We Heart Phoenix: Four More Love Letters to the Valley's Music Scene

Benjamin Leatherman
Events like Desert Trash (featuring Sunn Trio performing in 2019) exemplify Phoenix's unique music scene.
Recently, we shared love letters from four members of the Valley's arts and music scene. It's these creators and stakeholders that are singularly responsible for growing and shaping our fair city's culture.

In further celebration of many people's contributions, here are four more notes from desert dwellers sharing what makes Phoenix worthy of their adoration. Because you can never have too many good vibes, right?

Kayla Clancy, Bartender at The Lunchbox

"My favorite thing here is just the array of musicians. Phoenix really does have its own unique thing. It's not an ideal music scene, but somehow it still manages. And that's got to be because of the local artists. I've gotten to see a lot of things I wouldn't otherwise, right here in my own neighborhood.

"It's not a pretentious scene but an accessible one, where weird things that would work against each other make for fun and unique events. I've really liked some of the color parties, where they transform an entire space between visual artists and musicians, and all the music triggers a different color scheme. There's lights and installations, and it's all really immersive. Everyone's always dancing and being involved, feeling vibrant and alive. Same with events like Desert Trash or the Indie 500 — it's all weird and wonderful, but it works.

"There's even an ephemeral quality to the city, where you'll have something in the arts scene that comes and then goes away only to come back again somewhere else. It's like the phoenix, and it's born and then it dies again and again. That's what's so cool about Phoenix."

(Editor's Note: Clancy formerly contributed to Phoenix New Times.)

John Dixon, Local Music Historian

"For me, it's a moment that just happened in Phoenix. I grew up in Tempe, and I'd spend all my time at Hill's Books and Records. The biggest reason why was because I was playing records at my school at the time [mid-'60s]. It was one of the owners, Howard Pearlman, that actually told me about promo copies that stores would get, and that was my light bulb moment. Like, 'Holy crap, free records.'

"That was the beginning of my musical experience, what led me into ASU and then working at Capitol and being a DJ. It was just such an education, and it really led me into becoming that music guy. Tempe Town Center was the center for a lot of that, and then it become Tower Records for a while and now they're building something else there. Nowadays, kids can find music on YouTube, but you're getting away from the social part. It's great, but there's nothing like dropping a needle on a 45.

"Even if a kid's not spending $10 on 45s, you still have Stinkweeds and Zia that does the same things at least mentally. I think about this so often, and just how thankful I am for people like the Pearlmans for letting me into this world. It was always that if you were into music, you were in a communion of people."

Ami Reveles, Former Booking Manager/Staff at Modified Arts and Yucca Tap Room

"I was trying to put the vibe into words about what makes Phoenix's scene unique. I remember a show where Hands on Fire and Blitzen Trapper and Fleet Foxes [played at Modified Arts]. Charlie [Levy, of Stateside Presents] made a poster with a lizard and Times New Roman font. Maybe 25 people showed up, but to everyone there, it was the biggest thing in the world. Phoenix has always had that vibe of love and respect.

"Or, take Deer Tick, who started playing in Phoenix at Modified Arts. We then got a seat to watch them grow into playing McDowell Mountain Music Festival. People here want to be a part of these bands' musical journeys, and it's such a huge-small world here. People in Phoenix will see you at Modified and then buy the doubly priced ticket for Comerica [Arizona Federal Theatre], and they'll appreciate it anyway. I'm still friends with so many of these people — Deer Tick will never not stay at my house.

"Phoenix tries to be as low judgmental as possible, and people that come here can feel it. Phoenix holds you to your guns: If you want to do this musically, then do it. I'm far removed from that scene now, but those experiences made me into what I am today."

Nic Dehaan, Guitarist for Banana Gun

"We've been a band for more than 10 years now. And from the very start, we were fortunate enough to play gigs with some bigger-name bands, bands who always seemed to be accessible. It's not that bands have always wanted to pass things on, but they do try and give [artists] an opportunity. It's not always about what's going to draw, and luckily something like pay-to-play isn't a thing here anymore.

"It's just not a difficult market out here to navigate. Even bands who eventually navigate to Los Angeles or New York will make it back to Phoenix. You've always got a built-in audience here. We [Banana Gun] don't have a lot of pull here, but people know who we are, so when somebody like Bear Ghost wanted to play with us, we could say, 'Heck yes.' It's not a conscious decision to get some younger band out in front of us, but a chance for bands to bring their gear and perform the best they can. We're not some entertainment capital.

"This is a great place to cut your teeth and make a name, or if you want to jump out to other national or international markets. We're a bunch of old dudes, who do this because of what we can get out if it. We're still getting more out if it than we're putting in, and so we're happy to have Phoenix as our hometown."