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Longtime Punk Promoter Will Anderson Leaves Phoenix with a Legacy

There's an amusing photo meme that's been traversing the Internet in recent months depicting alter kocker rockers Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins and declaring: "Punk isn't dead. It just goes to bed at a more reasonable hour."

Try telling that to the pack of aging punks who have forgone an early bedtime in favor of hanging out at Hollywood Alley in Mesa around midnight on Thanksgiving eve, including scene veterans like Tom Reardon of The Father Figures, Jamie Monistat VII of Blanche Davidian, and Jeff Barthold of JJCnV.

Officially, tonight's show is the birthday party for former Hollywood Alley bartender and Valley expat Robert "Fun Bobby" Birmingham, who returns every year for the event with Japanese punkers Melt-Banana in tow. Unofficially, however, it's a farewell for longtime local rock promoter Will Anderson, who helped Birmingham set up the show and is days away from moving east after 20 years of putting on concerts in Phoenix.

While L.A. hardcore band 400 Blows thrashes out "Black Tie Affair" inside the venue, the tall and stout promoter — clad in his standard outfit: punk T-shirt, camo shorts, and a soiled Avail cap — is taking a break from running the door and puffing on a cigarette outside the Alley while chatting with old friends about his impending departure.

One of them is Michael Pawlicki, the former co-owner of Eastside Records, who's reminiscing with Anderson about shows he booked at iconic (and defunct) venues like Nita's Hideaway in Tempe.

"You're way too nice to have been in the business as long as you were," Pawlicki says. "Anyone who usually survives in that business is brutal. It's such a nasty-ass business being a promoter."

Anderson is famous for having booked shows at practically every notable Valley music venue over the past two decades, ranging from bygone favorites like the Mason Jar and Tempe's Green Room to modern-day hotspots like the Trunk Space, Rhythm Room, and Marquee Theatre. He's equally renowned for his magnanimous nature, fervorous devotion to the DIY aesthetic, a love of all things punk, and his roaring belly laugh.

A South Carolina-born military brat who grew up listening to Black Flag, Anderson arrived in Phoenix in the late '80s and got his first exposure to local punk while attending a house show in ninth grade. It was only the beginning, as Anderson recalls seeing gigs by Nomeansno, Bad Religion, and Meat Puppets at VFW halls or such defunct venues as Tempe's Sun Club or the old Dagobah skate park in Mesa. He later got into promoting, including handing out fliers for shows such as Fugazi's performance at the legendary Silver Dollar Club in downtown Phoenix (which was torn down in 1993).

Before long, Anderson wound up working with local promoter Corey Adams, who asked him in 1994 to help out at his new venue, the Nile Theater in Mesa.

"The first time I ever made money was doing something for Corey. It was like, 'Woah, you can make money doing this?' he says. "We were doing things at the skatepark and Boston's and stuff. And after the skate park kinda fell apart and shut down, we didn't have a lot of places to do shows, so that's when he started the Nile."

It was at the original incarnation of the concert hall where Anderson earned his renown, as he was a punk of all trades behind the scenes, handling booking, promotion and everything else in between. ("I just helped get it open, built stuff, did the grunt work, got kids to go . . . everything."). He worked some big gigs, including shows by Oasis and one of two Valley appearance to date by Radiohead.

Anderson was also having the time of his life.

"I did a lot of crazy shit at the Nile. Just being a total fuck-up," he says. "Jumping off stage [and] doing whatever the fuck I wanted."

Sam Means, a former member of The Format who also worked at the Nile in those days, says that Anderson was certain at that time that promotion was his life's calling.

"Will was pretty young when he started working for Corey, so I think that was all he ever really knew," Means says. "It was a natural thing to him."

A major upheaval came in 2000 when Anderson, Means, and fellow Nile employee Mike Jarmuz had a "major falling out" with Adams, resulting in the formation of their own promotion, AMJ Concerts (an acronym signifying all three of their surnames).

Means recalls how they immediately got rolling, running things out of a Ahwatukee condo that he and Jarmuz shared and booking 40 to 50 shows a month ("Anything from small punk shows to stuff at the Club Rio before it got demolished") in Phoenix, as well as Tucson and Albuquerque.

"Once we started going, nothing really skipped a beat. Mike and Will were the main booking agents," he says. "Will worked really hard and fliered, did everything old school, and anyone who knows him knows he's a nice, super-lovable dude."

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.