Music on the Rise: Downtown Phoenix

By Emily Houck

Downtown Phoenix has seen exponential growth in musical talent across the board coming into the city since 2012, according to David Moroney, local talent buyer for Stateside Presents.

More and more local talents are emerging with different styles of music, all with the home base of Phoenix. The city has become a breeding ground for these new musicians to grow and thrive.

With bands like Weslynn, The Ricky Fitts and People Who Could Fly becoming discovered by more people every day, crowds at live shows are getting bigger and more people are becoming fans.

Charlie Levy, a key component of the transformation of the downtown nightlife and entertainment scene, began his career in the music world with Stateside Presents.

Back in 1988, Levy moved to Arizona from New Orleans to pursue a degree at Arizona State University. In his sophomore year, Levy applied to be the student concert director, completely on a whim. Levy worked as ASU’s concert director for a year and a half until he decided to venture out onto his own booking comedian Pauly Shore.

Following his debut booking gig, he worked part-time for Evening Star Productions, the biggest promotional company at the time in Phoenix. He also took the role of concert promoter for Nita’s Hidaway in Tempe.

Fast forward to today, Levy is booking gigs left and right. In 2011, Levy decided to open his own mid-sized music venue Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix.  Crescent was just the beginning of the growth we have seen downtown in the last few years.

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Levy, a strong believer in the arts, currently operates Stateside Presents, Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar, all located in the downtown area.

Many of the local musicians around the Valley are on their way to becoming big acts. Some are going on tours, and others are getting signed to big record labels.

Most bands in this area start out playing small shows at bars or coffee shops just to get their music heard.

Weslynn, a group of former Arizona State University students, just completed a West Coast tour with another Arizona native band, Luxxe.

“We started out playing in bars that no longer exist and small local coffee shops, completely acoustic,” said bandmate Jared Geyer. “Going from that to traveling the West Coast has been such a huge crescendo, we would never have imagined we would get this far.”

Forming in 2013, the Indie/Rock band has come a long way. Members Jared Geyer, Greg Olin and Kevin Holmes have accumulated about 24,000 followers on just Twitter alone.

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Weslynn (Courtesy of Weslynn)

“We have such amazing fans on all of our social media,” Geyer said. “It makes it super easy to reach out and keep people informed on the new music or videos we put out.”

The city was connected at the core now, with more access to all of the new and improved venues in the area. Currently there are 12 different locations throughout the downtown area that offer live music with two more proposed to be opening this year.

The resurgence of the downtown area began in 2004. More than $4.7 billion dollars has been invested into reinvigorating empty buildings and lots.

People are always looking to have fun, Moroney said. With the figureheads, venue proprietors and artists all working together to come up with new places to play, the city will keep thriving, Moroney said.

The constant flow of new musicians popping up in the scene, the addition of more venues and the professionalism that comes with the territory help to grow a successful arts scene.

“It’s always someone’s dream to open a venue,” said local music editor David Accomazzo. “It’s always someone else’s dream to play that venue. Music scenes run on dreams and idealism.”

According to Accomazzo, the current shift from Tempe to downtown Phoenix all began with the hipness capital concentrated around the local venues like Crescent, Valley, Rebel, Lost Leaf and more.

The vibrance in downtown can be seen through the Viva PHX festival, a one-night only, live music festival with 100 national, regional and local acts performing across 20 stages.

The fourth annual festival has grown in the last few years, from only about 50 acts in its first year across 13 different venues. It is thought to bring more than 10,000 music lovers to the downtown area, according to its website.

“It’s like SXSW but localized, and it turns downtown Phoenix into a pedestrian haven, which is great,” Accomazzo said.

Other bands like The Ricky Fitts and People Who Could Fly recently got the chance to perform at Pot of Gold, which is a two-day, outdoor music festival presented by Lucky Man Concerts during Saint Patrick’s day weekend. The show features both local and big talents.

“We’re happy anytime we can play in front of new faces,” Matthew Brunsvold of The Ricky Fitts said.

The Ricky Fitts began its musical career as a two-piece back in 2016 after Matt Brunsvold placed an ad on Craigslist looking for a drummer.  Today, they have turned themselves into a five-piece band

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The Ricky Fitts (Courtesy of The Ricky Fitts)

“We all inspire each other and there is a lot of mutual respect in regards to musical taste and song writing,” Brunsvold said. “We’ve helped each other to grow musically.”

Sticking to its home roots, The Ricky Fitts is helping to grow the music scene by building a recording studio, allowing the band to work with more local acts.

“Downtown Phoenix has been this beautiful work in progress for many years, so to see so many people’s hard work and vision pay off is truly inspiring,” Brunsvold said.

The local music scene is always changing, improving and becoming better, according to People Who Could Fly.

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People Who Could Fly (Courtesy of People Who Could Fly)

It’s a “living, breathing, ecosystem,” band member James Mills said.

The one thing they note about Phoenix is that their fans are “super active” and come out to support their local talent, Mills said.

So many of them take the time out of their day to request the songs on the radio or come to a show, even if it is on a weekday, Mills said.

Each local band is continually working to grow its fan base by consistently putting out new music or new music videos, and even planning tours.

People Who Could Fly just signed with Square 1 Creative to grow their brand. They are also releasing a new album in May or June, going on tour to promote this record and have a slew of new music videos to drop.

The music market downtown is going to keep growing until there is no space left for it to expand. Levy is planning the opening of his third venue in the area this year.

Between Levy, the venues, the fans and even the light rail, Phoenix’s music scene is not expected to die out anytime soon.