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McDowell Mountain Music Festival: The Good, the Bad and the Groovy

29 Mar
Passion Pit performs at the 2015 McDowell Mountain Music Festival Friday night. Photo by Esther C. Groves.

Passion Pit performs at the 2015 McDowell Mountain Music Festival Friday night. Photo by Esther C. Groves.

As a general rule, I don’t like large music festivals. I don’t like standing in long lines for everything from admission to drinks to the nasty outhouses; I don’t like waiting out crappy bands I could care less about wedged in-between bands on the bill that I do want to see; I don’t like trying to wade through swarms of dancing, drunken people; and I don’t like being stuck standing directly under the sun for any extended period of time (“extended” being longer than like, two minutes).

At the same time, festivals provide a way to see multiple bands (sometimes from disparate genres), meet interesting people, try new foods, and enjoy the (hopefully nice) weather.

The McDowell Mountain Music Festival (held this year March 27-29) occupies what I call the “Goldilocks Zone” for music festivals. It’s not too hot, not too crowded, not too expensive, and has just the right amount and balance of music acts. I last attended the festival in 2005, when it was held at WestWorld of Scottsdale. The event has grown substantially since then: It’s much larger, taking place over three days, and it’s moved from Scottsdale to Hance Park, in the heart of downtown Phoenix, right next to the library. I love the location.

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Five Favorite Female Musicians

8 Mar

In honor of International Women’s Day, here’s a list of my top five favorite female musicians. Be forewarned – most of them are not for the faint of heart, and could be considered downright scary by some people. (Grace Jones barely missed this list.)

Yoko Ono (Wikimedia Commons)

Yoko Ono (Wikimedia Commons)

5. Yoko Ono: OK, I know she’s not technically a “musician,” I know that a lot of people still think she broke up The Beatles, and I know some people dislike her so much they might have already stopped reading. But let’s put aside the off-key, shrieking “art rock” and The Beatles debate and look at one, very important thing: Her continued custodial respect of John Lennon’s musical legacy. When was the last time you heard a John Lennon song selling cars or hamburgers? Seriously, if you’re one of those people that judges Yoko Ono about The Beatles and her relationship with Lennon (I can’t blame anyone for criticizing her “singing,” though – it almost makes my ears bleed), go watch any interview she’s done in the past 20 years. When John Lennon was murdered, she didn’t go on a mourning tour or take a widow’s throne (hell, she hasn’t even written a book); she quietly raised their son and made sure her late husband’s art was seen in galleries and his music kept out of commercials.

4. Lynn Breedlove: The singer of defunct San Francisco dyke punk band Tribe 8 made jaws drop every time the band played some small club in the Midwest, where I lived as a teenager and traveled around to see them. She regularly removed her shirt while performing – not to be sexy, but because it gets hot onstage, and guys can take off their shirts and not get arrested, so why couldn’t she? (She got arrested a lot for exposing her breasts). Another staple of the Tribe 8 show was Breedlove pulling a strap-on dildo out of her pants and castrating herself, then flinging the lopped-off dong into the crowd. Did I mention my crust punk male friends loved this band? I’m not kidding. The skinheads, not so much. When they showed up at a show, Breedlove always challenged them to fight outside the venue after the show. The skins never met the challenge on any night I was there, but there were never more than three of them to the band’s 50 or so fans, so that may have had something to do with it. Plus, I think they secretly liked the show.

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Backstage with Judas Priest singer Rob Halford (exclusive video)

18 Feb

halford spread

The March issue of PHOENIX magazine features a two-page Q&A with Judas Priest singer Rob Halford by freelance writer Lauren Wise. To accompany this story, members of the magazine crew attended Judas Priest’s show in Phoenix last November, and shot the video below (which also features footage of yours truly). Enjoy, rock on, and pick up the March issue of PHOENIX magazine (on newsstands February 19) for more of the metal god!

Playback: Gin Blossoms founder Doug Hopkins and The Tempe Sound

26 Jan

hopkins story

Last November, an exhibition called “The Tempe Sound” opened at Tempe History Museum. The show (which runs through October 2015) features an array of items related to the Tempe and metro Phoenix music scenes of the late ’80s and early ’90s. There are early concert posters for The Meat Puppets, the sound board from defunct venue Long Wong’s, stage outfits from the Phunk Junkeez and St. Madness, a skateboard deck from JFA, and a plethora of paraphernalia from other Arizona artists including The Refreshments, The Pistoleros and Flathead.

But for many, the main draw of the exhibition is a display of items related to the late Doug Hopkins, founder and guitarist of the Gin Blossoms. Hopkins penned the Blossoms’ best-known hits, including “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You,” but his struggles with personal demons led to his dismissal from the band and suicide in 1993. For the November 2014 issue of PHOENIX magazine, I wrote a story about Hopkins’ life and music, named after the title of my favorite Gin Blossoms song, “Lost Horizons.” For this story, I had the honor of speaking with many of Hopkins’ friends and former band mates, including author Laurie Notaro, Arizona bluesman Hans Olson, and Gin Blossoms singer Robin Wilson. I was impressed by the talent and personality and intelligence of Hopkins as it was relayed to me, and perplexed at his ultimately tragic (and some say inevitable) end.

After the story was published, I had the opportunity to speak with “Here and Now” host Steve Goldstein about Hopkins on 91.5 KJZZ FM. Here is a link to the segment on Hopkins.

Inside Alice Cooper’s Attic and Thrift Store, and Solid Rock Teen Center

22 Jan

niki_aliceAs this recent Halloween photo shows, I’m a big fan of Alice Cooper. I’m a fan of his music, I’m a fan of his restaurant (Alice Cooper’stown), and most recently, I became a fan of his new thrift store (Alice’s Cooper’s Attic and Thrift Store), which is right next door to his nonprofit Solid Rock Teen Center.

I’ve met Alice before. He and his team have been great about giving PHOENIX magazine access, whether we’re writing about the “Big Unit” hot dogs at Alice Cooper’stown for our March 2013 “Bucket List” issue or writing about his thrift store (that’s in the February 2015 issue of PHOENIX magazine, on newsstands now). The video below is an exclusive tour of the thrift store and teen center, and features a fun little cameo from yours truly.

Playback: “Country Roads,” the History of Arizona Country Music

19 Jan

I decided to open a blog category called “Playback” to share some of the music writing and media I’ve done in the past. This entry is dedicated to a feature I wrote for PHOENIX magazine‘s July 2014 issue. The story was titled Arizona Country Roads, and it recounted the countless musicians who helped shape the country music soundscape in Arizona, from Duane Eddy and Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter to Marty Robbins and Tanya Tucker. The Herndon Brothers and Handlebar-J help continue the legacy; see my behind-the-scenes interview with them at this fine establishment below:

In addition to the web extra video for PHOENIX magazine, I was given the opportunity to discuss the story on the 91.5 KJZZ program Here and Now. The full audio segment is here.

Marky Ramone: The “last link” to the Ramones dishes on drumming, pasta sauce for autism, and what happens when you hang out at Stephen King’s house.

13 Jan
Marky Ramone at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo by David Shankbone, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Marky Ramone at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo by David Shankbone, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Marc Bell, aka Marky Ramone, spent decades behind the drum kit for the Ramones, arguably the most important and influential punk rock band of all time. They were the leather jacket and ripped jeans-clad architects of punchy two-minute, three-chord songs about beating on brats with baseball bats, shock treatments and lobotomies, sniffing glue and wanting to be sedated. Simultaneously, they simplified and repackaged your parents’ rock and roll into Ramones music, recording distinct versions of The Searchers’ hit ballad “Needles and Pins” (a song co-written by Sono Bono) and Freddy Cannon’s “Palisades Park” and asking if you wanna dance under the moonlight (“do you, do you, do you, do you wanna dance?”). Tragically, singer Joey Ramone died from lymphoma in 2001 and didn’t live to see the Ramones’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year. Three months after the induction ceremony, original bassist Dee Dee Ramone died from a drug overdose. Guitarist Johnny Ramone died from prostate cancer in 2004. In July of 2014, original Ramones drummer Tommy Ramone – who’d recommended Marky be his replacement in 1978 – also succumbed to cancer.

Marky Ramone, thankfully, remains alive – and active. He continues to play drums, and recently released his autobiography, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone (Simon & Schuster). His book tour stops at Changing Hands Bookstore at Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix on January 20, where Arizona Republic music editor Ed Masley will host a conversation with Ramone  (click here for tickets). I recently caught up with Marky to talk about the book, the Ramones, New York City in the 1970s, overcoming personal demons, his radio show on Sirius, his pasta sauce, his beer, and his charitable interests. I told you he was active.

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