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The Balls, Strikes, and Home Runs of Innings Fest 2020

Fans cheer on Weezer as they take the stage Sunday night.
Fans cheer on Weezer as they take the stage Sunday night.
Kelsee Becker

Another Innings Festival has come and gone, and organizers pitched fans a fun blend of baseball and rock music on Tempe Town Lake. And it looks like organizers are going long. On Sunday evening, an announcement that the event would return on February 27 and 28 went out on the event's Twitter account.

But was Innings Festival a perfect game? Of course not. In the spirit of improving what we hope will continue to be a tradition, we share what got us running the bases, and what should go on the DL.

The Struts signed records at Zia Records' pop-up shop before they took the stage at Innings Festival.
The Struts signed records at Zia Records' pop-up shop before they took the stage at Innings Festival.
Kelsee Becker

Home Run: Zia Records Pop-Up Shop

It’s comforting to have a local presence at a festival that takes place in your backyard. Zia Records has done an amazing job of adding to the Innings Festival experience by managing artist meet-and-greets and providing a fantastically curated selection of records to browse through when you need a break from the music. One might even argue that the selection of records is better curated than the lineup. But the idea of selling records at a music festival? It makes sense. Jared Duran

Strike: The Mostly Vanilla Lineup

There’s something to be said for knowing your niche and leaning into it. Innings knows its audience: dads, boomers, weekend day-drinkers, rockers, and country-folk. It’s a normcore fest, and it knows it. Would it kill them to book some more dancey, uptempo groups? Maybe throw in at least one raucous punk band or get some hip-hop on the bill for variety’s sake? Ashley Naftule

Adding to what Ashley said, only two female acts played. That’s a problem. And most of the performers were vanilla as fuck (a notable exception being Rainbow Kitten Surprise). Don’t get me wrong, I like some of these acts, but what this says is: “We want to bring in as many white middle-aged dudes, their wives, and bros as we can. Hopefully, they will buy a lot of beer, and it won’t matter who they’re listening to.” To that end, it’s effective. Jared Duran

ZZ Ward performs "Put the Gun Down" at the Right Field stage.
ZZ Ward performs "Put the Gun Down" at the Right Field stage.
Kelsee Becker

Home Run: Just a Bit Inside

Getting in and out of festivals is almost always a huge pain in the ass. Credit is due to the folks at Innings for running a pretty tight ship this year. Wait times to get inside were reasonable, security checks were lighting-fast, and giving folks the ability to leave and come back throughout the day made for a more user-friendly experience than a lot of other local fests I’ve been to. Ashley Naftule

Strike: Chicago Cubs Fans

I hate to stereotype, but as a Milwaukee Brewers fan who's been to his fair share of Cubs games at Miller Park (soon to be American Family Field, and known as Wrigley North by Chicago baseball fanatics), the opposing team loves to get rowdy when they're not catching a game from the home field bleachers. This behavior was also on display at Innings Festival as those donned in blue and red jerseys grabbed at, spilled on, tripped over, and danced with me throughout the weekend. Far be it from me to yuck on someone else's yum, but if this type of behavior takes away from me locking into a groovy set, it's a problem. It's not like Innings Festival can weed out the Cubs fans (the Brewers tried and failed in their attempts), but if there's a way to better gauge when someone should be served, that could go a long way in helping cut down on the violations of personal space. Jason Keil

Sean Casey, left, and Eddie Vedder, center, talk with Ryan Dempster Off the Mound.EXPAND
Sean Casey, left, and Eddie Vedder, center, talk with Ryan Dempster Off the Mound.
Off the Mound with Ryan Dempster

Home Run: Bringing the Baseball

I love baseball, so when I get to see Ryan Dempster and Jim Thome swap stories from the road live onstage, it speaks to me in a way that music doesn't. It's an even bigger kick to see a legend like Bret Saberhagen making his way across Tempe Beach Park to see Dave Matthews Band with no one blinking an eye. The sports aspect of Innings Festival is overlooked, but to me, it's what sets it apart from the other festivals that seem to come and go every year. Jason Keil

Strike: Chaw Down

There are few smells more obnoxious than the cloying, almost minty, yet alcoholic scent of chewing tobacco. While I don’t begrudge people their vices, I spent a few years in my teens working as a movie theater usher. Throwing out people’s rancid-ass chew cups instilled a lifelong distaste for the habit in me. I bring this up because that smell was preposterously strong at Innings Fest to the point that I wondered if they had developed some kind of air freshener and were perfuming the air with an artificial chaw fragrance. I know Innings has a baseball theme, but you don’t have to commit that hard to the bit. Ashley Naftule

O.A.R. perform at the Right Field stage during sunset on Sunday, March 1.
O.A.R. perform at the Right Field stage during sunset on Sunday, March 1.
Kelsee Becker

Home Run: Mother Nature

This isn’t so much an Innings Fest compliment as it is one for the calendar and Mother Nature. The last weekend of February is a perfect time for an outdoor festival. The sky was wide-open blue and clear, the weather was cool without being cold, and it was sunny without being oppressive. Combine that ideal climate with the rolling greens of Tempe Beach Park, and it made for a great time to just idle around and get your ultimate Frisbee on. Ashley Naftule

Strike: Food

Perhaps the single most disappointing thing at this year’s Innings Festival was the food selection. I was already not a big fan of it last year, but at least in addition to the generic American, Asian, Mexican, and Italian offerings, there were a handful of food trucks. This year, not so much.

With a veritable plethora of options to choose from, surely there was something.(Editor's note: Waiting in line for over 20 minutes for an $8 slice of pizza, only to find out they were out of the variety you wanted, was a buzzkill.) Phoenix has blossomed into a foodie town, and surely, even with many other events occurring the same day, something was available? Like podcasts, food trucks are something everyone has. I’m pretty sure I have a food truck out there somewhere that I don’t even know about. The situation had me sticking to the free snack selection in the press tent. Jared Duran

Death Cab for Cutie made it through four songs on Sunday, March 1, before cutting their set short.
Death Cab for Cutie made it through four songs on Sunday, March 1, before cutting their set short.
Kelsee Becker

Ball: Death Cab for Cutie's Set

I don't begrudge Ben Gibbard for stepping away from the microphone mid-set on Sunday evening. As someone who has yet to see the band perform a full show (they're my indie-rock white whale), I was disappointed on a personal level, but it was obvious to nearly everyone that he was fighting something fierce.

However, the screams of frustration from concertgoers unconcerned for the welfare of another human being was a little concerning. People yelled, "I bet he's still getting paid." Really? Is that your takeaway? Everyone from Gibbard to Beyonce put on their pants the same way we do (the pants probably look better and cost more, but the point still stands), but our compassion for each other shouldn't diminish because someone is on a stage.

But I did get to hear "The New Year" live, and I'll always have that that memory. Jason Keil

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