Each spring, thousands of music fans from all across North and South America load their cars with camping gear, illicit substances, and three days' worth of clothes and head to Indio for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. It's a yearly ritual that involves little showering, more than 100 of the most in-demand bands, DJs, and entertainers, and a lot of money exchanged among promoter Goldenvoice, the vendors, and performers. In 2012, the event will double in length, taking over two weekends — six days total — in the Coachella Valley.
It's tempting to think of the Apache Lake Music Festival as a "Phoenix-band Coachella." The two festivals have plenty in common: a remote location (Apache Lake is located about 60 miles east of Phoenix), camping, heavy drinking, and days spent listening to bands from nearly every genre. But that's where the similarities end. Organizers Paul "PC" Cardone and Brannon Klienlein, both veterans of the Tempe music scene, don't generate money for the bands or themselves; in fact, they barely break even.
"When I see the word 'festival,' tagged along with that is big dollar signs. So we are trying to get as many people out as we can, and showcase these great local bands we have [in Phoenix]," Klienlein said when announcing the concert to Up on the Sun, the New Times' music blog.
Klienlein and Cardone officially launched the Apache Lake Music Festival last year, but the event's roots stretch about 150 miles northwest of Apache Lake, to Jerome. Built on the backs of copper, silver, gold, prostitution, and vice, Jerome was once a Wild West kind of town. Now it's the place you drive your out-of-state in-laws for a sample of Arizona culture — or at least what Arizona culture used to be.
Cardone is fond of the town's cowboy country clichés. He considered the dusty, blink-and-you'll-miss-it mining mecca a home away from home. In 1993 or '95 (he can't quite remember), he pooled his friends from Phoenix and Jerome into one big — well, big for Jerome, anyway — music festival packed with Phoenix talent. It started in a dirt lot at Gold King Mine. There were no bathrooms or running water. The entire festival ran on extension cords and can lights, but that didn't matter. There was music in Jerome.
He called the event "Jeromeatherapy." There weren't any vendors or sponsors or security guards. It was all about a short list of bands and a whole lot of local-music love. There was no need to complicate it, and they had no intention to stop holding it in the future.
In 2010, Brannon Klienlein, former co-owner of Last Exit, a Tempe venue that closed in 2009, was thinking of launching a festival of a similar nature. In the early planning stages, he called Cardone to make sure that his proposed concert was scheduled far enough away from Jerometherapy to avoid stepping on Cardone's toes.
"One day we just called each other and were like, 'Why don't we just make one good one?'" Cardone says.
Klienlein had some friends working at Apache Lake, located in the Tonto National Forest, and to the duo's shock, they were open to hosting a music festival on their grounds.
The move from Jerome to Apache Lake seemed natural for Cardone. After all, he had been bringing bands like Dry River Yacht Club and Los Guys (both of which are playing Apache Lake Music Festival) up from the Valley for years. The idea of a stage placed next to the lake appealed to him.
Now in its second year, the festival is bigger than it was last year, spanning October 7 and 8, and featuring both an outdoor and indoor stage, located inside the Apache Lake Resort Motel. For two days, some of Arizona's most popular bands will congregate in the desert for an all-out powwow of rock, blues, ska, pop, and Latin, featuring Ladylike, Hot Birds and the Chili Sauce, The Persuaders, The Sugar Thieves, and more. Organizers reached out to bands that have played the festival in the past, but also to some the newer names in local music to represent a fuller spectrum of the scene.
"[Brannon] has a good rapport with the bands, but I have a super-good rapport with the bands because I'm kind of like the [local music] weird uncle," Cardone jokes. "All 30-something of these bands come up for nothing but a burger, a little bit of shelter, and some Kiltlifter." Beyond the bands, the festival is run as an entirely volunteer operation, and at this point, all the volunteer positions are maxed out.
"It's gotten to the point that I don't even know what jobs to give them," Cardone says.
Since its Jerome days, the event has quadrupled in size. This year's festival will include enough performance spaces that bands that aren't on the official roster can get up on stage and get exposure to an estimated crowd of about 1,000 local music fans.
"There [are] just so many good bands here, no matter what genre they are," Klienlein says. "I mean, that's part of the thinking behind this event and why we're just pretty much doing local bands. There's a great scene here that a lot of people don't know about, so if we can help expose that and get all of those bands playing together on the same stage and same area in one weekend, I think that's what this whole thing is about: community."
The duo has managed to build a good reputation with the National Forest Service, in part thanks to that sense of community. During 10 years of putting on local music festivals, one person got punched. The rest of the festival's history has been more than a little "Kumbaya." Cardone looks back fondly on last year's festival, when a grim-looking storm was rolling in beyond Apache Lake's peaks, threatening to ruin the thousands of dollars of equipment on stage. Together, musicians and festival-goers broke down the entire stage and packed up equipment in minutes. Fans picked up garbage and cleaned up after themselves. This isn't rock 'n' roll as you'd traditionally think of it. No one is hoisting their guitars into amps, and no one is leaving behind their PBR tallboys.
For Cardone, Jerometherapy and Apache Lake Music Festival were never about making money. In fact, he hasn't earned any profits. It's been a labor of love. He and Klienlein set the ticket price low for the event intentionally. Perhaps they could charge more, but they don't just want to get the regular local music lovers out to the event — they want to convert the friends of those who come out to the Church of Arizona Music.
"Thirty dollars for 35 bands works out to something like 87 cents a band," Cardone smiles. "You do the math."
Actually, it's 86 cents.