Celebrating 'The Tucson Vibe'

While live concerts are constricted by an indefinite hiatus, Tucsonans still have a way to support and enjoy local music and venues. The Tucson Vibe is a CD and book compilation celebrating the sights and sounds of the Old Pueblo, featuring 15 local acts. Crowdfunded in late 2019 and completed this spring, the Vibe is now available for the first time online.

The Tucson Vibe aims to showcase “the heartbeat of the Historic Fourth Avenue and downtown neighborhoods” and features music from Mark Insley, Leila Lopez, Joe Pena, Mark Anthony Febbo, Connie Brannock and many more. While the CD comprises 15 homespun tracks, the accompanying book features photos and information on 15 beloved venues like Borderlands Brewing Company, Che’s Lounge and El Crisol.

“I ran into so many people in Tucson that maybe weren’t aware of the smaller downtown venues, and I wanted to showcase those venues, as well as highlight the amazing musicianship down there,” said Tucson Vibe executive producer Robin Hunn, who began planning the compilation last autumn. “I wanted it to have a visual element, to highlight not just the musicians but the places. So we had a number of local music photographers who contributed.”

Hunn started a Kickstarter for the project in November 2019, which met its goal with the help of more than 100 supporters. Hunn first visited Tucson four years ago after living in New Orleans, where she had produced similar music projects.

“I just fell in love with the vibe of Tucson and the downtown area: the art, the architecture, the music. I knew that’s where I wanted to live,” Hunn said. “I really tried to have each song tie in with Tucson. I worked with the musicians in selecting the songs, and there’s a lot of great references to Tucson throughout the CD.”

The Tucson Vibe CD begins with dusty folk/rock we know so well, with musicians like Mark Insley, Hank Topless and Natalie Pohanic singing about the city’s specifics: the monsoons, the Rincons, the swamp coolers and cottonwoods. Kevin Pakulis even affectionately sings “it’s hot as hell here.”

But as the album progresses, the songs grow more eclectic. Miss Olivia & The Interlopers offer their bombastic R&B, Soft Ones perform some noisy psych, and Gabriel Naim Amor sings a subtle ballad to the city in French, hitting that hard C in “Tucsoh”, but fitting in perfectly with his mellow stringwork.

“It was a challenge because there’s so many great musicians here, but you can only fit so many songs onto a CD. It was technically limited, but I tried to reach out to musicians who frequently play in these particular venues,” Hunn said.

In addition to the venue descriptions, The Tucson Vibe book features a map detailing venues, and the CD’s tracklist works as a kind of virtual tour throughout town. The songs are in order of how venues appear on the map, paired with the artists who perform in said venues. For instance, Mark Insley had a regular weekly gig at Iron John’s Brewing Company, Kevin Pakulis performed at Borderlands, Natalie Pahonic often performed at La Cocina, so they’re all on facing pages.

Hunn hopes to create a second volume down the road to highlight even more local artists, and hopefully feature all different bands and some new genres.

“Any profit off this would go back to the musicians and into a subsequent volume,” Hunn said. “This is totally a labor of love for me. A lot of sweat and hard work went in to make it all happen. I think once we can safely be out among each other and are back appreciating live music, when people see this, they’ll love it.”

The original plan was for the book and CD to be sold and concerts and the venues it details. However, COVID-19 hit and those had to be reworked. But Hunn hopes to sell them in person once the city is back to attending live music as is its tradition.

“It’s a way to test whether or not this kind of financial model can be helpful to musicians,” Hunn said. “Half the proceeds of the Kickstarter went directly to those 15 musicians. Compared to the tiny pennies that come from streaming songs, this is a way to upfront support those musicians. It’s upfront paying the tip jar, if you will.”

The Tucson Vibe CD is available for $15, or the book and CD together for $35. For more information, visit thetucsonvibe.com

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