You would be hard-pressed to find a lineup as diverse as the one for this year’s edition of FORM Arcosanti, from the transcendent rock of Florence + the Machine, to the soul stylings of Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals and Mulatu Astatke, the Ethiopian jazz pioneer.
“I really wanted to book artists that I believe that are truly incredible performers,” says festival curator Zach Tetreault, who is also a member of the band Hundred Waters. “There was a human element I wanted to bring into the headliners. When you are as close as you are to the performers as you are at Arcosanti, you can see them breathing. It is part of what makes FORM unique.”
For those not familiar with the eclectic festival, the three-day music and arts celebration is held in the community of Arcosanti, which is 70 miles north of Phoenix and designed by Paolo Soleri. The gathering was conceived originally as part of the release of Hundred Waters’ 2014 album The Moon Rang Like a Bell.
But local observers have noticed that something has been absent a majority of the six years of FORM’s existence: any musical acts from Arizona.
There have been some exceptions. The DJ and producer Mija, who is originally from Phoenix but has been based in Los Angeles since 2015, played the festival in both 2016 and 2018. Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra played last year with Zola Jesus, who was born in the Valley but raised in Wisconsin.
FORM Arcosanti has its roots as a free festival, with attendees filling out questionnaires about why they wanted to attend to ensure a respectful and diverse audience. It now charges for tickets, with a cap of 2,000 people so as not to disturb the community's residents, to lessen the festival's environmental impact on the area's fragile surroundings, and allow the performers to give a relaxed, personal performance.
Tetreault says he didn’t look to what acts other festivals are booking when curating FORM. It upsets him that the festival scene heavily revolves around white men, so he is always looking for a rare and memorable act that attendees won’t find at Coachella or Lollapalooza. Artists such as Mitski, Julie Byrne, and Thundercat have made repeat appearances.
One local promoter, who wished to remain anonymous for this piece, finds the omission of Arizona-based performers odd. They admire how well-organized the festival is and their commitment to the diversity of performers and genres, but couldn’t think of another festival that doesn’t have a musical act from the state that it takes place in, using the Grand Ole Opry at the Tennessee-based Bonnaroo and local bands at the sole Lost Lake Festival at Steele Indian School Park in 2017 as examples.
This is not to say the Grand Canyon State has been completely ignored by festival organizers. Last month, the FORM Labs session at Phoenix Art Museum featured art by the Fortoul Brothers and music by Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra. By making such an effort to reach out on all other creative fronts, the promoter doesn’t understand why FORM organizers don’t seek out more local musical talent as well.
Attendees don’t seem to mind the omission, but in the promoter’s opinion, there are a number of Arizona bands that could fit in nicely with the multigenre lineup. He cites Tuscon-based Calexico, rapper Futuristic, and the South African rock group KONGOS as examples. With organizers being intentional in the diversity of FORM’s lineup, why is Arizona continually overlooked?
Despite the FORM Labs event, Tetreault sees FORM as more of a destination event than an Arizonan one.
“It is something that is bigger than the sum of its parts,” Tetreault says. “What it stands for is much greater. I don’t necessarily have a quota of Arizona acts that I am trying to book. Historically, people come to FORM from all over. It’s not even a majority of Arizonans.”
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Because of the festival’s location, Tetreault says there is a limitation of bands that can play (it’s typically capped at around 40 performers). He feels he is creating an experience for those in attendance instead of booking a festival, so there aren’t any artists playing over each other.
Tetreault says they are looking for bands in Arizona or anywhere else to perform at FORM.
“I am always open to suggestions and submissions,” he says, recommending that interested bands should contact them through their website.
So, if you are a musician from Arizona who wants to play FORM, contact organizers at email@example.com. There's always next year.