The Best Music Moments in Metro Phoenix in 2022

Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra's set at Zona Music Festival brought down the house.
Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra's set at Zona Music Festival brought down the house. Neil Schwartz Photography

If you can’t find live music around metro Phoenix, you’re not looking hard enough. The past year was packed with songs, albums, gigs, and more artists than the most ardent music fan can take in. A number of great things happened in the local music scene last year; here are some particularly noteworthy ones.

Voiceless Mass by Raven Chacon

Technically, Raven Chacon’s Voiceless Mass debuted in 2021, when it was performed as part of a Thanksgiving service at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But we didn’t hear it until spring 2022, when its creator became the first Indigenous composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. In his statement to the Pulitzer committee, Chacon wrote, “This work considers the spaces in which we gather, the history of access of these spaces, and the land upon which these buildings sit.” The dissonant tones of the work and the distance between the musicians performing it (a COVID-19 necessity, but a visually striking representation of separation and disunity) was both challenging and moving. Chacon currently lives in New Mexico, but he hails from Arizona, making this a 2022 highlight that hits close to home.

Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra at Zona Music Festival

In our opinion, the inaugural Zona Music Festival was a success. Yes, despite the rain and the mud. Yes, despite the COVID-related cancellation of headliners Tegan and Sara. Technically, the Sunday night headliner and festival closing act was Portugal. The Man over on the largest stage. But we think that the set by Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra was really the high point of the weekend. See, Zona had a distinctly local ethos, from the large number of metro Phoenix acts on the bill to naming all four stages after Arizona artists. The crowd who stood to watch PAO on the Mingus stage was composed of true believers – not the people who ponied up for a festival ticket to see national indie acts, but the ones who love and support the local music scene. PAO, fronted by Camille Sledge, brought a vibrant, interactive, joyous set of songs that set nearly everyone dancing and closed the festival on a celebratory note.

Jam for PC

The death on November 10 of bassist Paul “PC” Cardone was an enormous blow to the Tempe music scene and the many people who called him a friend and mentor. In the immediate aftermath of the news, local musicians organized a jam session that took over Yucca Tap Room in Tempe on Monday, November 14. Tears flowed from the performers and the audience inside the packed performance space. Outside, friends and family told stories and comforted each other. A Celebration of Life concert will be held at Yucca on January 6, but the raw expression of emotion through music, just days after the loss of Cardone, will be something we won’t soon forget.

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The exterior of Chars LIVE in midtown Phoenix.
Benjamin Leatherman

New Beginnings for Chars LIVE and Lost Leaf

The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on concert venues and performance spaces all around metro Phoenix. Some didn’t survive. But two beloved venues found new life in 2022. Longtime blues bar Char’s Has the Blues went up for sale during the pandemic. Valley businessman David Cameron bought the space in late 2020, but it didn’t reopen until February of this year. The updated space, now called Chars LIVE, is a little more upscale, and offers live music virtually every night of the week. But Chars wasn’t the only space Cameron took over this year; when Roosevelt Row hangout The Lost Leaf was just days from closing, Cameron stepped in to keep it alive. It’s remained mostly the same so far, which is to say it’s a downtown haven for local artists and musicians, and the people who appreciate their work.

Gin Blossoms Secret Show

We were lucky enough to be tipped off (by who, we won’t say). One night in April, during Mark Zubia and Jesse Valenzuela’s regular Tuesday evening appearance at Old Town Tavern in Scottsdale, there was going to a special surprise: Robin Wilson, lead singer of the Gin Blossoms, was in town, and he was going to get up and play a few songs along with Blossoms guitarists Valenzuela and Scotty Johnson. Thirty years after the release of their classic album New Miserable Experience, the Blossoms are still filling large venues, but on this night, they were close enough to touch as they played favorite songs like “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You.”

Hookworm One featured new music by four local bands.
Hookworm Records

Hookworm One Debuts

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more ardent supporter of the metro Phoenix music scene than Ryan Clark, author of the Keep the Greasy Side Down blog and owner of Hookworm Records. This year, Clark released Hookworm One, a four-song EP featuring previously unreleased music by local acts The Woodworks, The Psychedelephants, Paper Foxes, and SHOVEL. It wasn’t certain that Hookworm One would even come to fruition – Clark nearly died from an aortic aneurysm last fall. But he survived, and Hookworm One is an eclectic keepsake of a particular moment in Phoenix music. Hookworm Two is well underway, this time with offerings from the likes of Chrome Rhino, Fairy Bones, and Sliced Limes, and we’re betting we’ll like the second installment just as much.
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Jennifer Goldberg is the culture editor and Best of Phoenix editor for Phoenix New Times.

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