another then bands or so,” says Kleinlein.
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With more than 30 acts on the bill and an additional 50 or more performers who take advantage of the small acoustic stage that is available during the days, there is a constant supply of local music for just about every discernible ear.
Because of noise constraints, the festival has typically shied away from punk and metal acts, but you never know who will show up and play from year to year. Bands typically start vying for slots in February and March, with Cardone and Kleinlein scouting new and established acts to craft the best possible experience for fans. This year, the festival is headlined by Bear Ghost (on Friday) and Tucson’s XIXA (on Saturday), but there are many notable names on the lineup including Wyves, Captain Squeegee, Japhy’s Descent, and Las Chollas Peligrosas.
Cardone and Kleinlein are extremely grateful for the support they’ve been given, both by the fans of local music and the bands who donate their time to play. In addition, Chris Gebhardt of Cactus Amps provides the backline, and Last Exit Live’s incredible sound man, Bryan Stubblefield, makes sure all the bands sound great. Tempe’s Odelay Bagels makes sure everybody gets fed in the mornings and, over the years, Four Peaks Brewery has helped make sure the bands are properly lubricated before and after their shows. It is truly an Arizona affair.
Apache Lake Music Festival. Noon to midnight, October 26 and 27, at Apache Lake Marina and Resort, mile marker 229.5, Roosevelt; 928-467-2511; apachelakemusicfestival.com. Tickets are $30 to $50 via Eventbrite.