“We're Sedona’s baby Woodstock.”
Those are the words of Brandon Decker, one of VortiFest Music Festival’s organizers and performers, describing the upcoming event taking place on Saturday in Sedona. Now in its third year, VortiFest was one of the good things to come out of COVID.
When the pandemic hit, something unexpected happened; tourists descended on the town in droves, says Decker, a longtime resident. That was a good thing for the Chamber of Commerce, but bad for the outdoor music scene because, in his words, “it dried up.”
Daunted by the lack of musicians unable to perform collectively, in 2021 Decker devised a plan to get the music back to the people safely. He called upon his friends David Schmidt and Rachel Grant, who own businesses in Sedona, to create a venue for the artists and their fans.
“We would clear out their business and put down seating distance by 10 feet in groups, you know, sell 30 to 40 tickets,” he says. “We were doing these concerts called ‘Rose Water Sessions,’ and people loved them because everyone was missing music and getting together.”
This concept led to another idea — an outdoor concert. “Towards the end of that summer, we were like, let's just have a festival. The idea was to get a big plot of land and, you know, people can distance however they feel comfortable.”
Thus, the idea of VortiFest was born.
Although the concept is Decker’s, he won’t allow you to discount the others who make it all happen. Even the name reflects the collective effort.
“When you get together with some people and you're gonna name something, everyone thinks their name is the best, you know?” He says at one point the name Red Rock Music Fest was considered. “There's a hundred names passed around, and we were like, it's gotta be something, right?”
This whirlpool of ideas would eventually lead to giving the festival its official name; VortiFest, “It's a play on vortexes,” says Decker. “It's a festival in the vortex.”
Included in that swirl are the musicians. This year there are more than nine acts, including Decker himself, who will play at the festival. One is the local Phoenix band The Hourglass Cats, who have been infusing their brand of high-voltage, reggae-inspired bebops in Phoenix and Mexico for 12 years.
Frontman Cori Rios finds this year’s venue, Pavillion at Posse Grounds, to be a favorite of his.
“We did a mountain bike event there a few years back and it was one of the coolest stages we've ever had the pleasure of playing on,” he says. “All the bands on the lineup this year are amazing and I'm excited to meet some new faces and hear some new sounds.”
Rios says it blows his mind that Phoenix has one of the most underrated music scenes in the country; he seems to discover new talent every week.
“I really think Arizona has its own style,” he says. “It's almost like everyone has a dusty, desert-type mystique that seems to come out no matter what the genre. It's been an absolute blessing to be a part of a community of people that are so talented, loving and accepting. It's also been really cool to watch all the friendships between bands develop over the years and how new projects are always stemming from that. I'm really excited to watch what happens over the next few years with all the great bands and artists out here and I'm really happy to be a part of this community.”
VortiFest is a single-day event that will last from noon to 9 p.m. That seems like a small timeframe to entertain hundreds of people at a music festival. However, it's been planned out so that when the music is not playing, you can work up an appetite at the vendor village or take the kids to the kid’s zone.
As for food; this year, Decker says he didn’t want the ubiquitous caravan of food trucks offering ordinary street grub. He wanted to expand the experience to include worldwide cuisine,
“We're calling it the Taste of the World International Food Fair,” he says. “There's Colombian, Italian, Korean ... The idea was just to curate [VortiFest] with a little something more special, you know, and also to kind of hit people that maybe aren't so into a music festival, but still wanna come see what our community event is about.”
Admitting that living in Sedona for the past 20 years has made him biased toward its allure, Decker reiterates how special VortiFest is to the community. He is not trying to mimic other mainstream events such as Coachella or Country Thunder, he wants to fill the void of “underserved” local musicians, “and bring in a great experience for everyone else.” The bottom line is to make it fun for everyone.
Decker himself just released his eighth record with his band .decker, titled “Ouroboros.” Recorded at the famous EastWest music studio in Hollywood, Calif., it's unique because a documentary team chronicled his journey in creating the album, which also features a 16-piece orchestra. The documentary had its world premiere at the Phoenix Indie Film Fest this past February.
But touring is difficult; it's hard to get an orchestra to every venue. “It's got horns and strings and the choir and there's really no way to take that on the road unless you're making pretty good money,” Decker explains.
However, he will be playing at the festival along with acts that include Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, Damiyr, Rivers Run Wild and Earth Surface People.
“I mean, it's just magic, you know, the views here are impeccable,” he says. “Everyone is there having a good time, you know, it’s many kids' first music festival they ever go to. We've got people in their 60s, we've got fairies and people on stilts and, you know, it’s a great music festival.”
VortiFest Music Festival. Noon to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2. Pavillion at Posse Grounds, 525 Posse Ground Road Sedona. General admission is $45 and VIP tickets, which include backstage lounge seating, food, private bar and private restrooms are $125 through BrightStar Events.