For a $7 wristband, we present 41 local artists and Los Angeles band Maroon5 at a time when the pursuit of happiness can take a jumbo-size wallet. What you'll find is that the Valley has its own brand of freedom fighters, folks who make the grandest statement just by showing up and plugging in their guitars. The closer we get to the April 13 shindig, the more the whole thing looks like a unique privilege -- the only people who'll be blocking you from the musical diversity of our area are the drunken jerks in front of you.
To aid you in your feast on the cheap, we've altered the categories this year, ostensibly to change things up, make life more competitive for the artists and, mostly, just to cast as wide a net as we could. Notice how you won't find a Best Rock or Best Alternative category, and others that are too general and became useless a long time ago. Instead, we created categories like Most Entertaining Live Show and Most Enjoyable Singer. Those, at least, tell you something, and, hey, if someone nominated us for most enjoyable anything, we'd sure as hell aim to prove it.
We also aimed to reflect what was happening in town as much as we could. That explains the Best Punk Rock category, for instance. Young kids all over the Valley, especially in Mesa, are discovering the joys of Mohawks, Social Distortion tee shirts and preternaturally bad attitudes in ever-increasing numbers, something bands like No Gimmick and Sixth Year Senior understand and reflect. For those kids, we honor their growing fringe. In the best DJ category, we invited DFT, one of the area's most popular drum 'n' bass practitioners, to compete; any subgenre that attracts weekly club nights all over town cannot be ignored. And as for the Best Cover Band category, every good party needs a Neil Diamond song or two thrown into the mix, you know?
Last year, our "Most Likely to Make It Big" award was predicated on a write-in vote. This year, we have four actual nominees. There's a good reason for that. Phoenix is swollen with young, explosive talent. On the heels of Jimmy Eat World's success, the major labels started paying close attention last year, and the momentum is building; several of the acts in the Showcase are preparing to blow up nationally. Unless you're a diehard scenester or a significant other, you'll probably never have heard of them; but that'll change in short order. There's Pokafase, a 26-year-old rapper who's attempting what to the skeptic may seem impossible -- to put a hip-hop face on Phoenix. With his charm, intelligence and solid street hip-hop credentials -- masterful boasting, street knowledge and a flow that makes him sound like he crawled out of his mama armed with a freestyle -- he might actually be able to pull it off. Then there's Fivespeed, whose Trade In Your Halo is as loud as an airplane hangar full of running lawn mowers but surprisingly tuneful -- they're one of those bands other musicians wish they could be when they grow up.
Others to discover for yourself now, before everyone else can claim them as their own: Redfield, a four-piece punk band with guys who can actually sing, play and arrange like real musicians; Opiate for the Masses, which mixes metallic Nine Inch Nails brood with an '80s sense of theatricality; Fourbanger, young Mesa punk rockers whose happy-hook sound is refreshingly blissful; and the Go Reflex, as decadent and agile a power-pop band as you'll find in the Western U.S. And don't limit yourself to just these acts -- several other bands threaten to erupt, including the Format, Authority Zero, and Before Braille (all of whom, coincidentally, were unable to perform because of touring and recording obligations. Damn.).
Ultimately, though, this year's showcase can be looked upon as a celebration of the veterans who've helped shape the quirky nature of our town's musical culture. Even the banal stuff that comes out of less-than-exemplary baby bands around here is informed with a certain goofy humor, drunken affability and comfort of knowing that being from a relative cultural nether land ain't such a bad thing with the right attitude. It takes a peculiar kind of cat to rock out on 100-degree nights in bars populated by grisly barflies -- and to make a solid reputation doing it.
On our bill you'll find Bruce Connole, former punk purveyor who now explores his passion for bluegrass with Busted Hearts; his Busted Hearts mate Keith Jackson, who has resurrected his more storied punk band, the ferocious Glass Heroes; Raul Yanez, who leads the joyous 10-piece jazz-salsa ensemble Chicano Power Revival; Walt Richardson, a staple of freeform acoustic music in Tempe for years; Big Pete Pearson, the extraordinary blues singer who's been singing in Valley lounges since the palm trees were seedlings; and Mark Zubia, who along with Robin Wilson, Roger Clyne and Brent Babb gave voice and rowdy charm to the jangle-pop explosion of the early '90s. You'll also meet our first recipient of the Big Chihuahua award for lifetime achievement, Hans Olson, a virtual Phoenix institution who re-creates a lost strand of Western blues and acoustic folk with his stunning acoustic guitar and harmonica playing, usually with mouth-opening aplomb. These are folks who not only make Phoenix rich with soul, but also with character.
So that $7 wristband you'll buy for our showcase isn't just an access pass to beer at 10 different watering holes. It's real freedom of choice. Screw the movies and come rock with us!