Austin has South by Southwest, San Francisco has Outside Lands, Manchester, Tennessee has Bonnaroo, and locally, now there's Viva Phoenix.
Viva Phoenix: A Downtown Music Festival is the Valley's latest all-encompassing music festival. Last December, there was the disjointed True Music Festival, and the McDowell Mountain Music Festival has been around for years, but Viva PHX offers a refreshing approach. Instead of a one-stage event with a seemingly haphazard smattering of acts, Viva PHX features 75 artists — half of them local — cramming into 15 genre-specific venues all within walking distance of each other on a single night in downtown Phoenix.
"The struggle is to figure out who to go check out. That will be a lot of people's biggest problem," jokes Charlie Levy, creator of Viva PHX and Crescent Ballroom and Stateside Presents owner. "But 90 percent of the venues are within one block of each other. You can see one type of music at one venue, then walk one block and see another type of music. You can listen to three songs, then go hear another band. It makes it easy because everything is so close. What's not to love about that?"
Diversity is the key to Viva PHX. With 75 bands, virtually every genre and sub-genre is covered, from alternative country to folk, Latin jazz to funk, stoner rock to garage, indie pop to psychedelic, hip-hop to rap, electronica to dance and, well, you get the idea.
"When you don't have a festival that's genre specific or with just one stage, you can open up to a lot of different types of music," Levy says. "We've booked a lot of bands on the way to Austin [for SXSW]. We're always looking for creative ways to have bands play Arizona."
Levy explains that "the idea was always there" to create a downtown festival, "but it was never the right place or the right time to do it." After March 2013's successful Carnaval Electrico mini-festival at the Crescent featuring Cold War Kids and Hanni El-Khatib, Levy was ready to "expand this to all of downtown." With a number of new establishments opening, the pieces all fell into place.
"We couldn't have done this five years ago," he says. "Phoenix is growing so much and there are so many more things going on downtown that this is probably one of the first years we could pull off something like this. There are a lot of things that are here that a few years ago weren't here . . . We thought three, then four venues, and it just kept growing and growing and growing."
To make some sense of it all, Levy has assigned each venue some "loose genres," mixing local and national touring acts. Phoenix's The Senators and Murrieta open for headliner Vertical Scratchers at the Hard Rock, while Wooden Indian and Cherie Cherie mix it up with Chicano Batman at FilmBar; Zero Zero shares a stage with The Burning of Rome at Last Exit Live, and Black Carl finishes a night begun by Los Angeles' Holychild on the Monroe Street Stage. The PHX Alley Stage features Petty Things following Orange County punks GRMLN.
"There are a lot of great Phoenix bands that mix well with out-of-town acts. The Hotel San Carlos has an acoustic rock/Wilco/Mumford and Sons appeal to it," Levy adds. "I'm excited to hear Pigpen Theatre Co., and also Tobie Milford. Pigpen is from New York City and Tobie's from Phoenix. They're going to work great together."
The Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center will feature Latin artists, while Barsmith inside leans in an electronic direction while DJs spin on the roof. The Central Avenue Stage at Cityscape goes rock-centric, as Coffee One, naturally, hosts singer-songwriter/folkies. Music samples of each artist can be found on the Vivaphx.com schedule page.
Perhaps the most exciting stage is the Crescent Ballroom's outdoor setup. A hip-hop monster, this setting features Phoenix's Big Mona, followed by national hard-hitters Murs, Blackalicious, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Z Trip.
"Sir Mix-A-Lot almost never tours. I've been trying for decades to get him to come, and we've finally got him to Phoenix," Levy says proudly. "Blackalicious, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Z-Trip right in a row, plus Murs. If you're into that type of music, it's going to be hard to leave that stage."
If Viva Phoenix is as successful as Levy hopes, the odds are strong this will become an annual event. With the blessings of the city of Phoenix and the Downtown Partnership, it very well could be.
"It's something I've put everything into it, and I'm really excited for it to do well," Levy says. "I've haven't thought about the future too much at all. I'm just thinking about getting March 7, 2014, over and taking a deep breath and going on from there. If it is successful, I'll want to do it again . . . I'll want to tweak it and do it better."