Mapping the Music

The Big AZ Music festival, in year No. 2, hopes to become even bigger

This Saturday night, more than 150 local, regional and national bands and performers will be featured in just about every nook and cranny along University Boulevard, Fourth Avenue and Congress Street as part of the second annual Big AZ Music (BAM) Festival.

While last year's event was smaller and somewhat hastily organized, the festival has grown considerably, the result of a full year of planning by Plush owner Maebelle Reed, Plush talent buyer Kris Kerry, Marshall Foundation general manager Jane McCollum, and Dave Olsen, marketing director for the Tucson Downtown Alliance and publisher of the Downtown Tucsonan.

"No. 1, last year, it was just Fourth Avenue and University, with the exception of Hotel Congress; but this year, it's Fourth Avenue, University and Congress all together," said Kerry. "So, it's grown; we've gotten bigger and a bit more organized. I think anybody that's done this sort of thing--I'm sure (Club Crawl organizer) Jeb (Schoonover) went through this, and I'm sure (Hotel Congress entertainment director David) Slutes recently went through this--you find it's a learning process. No matter how many shows you've booked at one club, when you're doing a whole slew of clubs and working with a bunch of different people, it's a different beast. ... We expect a lot more people this year than last year."

Kerry said the organizers attempted to be as inclusive as possible, which explains both this year's expansion and the decision to utilize nontraditional venues such as retail stores and restaurants, in addition to nightclubs and outdoor stages. "Basically, the impetus was just to try to get more of a community kind of event together that included (a lot of) venues," Kerry explained. "This starts earlier and has restaurants and stuff involved. Last year, there were a lot of kids, and instead of being a closed-off street kind of thing, you can move easily from venue to venue, merchant to merchant."

Organizers hope to attract even more families this year by making many of the venues open to all ages. While participating nightclubs will be restricted to those of legal drinking age, the retail stores, restaurants and three outdoor stages--one at the Main Gate Square, one on Fourth Avenue and one on Congress Street--will not.

Because the BAM Festival covers such a large geographical area, the organizers have made it easier to traverse by securing the University/Fourth Avenue trolley, buses and vans provided by one of the event's sponsors to provide free transportation.

While this year's event will include dozens of local acts, a smattering of regional ones (including Mesa's Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers and Albuquerque's Bernadette Seacrest), and several national bands (see accompanying story), Kerry said he would have liked to have had more national acts this year, but that financial concerns limited that number.

"I didn't get many national bands, because right now, I don't have the money to pay the really big bands one-off fees," he said. "If I can catch somebody who's on tour, I can pay them a guarantee that's fair for a touring band. A one-off date for a band that would normally cost $1,500 to $2,000, they're going to want $4,000 to $5,000, because they're not on tour." But he hopes that the festival will continue to grow each year, eventually enabling him to draw enough big-name bands that the BAM Festival becomes a destination event.

"I like the idea of the (Club) Crawl really celebrating the local stuff, and us trying to build this into more of a national event," Kerry said. "It is, to an extent, right now, in that we are getting several national bands. But I'd love to get it to the place where, at some point, there are some really big national bands, and there's national press and people are coming from out of town to see it, and it becomes a yearly event like the Bumbershoot or Sasquatch! or Bonnaroo festivals.

"At the same time, I don't want to totally write the local bands out of the mix. I want to include a lot of the local bands that are themselves trying to become national, in amongst a lot of national acts. So my idea is to help gain some attention for Tucson and at the same time gain some attention for the local bands that are trying to become something bigger than a local band. ... I think it's really cool that this is the first real event that's including University, Fourth Avenue and Congress Street."

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