The eclectic crowd are united for a common cause: an all-ages party put on by a genre-less band with a growing reputation, The Color 8.
According to bassist Jeremiah Smith, while their genre-bending is unusual, their formula is simple. “We play all types of music because we like playing all types of music,” he says.
This week, they’ll play the fan-favorite “Savage Season” for the first time since it was properly recorded and released late last year. It just appeared on Spotify, but the audience will surely be singing along with the song’s goofy hook: “I got an Xbox / Only got two games / I play Mortal Kombat / I play as Johnny Cage.”
The track came together in front of a crowd at a First Friday show more than two years ago when guitarist Mikal Benion, who goes by Kal, spontaneously busted out his video-game themed mantra over a lick from Smith.
The song is a fitting encapsulation of the band: fun, dynamic, and full of grooves. It inspires both swaying and head-banging.
The band are committed to challenging musical convention. Meander down to their patch of grass on a First Friday, and you’ll hear Rage Against the Machine-style guitar riffs, extended sax solos, rapid-fire freestyling, and a drum and bass rhythm section that could hang in any jazz club.
From top to bottom, the band have chops. One would be forgiven for assuming they formed at some East Coast art school, but they’re home-grown in Phoenix. And here they intend to stay so they can continue building their boundary-busting community one Friday at a time.
Over four years, their monthly, communal performances have become a bona fide First Friday tradition. There are no seats, no barriers, and no tickets. The crowd and band merge into one dancing, moshing mass of bodies.
“We're not trying to play at [the audience]; we're playing with them,” Benion says.
A 20-year-old Benion surveyed the First Friday scene back in 2015. He noticed “all the different types of cliques and genres” walking Roosevelt Row, and imagined a band that could bring them together.
Benion says he was schooled in classic rock, jazz, classical guitar, and R&B. When it came time for him to start a band, he didn’t want to sacrifice any of those sides of himself, so he assembled a diverse crew of musicians with varied backgrounds he knew from school and recording sessions.
“I’m like Nick Fury from The Avengers,” he says.
Although dozens of musicians have played with The Color 8 over the years, the lineup has developed into a solid core group of four.
There’s drummer Emmett Nash, a Wisconsinite who came up playing gospel music at church. He moved to the Valley to play tight end at Phoenix College. There's also bassist Jeremy Smith, the son of music directors at local Catholic parishes, and rapper/horn player Ashton Vaughn Charles.
“The first day we ever jammed, we made like three songs that day,” Benion says. “It was instant chemistry.”
Back in 2016, Benion and the boys went door to door on Roosevelt Row to look for a place to set up. They landed on monOrchid, who, upon hearing the bands’ mission statement, offered up some space outside. They’ve hardly missed a First Friday since, and their mission statement hasn’t changed a bit.
“We’re a band that tries to inspire people to try new things and get out of their comfort zones,” Benion says. “We want to change the tradition of normal.”