How Relentless Beats Found a Home for Its Alien-Themed Music Festival

Benjamin Leatherman
Phoenix Lights lands on April 7 and 8.
Thomas Turner tends to work at warp speed. It’s not surprising, given the enormous to-do list the local electronic dance music promoter has to grind through on a daily basis. His company, Relentless Beats, puts on more than a dozen EDM events around the Valley each month, including club shows, pool parties, and music festivals. And Turner usually works 12-hour days to help make it all happen.

Lately, he’s been working around the clock prepping for Phoenix Lights, the extraterrestrial-themed music festival that Relentless Beats promotes every April.

Inspired by the UFO that famously buzzed around Arizona skies back in 1997, the two-day mix of ETs and EDM is the company’s biggest event of the spring festival season. And with less than a week until this year’s Phoenix Lights — which runs from Saturday, April 7, to Sunday, April 8 — Turner and his staff couldn’t be busier.

“Oh, there are so many things to deal with right now,” he says. “We’ve got to advance the production for each artist and coordinate all their lighting and video. That’s one component. There are also set times to arrange, cues to set up, and all these other details to handle.”

One thing they won’t be sweating is where Phoenix Lights 2018 will beam down.

The 2018 festival will take place at the Park at Wild Horse Pass, a brand new outdoor venue located on the Gila River Indian Community in the southeast Valley. The 29-acre facility is located near Rawhide and Firebird International Raceway, and features a 56,000-square-foot lawn, a dedicated parking lot, and enough capacity for up to 10,000 people.

Relentless Beats will be the first to use the space, transforming every inch of the park into an otherworldly EDM wonderland with four stages, alien-like art installations, and a massive UFO crash site. More than 50 artists are scheduled to perform at the festival, including Diplo, Martin Garrix, Seven Lions, and Autograf, as well as rappers Travis Scott and Gucci Mane.
Basically, Relentless Beats will have the run of the place, which is only fitting, considering it was created with its events in mind.

According to Turner, Rawhide built The Park at Wild Horse Pass with the express purpose of hosting outdoor concerts and music festivals, particularly those put on by RB.

Rawhide and Relentless Beats have had a symbiotic relationship over the past four years. The western-themed attraction and event venue, which is owned by the Gila River Indian Community, has hosted numerous Relentless Beats-branded EDM events since 2014, including the annual music festivals Crush Arizona, Decadence, Boo! Arizona, and Goldrush. Each brings in thousands of attendees.

It’s proven a substantial revenue stream for Rawhide. So much so that Turner says Rawhide’s owners have been eager to host more Relentless Beats events.

“Rawhide has been asking me for the past three years to do more business there,” he says. “So they came up with this concept of building us a park. It’s going to be this blank canvas that we can work with for many of our events. And that’s a really cool position to be in.”

click to enlarge The main stage at last year's Phoenix Lights festival. - JACOB TYLER DUNN/RELENTLESS BEATS
The main stage at last year's Phoenix Lights festival.
Jacob Tyler Dunn/Relentless Beats
It’s a world of difference from the difficulties that Relentless Beats had with its location for Phoenix Lights a year ago. Turner describes that situation as “an absolute nightmare.”

Last year’s festival was originally set to take place at Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix in early April 2017. But when Relentless Beats’ crew arrived onsite two days beforehand to start loading in, they discovered that promoters of the NCAA’s March Madness Music Festival (which had been staged at the park over the prior weekend) were nowhere near finished loading out. And the clock was ticking.

“It takes days to properly set up a festival and they weren’t going to be out of our way anytime soon. And my production manager told me he couldn’t engineer our stage on the uneven ground in [Hance Park] in such a short amount of time,” Turner says. “I felt like I was on a TV show racing against time to save our asses.”

Turner had to think fast. He got out his phone and started dialing, ringing up the one spot he knew could host the festival on short notice.

“I called Rawhide and said, ‘This is what’s going on.’ And they bent over backwards to help us out,” Turner says. “So as I was standing in the middle of this park two days before our festival began, I started yelling, ‘Hey guys, audible. We’re going to Rawhide.’”

Just over 48 hours later, Phoenix Lights kicked off as scheduled over at Rawhide.

“They basically saved us from disaster,” Turner says.

click to enlarge The EDM aliens have landed. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
The EDM aliens have landed.
Benjamin Leatherman
Turns out they were just returning the favor, says Mark Grado, assistant general manager for Rawhide. He says that since 2014, when Relentless Beats brought the Mad Decent Block Party to Rawhide, the company’s events have “had a tremendous financial impact.”

While Grado declined to state exact figures, he says that RB’s events have caused “double-digit growth” to Rawhide’s bottom line over the last four years, to the tune of millions of dollars.

“Rawhide’s been in the red and will be for a long time,” Grado says, “But Relentless Beats helped us get on a trajectory that will eventually bring us out of the red.”

They also helped transform the kitschy tourist attraction on the edge of the Valley into a concert and festival destination. Prior to 2014, Grado says Rawhide didn’t host many live music events.

“It was more corporate and private events, like beer and wine festivals,” he says. “We really didn’t get into the concert world until Relentless came around and brought a different spectrum of entertainment to the venue.”

And other promoters have followed suit. In 2016, Lucky Man Concerts began putting on its Pot of Gold Music Festival and other shows at Rawhide. And last year, Southern California-based Allstar Concerts brought Mega 104.3’s Arizona Freestyle Festival 2017 to the venue.

“Relentless Beats highlighted the opportunities that were here and because of the kind of volume that they were doing, everybody started taking notice,” Grado says. “It made a lot of people interested in what the venue was capable of.”

Grado is also hoping promoters take notice of The Park at Wild Horse Pass and bring an equally diverse selection of shows to the spot.

“We can change the look for almost every show because of the acreage,” he says. “That’s the goal, where instead of having a park where you try to shove concerts into it, we’re creating something that’s specifically geared around hosting concerts and festivals.”

As such, they’ll continue adding amenities and additional infrastructure to the park over the next few years, including greenery, permanent shade structures, covered seating areas, and ramadas.

Turner says that while the park will serve as a “home base” for Phoenix Lights, they’ll keep using Rawhide and other adjacent venues for other events and festivals.

“I know some of our fans might say, ‘Oh, you’re using Rawhide again.’ But we don’t always set things up the same way. Rawhide has a lot of versatility for us and all of our festivals are different,” Turner says. “We’ll keep doing Goldrush in the western town or use the indoor event center for stuff like Boo! Arizona. I even see us using Firebird Raceway someday. You never know.”

Phoenix Lights 2018 is scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 7, and Sunday, April 8, at the Park at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler. Gates open at noon daily. General admission is $99 per day, $179 for the weekend. For more infomation, visit the Phoenix Lights website.