In all of the recent discussions about what needs to happen to revitalize Tucson, I haven't once heard anyone mention Downtown Saturday Night.
For those who haven't been knocking around town long enough to remember, Downtown Saturday Nights were a regular event that took over downtown, centered around the Ronstadt Transit Center, in which free entertainment of all sorts was provided in a family-friendly atmosphere: a band on this corner, performance artists over there, gallery openings, multimedia performances at the Ronstadt, street vendors hawking their wares across the street.
And the thing is, it actually worked. Congress Street was transformed into one giant block party, and people packed the streets to get in on the action.
Because this is Tucson, and because the event actually worked, Downtown Saturday Night was inexplicably discontinued. A revival of sorts with a new name, Congress Street Urban Block Party, was attempted a couple of years ago, then promptly scrapped.
The night of the Fourth Avenue Underpass grand opening, I found myself talking to someone who was involved in organizing the original Downtown Saturday Night, and I asked why they were no more. If an underpass reopening can draw thousands of folks downtown—it don't get much more Podunk than that, folks—why couldn't they bring back Downtown Saturday Night, where the entertainment is far more enticing than a speech by Mayor Bob Walkup and cheering for the streetcar to actually make it up the incline in the underpass? The answer, of course, was a lack of funding.
Downtown's Providence Service Corporation, along with some other entities both private and public, have stepped up to bat, i.e., they've offered to underwrite a similar event, and this Saturday, May 8, marks the debut of the monthly Second Saturdays Downtown, which employs the same concept as Downtown Saturday Night, but again with a new name. It looks to be an awfully exciting event with something for everyone, but since this is a music column, we'll focus on that aspect.
The Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St., will feature a live performance from 7 to 10 p.m. by the Portland Cello Project, an Oregon-based group of eight to 10 cellists who perform, as Annie Holub wrote in these pages last year, "cello versions of indie, pop, metal and/or rock songs, and new arrangements of traditional/classical songs." They'll be joined for the performance by the one and only Howe Gelb, who never met a musical risk for which he wouldn't sign up.
The Scott Avenue Main Stage, which will be set up between Broadway Boulevard and Congress Street on Scott, will feature a trio of excellent, diverse local bands: modern surf-garage-R&B combo The Modeens (6 to 7 p.m.), the twangy goth voodoo of The Mission Creeps (7:15 to 8:30 p.m.) and the gritty, soulful rock of Tucson mainstays Greyhound Soul (8:45 to 10 p.m.).
And, yes, there will be street musicians galore, including singer-songwriters Hank Topless and Maggie Golston (5 to 10 p.m., in front of the Chicago Store). The entrance to the Ronstadt Transit Center will feature acoustic instrumentals from The Missing Parts (5 to 8 p.m.) and a cappella ensemble Catacoustic Groove (8 to 10 p.m.). The corner of Fifth Avenue and Congress has got Delta blues from Cruz Billy (5 to 6 p.m., and 7 to 8 p.m.), traditional Irish folk songs by Jamie O'Brien (6 to 7 p.m.) and folk as played on guitar and ukulele by JJ (8 to 10 p.m.). The Congress/Stone Avenue intersection will feature sets by the Get Right Rounders (6 to 8 p.m.) and another appearance by The Missing Parts (8 to 10 p.m.). Stefan George will perform on the patio at Hotel Congress starting at 7 p.m. And ChamberLab I, which you can read about in Gene Armstrong's feature article this week, will be performed at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St., starting at 8:30 p.m. (Note: ChamberLab 1 is the only part of the Second Saturdays Downtown event that requires a cover charge, $8.)
And that's just the live-music portions of the event, which will also include a Beatles Rock Band competition, street vendors and pop-up stores that will fill vacant storefronts, and specials at a slew of downtown eateries. To further entice would-be revelers to the event, parking in the Pennington Street Garage will be free.
For all the information you could possibly want about Second Saturdays Downtown, head to 2ndsaturdaysdowntown.com. Otherwise, see you there.
Springtime in Tucson means one reliable thing: more new local-music releases.
On Friday, May 7, Brazen Stir, who formerly went under the name Ethos, will release their self-titled debut album at a performance at O'Malley's, 247 N. Fourth Ave. Now composed of five UA and Pima students, the group was originally formed by songwriter and guitarist Kevin Brown and singer Darius Artiola. To fill out the band, Brown drew from his high school days, when he would play shows with friends at Skrappy's, and recruited lead guitarist Johny Vargas, bassist Kyle Craft Schipfer and drummer Doug Carroll.
The 10 tracks found on the album (no song titles were provided) are mostly midtempo pop-rock songs that aren't exactly bland, but you wouldn't have any problem playing them in the car with your mom. They're just atmospheric enough to offer up a slightly laid-back vibe, but they're also far removed from what that term has come to mean (which is to say they sound nothing like Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz). The only real misstep here is the third song, in which they pair a lite-funk groove with some very affected vocals—but it's made far better by some interesting female background vocals that provide a nifty countermelody. By the next song, which features mostly wordless male/female vocals paired with some fine sax and a touch of synth, all is forgiven. The album was produced and recorded by Craig Schumacher at his Wavelab Studio, and, like pretty much everything he touches, it sounds great.
Brazen Stir's CD-release party begins at 9 p.m., Friday, May 7, at O'Malley's with an opening set by RCougar. The after-party will be hosted by DJ Dibbs. Your $6 cover includes a copy of the CD. Call 623-8600 for more info.
The following night at the very same location—O'Malley's, at 247 N. Fourth Ave.—Abandoned by Heroes will host a CD-release party of their own. Formed in late 2006 by four Tucson music vets—singer Tony Diaz, guitarist Sean Terry, bassist Ryan Maynes and drummer Ryan Larson—the group has previously issued a five-song demo, but this self-titled, 13-song CD is their first full-length.
On its website, the group cites acts such as Dave Matthews, The Fray, Coldplay, Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Mayer and Ozomatli as influences, and you can certainly find singular elements of each here. But it's two others who are named—Foo Fighters and Incubus—that they seem to favor on the album, even if Abandoned by Heroes mostly utilizes acoustic guitars rather than electric ones. They'd fit somewhere on the radio dial between The Mountain and KLPX, if KLPX still played current music.
Doors open at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 8. Cover is $5, and CDs will be on sale for $10. A dance party will follow. That number again is 623-8600.
Then, next Thursday, May 13, heavy-ass doom-and-groove-rockers Juarez, which include Plush soundman Dana Fehr (guitar and vocals) and former Manifold and Chango Malo guitarist Tom Beach, along with Johnnie Munger (bass and vocals) and drummer Mike Sanger (both of whom also play in Dead Western Plains), will release a limited edition (500 copies) split 10-inch EP on Dallas-based Us Two Records with fellow-minded Bostonians Junius. Each band contributed only one song to the EP, which might have you wondering why they needed 10 inches of wax. The answer: Juarez's contribution, the churning epic "Old River, Dry River," clocks in at more than nine minutes.
Juarez will celebrate the release by performing in the middle slot at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., sandwiched between headliners Red Fang and openers Long Live the Smoking Gun, who will begin at 9:30 p.m. $6 is the cover. Call 798-1298 for further details.
Do yourself a favor, and check out our club listings in this issue, as we didn't get a chance to mention the dozens of other great shows happening around town this week.