Art Meets Activism at Pro-Creative in Downtown Phoenix

Young Mothers will perform at Pro-Creative at Crescent Ballroom.
Young Mothers will perform at Pro-Creative at Crescent Ballroom. Jason Roedl
After reuniting his band Young Mothers in July 2017, frontman Zach Toporek has kept busy in the Arizona scene, putting out new music and performing at Valley Bar, Club Congress, and Crescent Ballroom in recent months.

As the year came to a close, he took his newfound inspiration and began dreaming up new projects for 2018. For Toporek, it meant coming up with a kind of event he’d want to attend, too.

“It’s not that shows are boring, or that music or comedy aren’t enough on their own to capture an audience’s attention,” Toporek says. “It’s just that we’ve all spent a million Fridays doing the same-old, same-old of watching a set, snagging a drink, watching a set, snagging a drink.”

“I’m 29, which isn’t old, but in my bones I feel a million years old,” he jokes. “For a show to get me out of the house after work, it’s got to seem really special, like something I can’t miss.”

That sentiment morphed into Pro-Creative: A Variety Show to Benefit Planned Parenthood AZ, which will be held at Crescent Ballroom on Friday, February 16.

Before he even had a date, venue, or lineup, Toporek knew he wanted the event to benefit a local nonprofit. When he snagged the Friday after Valentine’s Day, Planned Parenthood AZ was a no-brainer.
“Everything about this event was designed to get as many people in the door and raise as much money for Planned Parenthood AZ as possible, so we very specifically put the lineup together with an eye on keeping the music as varied as possible and getting really active artists involved,” Toporek explains.

The event will feature four local bands: Hyperbella, Paper Foxes, Young Mothers, and The Darts. Between them will be sets from three comedians: Anwar Newton, Erick Biez, and Steven Yanez Romo.

“[It] seemed like a good way to create something larger than the sum of its parts,” he says.

From the start, the folks at Crescent Ballroom and promotions company Stateside Presents were excited about the idea and helped identify bands that would fit the lineup and be excited about the cause.

“I enjoy turning the traditional rock show format on its head as much as possible,” says talent buyer David Moroney.

Stateside is frequently involved in philanthropic endeavors, including its Cover the Crescent series, benefiting arts education in Arizona. They also host Party with a Purpose every Friday night at Valley Bar, which focuses on fundraising for the LGBTQ+ community.

“In general, we try to align our time/talents as a venue and music community as much as possible,” Moroney says. “In a time when a lot of people feel helpless in their ability to help their community and people suffering abroad, we want to offer an outlet for humanitarian aide.”

That’s why representatives from Planned Parenthood AZ will on hand at Pro-Creative, speaking to the cause, accepting donations, and signing up volunteers.

click to enlarge The Darts will be closing out the Pro-Creative show at Crescent Ballroom. - JIM LOUVAU
The Darts will be closing out the Pro-Creative show at Crescent Ballroom.
Jim Louvau
The lineup itself features a strong female presence. Hyperbella has Cassidy Hilgers on vocals/guitar and Carly Bates on vocals/keys. The Darts will round out the night with their fully-female power rock. It will be their first show in a month, as they've been busy recording new songs at Flying Blanket Studios.

"I think that as a band of women, we feel that it is important to support Planned Parenthood," Darts bassist Christina Nunez says. "As a musician who isn't independently wealthy and hasn't had a lot of jobs that include insurance I've used their services many times."

And Young Mothers will introduce a new female member to the group: Rachel Ludeman (El Sonida De Reposa, Ticky Tacky) on vocals, guitar, and keyboard. She also found the cause to be one close to home.

“Planned Parenthood was definitely a supportive nonprofit that I utilized, especially as a young woman with no health insurance,” Ludeman says. “I’m also a massive advocate of the ‘My Body, My Choice’ mentality, and Planned Parenthood has supported those views.”

Toporek and Ludeman met while playing with The Through and Through Gospel Review, and it was she who motivated him to re-form Young Mothers and start writing and playing shows again.

“Playing with Young Mothers is inspiring, because everyone is so damn talented at what they do,” she says. “Everyone challenges each other to play their best in this band.”

In fact, the band will be releasing a brand new 7-inch release the night of the show. It will be on clear vinyl, and features two new songs. The A-side, “Gone,” is soulful and smooth, and features most of the Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra horn section. Toporek describes the B-side, “Lighten Up,” as “a wistful mixture of Wilco and Of Montreal.” It’s kind of an extended joke on how serious Toporek gets when left to his own devices.

click to enlarge Comedian Anwar Newton will perform at Pro-Creative. Fun fact: He is the founder of Ja Rule Day. - ANWAR NEWTON
Comedian Anwar Newton will perform at Pro-Creative. Fun fact: He is the founder of Ja Rule Day.
Anwar Newton
Speaking of jokes, the comedy portion of the show is also stacked with some local heavy hitters. Newton has been involved in the comedy scene about five years and hosts a weekly show in the Crescent Lounge. He will emcee the event and perform his own set before The Darts take the stage.

Toporek was nervous to approach Newton because he’s so busy, but Newton jumped at the opportunity right away.

“I don’t often get the chance to do benefit shows, so this is exciting,” Newton says.

He and fellow comic Biez used to produce shows together a few years back. Romo has been hosting regular comedy nights in Tucson, like Seasonally Romo and Romo Tonight Live! at The Flycatcher. Not only is this a special Phoenix set for Romo, but after recently putting his shows on indefinite hiatus, this might be the only time you can catch him for a while.

According to Newton, the local comedy scene has also been involved in philanthropy. Local comics like Ryan Paul Johnson, Gene Moore, and Derek McFarland often hold benefit shows with food drives and donations to various health foundations.

While Toporek writes and records for a Young Mothers album due early next year, he plans to do more events like Pro-Creative in the near future with other artists to benefit worthy causes. He also encourages other local creators to get involved with our community issues.

“Even a little can go a long way,” he says. “And it’s super-easy to call attention to and raise a little money for a good cause.”

Pro-Creative: A Variety Show to Benefit Planned Parenthood AZ comes to Crescent Ballroom on Friday, February 16. Tickets are available for $10 at Ticketfly.

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version.
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Ashley Harris is a longtime professional fangirl. You can usually find her out at concerts, movies, and live theatre, or glued to the latest Netflix revival.
Contact: Ashley Harris