Music News

Getting Ovah It: CenPho Scenesters on Why Downtown Phoenix Is Still the Hub for Valley Music

I was, by happenstance, in Tempe when the shit-storm started: Sitting in one of those outdoor booths at Casey Moore's drinking with some friends and playing with my phone only to discover a bunch of angry @martincizmar messages from tweeps pissed about my latest column.

It raged on from there. Before the weekend was over, I'd heard reports of some dude from a local band screaming "Fuck Martin Cizmar, fuck New Times!" from the stage at a CenPho music showcase.

The actual title of the piece that inspired such fervor matters little now. I'll just yield to popular opinion and call it the "Downtown is Ovah" column. It's a phrase I coined in arguing that Tempe, not Phoenix, will be the center for live music in the coming years now that Modified Arts, the heart of the downtown scene, has decided to be a lot more like a regular art gallery than an underpowered concert club.

That phrase has since taken on a life of its own — it's even a URL,, where you can buy the shirt.

Yes, there's a shirt.

I've thought long and hard about what to follow up with, but sitting down to write a response after a guy who was in The Format printed T-shirts with my phrase on it seems pretty pointless. Time will tell who is right, and I'd be happy to be proved wrong. So, in the interest of promoting a real dialogue on the matter, I've turned over this week's column to four downtownies who think I'm wrong. Here's why they have hope for downtown Phoenix, music and otherwise.

Lou Kummerer, musician

"Downtown is Ovah." Hours after Martin Cizmar published those now-infamous words, a goddamn war of opinions erupted, with the who's who of the Phoenix and Tempe music community calling for Cizmar's head on a fucking platter. But Martin missed the point: This isn't a question of Phoenix versus Tempe. The closing of Modified and [Modern Art Records head] Ben Collins' move to New York is a change that will propel Phoenix and Tempe's music scene to even greater heights.

I've been involved in the local music community in both Phoenix and Tempe for over 10 years. I played bass for The Loveblisters (a "Tempe" band), and we played Modified frequently. I also played for Miniature Tigers (a "Phoenix" band), and we played Tempe venues all the time.

Music happens, has happened, and always will happen in both cities.

Right now, Phoenix is without a venue. So what? Modified has already proved that a music venue in Phoenix can draw a crowd. Something else will inevitably pop up. And if you've got the scratch to put together a venue in downtown, you'd be an idiot not to at this juncture. Meanwhile, we have Tempe. And when this Phoenix venue opens, crowds will readily return to Phoenix.

In my years as a musician and a fan, I've seen countless venues come and go. Remember Nita's Hideaway? Boston's? Neckbeards? The Green Room? They were all, at one time, the epicenter of a disjointed music scene, and their closings were seen as huge blows.

There is a lot to be said for what Modified has done for the music scene in the metro area. But the stage was too small, the P.A. only half-worked, the A/C was shoddy, at best, and the lighting was straight-up creepy.

We now have a close-knit and determined music scene that crosses city lines, as well as talented musicians, promoters, and fans who will carry the baton to the next relay point without thinking twice. The bar has been raised. Downtown ain't ovah. It's just getting started.

Lou Kummerer is a "too-hip-for-Scottsdale oldster looking to buy expensive art for the loft he furnished at CB2." He was also a founding member of The Loveblisters and spent a year as the bass player for the Miniature Tigers. He lives downtown.

Jacqui Johnson, CenPho.TV host

It can be discouraging to walk around downtown and see all the empty condos, and hear stories of CityScape and other [developments] scaling back. After all, weren't they supposed to fill up downtown and provide everything anyone could need in just a few city blocks? But if you ask me, those were never going to do the trick.

You can't build some pretty towers, point to them, and say, "This is the cool spot." If it doesn't happen organically, it never will. It takes people who are here for the long haul, who are committed, motivated, and involved, and I meet people like that everywhere I go downtown. So what gives me hope for downtown Phoenix are the people who are already here and making it better every day. Some have been here for years, and more keep trickling in. We're here because we love it, and it's where we found our home. I don't just hope downtown will thrive, I know it will, because I see it happening right in front of my eyes — slowly maybe, but I'm not going anywhere, and I've got a lot of patience.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar