Dear residents of the Phoenix metropolitan area,
I hope you enjoyed Cizmarch Madness, Rampage Fest, or the two-hour series premiere of Minute To Win It this weekend.
While I'm sure those of you who made it out to one of the "Let's catch the bands heading to SxSW" shows had a fun little chuckle about Martin Cizmar and his various comments about how the Phoenix music scene is not working as well as it should, down the road in Tucson, our WxSW festival kicked off the first of six nights on Sunday. I'm pleased to report it's pretty awesome.
Oh, so you saw Nobunny the other night? We had them here too, plus former Beulah frontman Miles Kurosky, Pancho-san (which also features a former Beulah member and a current member of Rogue Wave), Grandaddy's Jason Lytle's new band, and the Fresh and Onlys. Tonight, Or, The Whale, Toro y Moi, the Ruby Suns, and Quasi will take one of the two stages of the festival. Plus, there are four more nights to the festival after SxSW, including what is apparently your only chance to see Surfer Blood in Arizona on this tour.
Six nights of music over two clubs within walking distance of each other. Only $30. Not to say this sort of thing isn't possible some day for the Phoenix music scene, but Martin, in his own loudmouth way, might be right that a few nights of shows miles away from each other isn't ideal.
I talked to Club Congress entertainment director David Slutes about WxSW, and how it came together. I'm sure Martin would love it if a few guys in Phoenix would read this, learn a little about how we're kicking your asses on this stuff, and adjust accordingly:
Up on the Sun: Tell me a little about the premise of WxSW.
David Slutes: I had annually struggled finding the right marketing angle, space, and audience to accommodate the bounty of great new acts that come through Tucson to and from Austin on their way to their SxSW showcase. Doubly difficult as they were necessarily landing on early weekdays, triply difficult as competing venues were wrestling with the same issues. I initially approached Kris Kerry at Plush about doing a "mini" SxSW, where we have one ticket for multiple venues each night. It seemed to make sense, venues get the added marketing of an "event", audiences get a lot of great acts for one low price and the bands get a great early week play, that wouldn't have happened otherwise. Win, win, win.
UP: What have been some of the successes of the festival in previous years?
Slutes: Specifically, we have been able to land some popular, albeit new, acts that needed a pick up date around SxSW . . . Generally, it has done exactly as we hoped, and increased all of our attendances.
UP: How are the booking decisions made? Is it a challenge to fill multiple nights of music between two clubs?
Slutes: Kris and I get along very well and that trust has allowed to us to book smartly and fairly. There are so many acts, many good ones still don't get in. Actually, this is the first year we are only using two venues! We had participation from, three other venues in the past. It is never a challenge to fill five nights, or in this year's case six nights! So . . . many . . . acts.
UP: How does the Tucson music scene benefit from an event like WxSW?
Slutes: Tucson benefits by the simple virtue of having this many great new acts play showcases here. The town feels more vital and cutting edge giving us another excuse to not move anywhere else to find great music.
UP: Why do you think Phoenix can't get its act together and have an event this awesome?
Slutes: The burden I think that Phoenix bears is that it's just too geographically massive. Tempe could, downtown could, but it can't be "Phoenix" per se. Small enclaves of great music exist with an ton of talented promoters and arts advocates -- many harder-working than we have here in the sleepy Old Pueblo -- but without that central nurturing hub, nothing can ever get traction. Tucson has a clear central core where the arts and entertainment exist. This also allows us to foster and nurture these kind of events. Note that we are not alone in the overgrown-college-town thriving-music-scene towns -- Tucson, Athens, Austin, etc. Sometimes it's easier when it's not so overwhelmingly big.