Over the past few years, downtown Phoenix arts collective and event coordinator Walter Productions have regularly had their hands in something awesome and inspiring with "The Walter Show," their fleet of six oversized art cars.
Party-going Phoenicians will recognize members of the fleet, including Walter the Bus and Kalliope soundstage, from appearances at such Valley events as Phoenix Pride and Viva Phoenix. But over the years, the fleet has gained a national reputation and exposure by bringing its community-building vibe to major events outside Phoenix as well.
This weekend, June 7-10, "The Walter Show" will make its fifth appearance at one of the biggest and most prestigious music festivals in the country: the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival 2018 in Manchester, Tennessee. Arguably even more important, Walter brings back Kalliope, its LED-bedecked art car with elevated DJ stage and built-in 100,000-watt sound system. And did we mention it's mobile?
The collection started over a decade ago with founding member Kirk Strawn and Walter the Bus, a retired New River Fire Department truck that was forged into an oversized replica of the classic VW Bus. Walter the Bus got its first big nod of recognition at Burning Man, the annual Nevada event dedicated to radical self-expression. "The Walter Show" was born, the "fleet of fun" grew to six, and Kalliope became the star.
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Participating in Bonnaroo, affectionally known as 'Roo or Bonnarooooooo by festivalgoers, is quite a coup. So many greats have graced the stages there that, in my humble opinion as a touring musician and regular festival attendee, it is the best outdoor music festival for both patrons and artists. Bonnaroo was on the forefront of the "Headliner Only" slot in the modern festival era, meaning headliners appear only during a two-hour slot on the main stage each night. They also go really, really, really late every night, too (sorry Coachella, but you don't). And just when you think the night is over, in comes Walter to keep the party going.
The uber-popular Kalliope will be rocking the house this year at several Bonnaroo events, including day parties. In fact, this will be the most use the stage has ever had at the event since first arriving on the scene in 2014.
And because Walter is all about engaging the local community, they will be bringing some downtown Phoenix talent with them as well. A tightly curated selection of some of Arizona's best house-vibe DJs will be dropping beats on Kalliope at various times throughout the weekend, bumping it loud and bumping it late. However, what about that down time? Have no fear, Walter Yoga is here. So, too, will be Big Red.
Walter Yoga, an arm of Walter Productions devoted to wellness, will be offering two yoga and movement classes each day of the festival in Plaza 2, in the Garage, where Big Red [Walter's oversized VW Beetle] will provide sound and light effects.
But let some of the folks involved with Walter share their insights. We spoke with Walter Productions representatives Jeremy Watson, Gordon Ogden, and Kate Swarm, DJ Sean Watson, and GUILD collective representative SEJO, who all will be on hand.
Phoenix New Times: Since constructing Kalliope, how have the dynamic and capabilities changed for Walter Productions? And what visions do you have to continue and expand the journey to more events like Bonnaroo or Lost Lake?
Jeremy Watson: Upon Kalliope’s creation, the capacities, size, and expertise of our team immediately evolved. We now have production mangers, audio engineers, lighting designers, laser operators, engagement ambassadors, performers, and custom fabrication divisions. We are known for creating safe spaces of joy, inclusion, and fun. Having the ability to work with amazing festivals like Bonnaroo, Lost Lake, Electric Daisy Carnival, Life is Beautiful, among others, has given us wonderful opportunities to create those spaces for massive audiences. It has propelled us forward, and we are now working on creating several venues in the Phoenix area where we will be able to create special experiences for audiences of all sizes on a more regular basis.
One of the main visions behind Walter Yoga at the Big Red Garage is to help people "tune in," as opposed to "tuning out" through the practice of movement and yoga. Can you please expand upon your vision for readers?
Kate Swarm: The shift in consciousness that is experienced within the music festival environment, is the same place of transcendence we carefully curate through yoga and other wellness happenings. It is in these moments that our fear, and ego are dissolved, and our bodies resonate with universal truths of equality, love, acceptance, and understanding.
How has performing at Kalliope at Bonnaroo for the past several years changed your outlook as a DJ? And what do you love most about playing Kalliope at Bonaroo?
DJ Sean Watson: From the first year, all that happened with Kalliope, Walter Productions, and Amber (Phoenix DJ Mija) was just so almost surreal. As a DJ I've built off those moments, practicing to make myself better at my craft and putting out my own music are definite beautiful side effects when you realize, literally, the sky is the limit when it comes to spreading joy and music! My favorite part about playing Kalliope at the 'Roo is the mystique we hold there, all the surprises and the pure joy of being able to share music with 10,000 people, most whom you have never met, and create an experience we will all take home together. The festival has so many genres, and the crowd on the farm has very open musical minds, it's quite special.
You had said that during your set at Bonnaroo, you plan on dropping tracks from other Guild Collective. How does it feel to be representing part of the Arizona music scene on one of the biggest stages North America has to offer?
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SEJO: Yes!! I will be dropping some unreleased music from my brothers Books, atreetalking, Keenan Mathias, and Dungeon Destroyah. Everyone in the group has been working on some insanely incredible stuff. So I’m super-pumped to be bringing a piece of them to Bonnaroo with me.
Man I don’t even know where to begin, it all still feels incredibly unreal to me! I am super super thankful to have the opportunity to represent GUILD and so stoked to throw down with Sean, Cormac, and Klu. I don’t think it’s going to fully hit me until we board that plane together.
We’ve also got a few releases on the way. Dungeon Destroyah and a local favorite, Salty Brasi, have a new tune titled “Warrior Warrior,” which they just shot the music video for, all filmed by the talented Dylan Toon. BLK llama has a new hip-hop project titled Antirockstar due to release next month. Vast Moyie also has a new project on the way titled Gorgeous Psychosis: An Audible Catalogue for Rappers. Atreetalking and AM both just recently dropped new dreamy projects on Spotify, titled Reasons Why and Empath. As for shows, we are currently working on the next Cloak&Dagger with Stoneypie.