Local Wire

Gallery of Sound

It's called Art Detour, but hey -- music's art, too, and the annual creative confab taking place this weekend is as much about sounds as it is about sights.

These days, no chitchat about the downtown arts community is complete without major props for the music scene, which has noticeably flourished while the rest of the Valley has seen favorite long-running clubs shut down over the past few years. And what especially strikes me about this is that it's not a new wave of bar owners, but artists and gallery owners leading the way: Almost every newish spot to see live bands downtown is an art space.

As of press time, many of the venues mentioned below didn't have music schedules available yet, but you're bound to find plentiful, free music happenings during Art Detour -- just check our listings for details. Or, you can simply let your ears be your guide, as casual performances happen on street corners and in front yards, not to mention in the nooks and crannies of even the smallest artist studios. Best of all, you can hang out and listen, or just take in a little bit of mood music until you've checked out the visuals on display.

Used to be, music was overshadowed by an onslaught of fresh canvases and elaborate installations. Downtown's art scene started to boom with the popularity of First Fridays, but music was slow to keep up. Lately, however, with two music festivals taking place in the past six weeks, not to mention more and more bands playing on any given night of the month, it's quickly turning into a hot spot.

Just last month, I saw an electric, playful crowd at Four White Walls on Grand Avenue, a combination art gallery and boutique taking part in the Oh Shit! A Fest? music festival. Outside on the street, things were pretty subdued -- just a small cluster of guys chatting among themselves and hardly any cars going by -- but inside, it was a playground gone wild.

Peachcake was onstage with an expanded lineup, bouncing around in animal masks and waving light-up wands as they sang along to blaring, happy keyboard melodies. Thrift-store-hip teens and twentysomethings filled the narrow room all the way to the back, dancing and bopping alongside racks of clothing, tossing big stuffed animals over their heads, throwing confetti, and singing along at the top of their lungs.

The party didn't start overnight. Modified Arts definitely deserves credit for breaking the ice. Back when the Roosevelt Street gallery and music venue opened in 1999, Art Detour was a much smaller, way more under-the-radar affair. This was long before the stadium shake-up, before serious talk of downtown development, before thousands of people started making it a point to visit tiny galleries on a regular basis.

In the past several years, there's been a slow, steady drumbeat of organic nightlife, and First Fridays helped people start putting "music" and "downtown" in the same sentence. For a while, the offerings were limited: a jazz trio at Modified, The MadCaPs' roving rock from the back of a pickup truck, and maybe some bongo drums accompanying fire dancers in an empty lot. Holgas began hosting performers on an outdoor stage, while the Paper Heart, in its old location on Fifth Avenue, started scheduling bands, performance artists, poets, comedians, and other quirky entertainers.

Two years ago, Paper Heart relocated to Grand Avenue, to an odd, angular building that's twice as big as its former garage space -- big enough for a stage and even a bar. While it's still an art gallery, Paper Heart's eclectic performances are what bring the steady traffic throughout the month. That's led the way for more galleries that do double duty as music venues, including The Trunk Space, The PHiX, The Fort, The Cone Gallery, and, most recently, Soul Invictus. Some of those spots participated in the 40-act Bands on Grand festival two weeks ago, mustering up yet another sign of Phoenix's musical progress: a walkable night of club-hopping.

To be fair, art spaces don't have a total monopoly on the music front. Both Paisley Violin, a cafe on Grand, and Carly's Bistro, a cafe on Roosevelt that formerly housed Paisley Violin, feature live performances (mostly on the acoustic side), and even the happening Asian restaurant Fate welcomes DJs to spin for its patrons. Just south of Roosevelt, The One Place is an alternative church by day, an all-ages club by night. They're all art-friendly places, though, pretty much catering to the same creative crowd showing work at the galleries.

What's promising about all of this is how diverse it is, even while it's small-scale compared to other cities. The contingent of local bands is remarkably loyal to these cozy locales, and on any given night, you could expect to see anything from hardcore and punk bands, to pop and indie rock acts, to alt-country and hip-hop groups. Touring indie bands are becoming a presence at more venues, too.

As another plush toy flew overhead at that Peachcake show, something (no, not a stuffed dog!) struck me. I felt like I was in the middle of a day-care center -- or at least a high school pep rally. And that made me happy. These kids are growing up downtown, something older music fans from these parts can hardly fathom. These are the future band members, club crawlers, club owners, real estate moguls. By the time they're old enough to drink, people like me won't be writing about the future of downtown anymore. The future will have arrived. Things are looking Grand, indeed. -- By Michele Laudig

Details on specific acts and performance times are available in this supplement's listings.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig