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Birds and Arrows fly free of their 'folk chains'

It's a well-known adage among locals: Tucson will always draw you back. This usually means that sons and daughters of our sun-drenched and creosote-kissed streets will eventually make their way back home from far-flung urban locales, but sometimes outsiders get caught in our city's web too. Just ask Andrea and Pete Connolly.

The duo first fell in love with Tucson a few years back on a cross-country tour with their band Birds and Arrows, then based out of Chapel Hill, N.C. When it came time to find a new home base for the band and their family, the city had just the right mix of creative drive and laid-back desert charm. 

Andrea Connolly: "I had never been [to Tucson], but Pete had been here 10 years prior and all he kept saying to me is 'you are gonna love this place.' And he was right! After visiting for about 48 hours, I left thinking someday I wanna live here. We had no idea it would unfold so quickly in such a crazy way!"

"When we got back to North Carolina, we realized pretty quickly that for our creative sanity we needed to change our surroundings, but, we didn't have any money saved for a move.  When Pete's elderly dad (age 87) heard us talking about wanting to move to Tucson one day, he jumped on board. He said 'I will help pay for the move and help you invest in a home there... if you take me with you.' So, we did it! The three of us moved here, not knowing one person."

Birds and Arrows first formed in Chapel Hill around 2006, when both were active in the city's local music scene. Andrea was working as a bar manager and Pete Connolly was a brewer's assistant at Carolina Brewery when the two co-workers discovered a shared love of rock, folk and bluegrass music — and eventually each other. The two began a musical and personal collaboration that culminated in both marriage and a successful band.

Playing in and around the area known as "the Triangle" - Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill/Carrboro, N.C. - the duo were immersed in an indie music scene rich in Appalachian and traditional Southern influences, a regional style that both inspired and sometimes stymied the band's creativity.

A.C.: "By the time we left we were living in cabin on a horse farm north of Durham trading work for rent. By that point in the Triangle there were no real affordable places to be near or in the cities so we slowly moved further out to enable us to continue to do art and music mostly full time."

"I would say that's one big difference between here and there — you're able to live pretty cheap here in Tucson and it seems because of that this place is a hotbed of talented musicians and artists.  During my time in N.C. I was also playing guitar in a girl bluegrass band even though I didn't know much about bluegrass, but it was everywhere."  

"We started as more of a dreamy rock project but then as time passed we slowly became more and more folk, so by the time we were ready to leave that area we were also ready to get back to our rock roots and Tucson facilitated that. And now were pretty much back to full on rock and roll."

"Once we were here [in Tucson] we were so very pleasantly surprised with the caliber of the art and music we were witnessing, turns out we picked an amazing place where artists seem to thrive. And we feel we have been inspired and motivated to work hard on our art and music so much more since we landed here in Tucson. Not to mention no one knew us here and musically we could be whoever we wanted again. We were free of our folk chains. So, we sort of went a little wild and got loud. I know we'll return to our acoustic roots, we always do flow back and forth depending on our creative energy but for now we are having a blast embracing our biggest influences and adding energy, fun and volume back into our music."

At its heart, Birds and Arrows consists of Andrea Connolly's rhythmic guitar and Pete's rock steady drumming anchored by strong vocal melodies and delicate folk-laced harmonies. Andrea's vocal style in particular is strong and powerful in the vein of '70s blues rock  like Fleetwood Mac, Heart and one of the bands that most influenced her as a child, Led Zeppelin.

A.C.:"I [remember laying] down on my great grandmothers old shag carpet and popped in Led Zeppelin One but had put it in on side B by accident and that huge organ kicked in on "Your Time is Gonna Come" and that blew my little 9-year-old mind!"  

"We have had a rotating cast of guest musicians and even had a third touring member for a few years, Josh Starmer on cello. And before we left N.C. we were playing most live shows with our good friend Robert Sledge from Ben Folds Five on bass which was pretty freakin' great."

"As much as we love inviting our friends to join us on stage or on the road here or there we always go back to just the two of us. It's just such a comfortable way to travel and to write and create. I'm not saying it's always easy being married and sharing everything all the time, including our creative process, but it is extremely rewarding and it's forced me to become a better musician."

"I'm the only one on a stringed instrument, so it's just guitar and drums and neither of us have anything to hide behind.  Which has made me continue to try and perfect my guitar sound, improve our harmonies and embrace weird open tunings to fill in some drone and low end. Necessity breeds breeds creativity and we both work well and harder with limitations."

"When we first started as a band we were both songwriters, I would even say that the writing was both of our favorite aspects of the music. so, we would bring each other our latest creation and then together would arrange it, write harmonies etc."

"Now though, we collaborate from the very early genesis of the song all the way until it's completion. It's 100 percent collaborative. We'll sit down and present a bunch of small pieces of ideas to each other both on guitar and lyrically and let whatever peaks our interest pull us in that direction. It's fun too because, even though drums are Pete's first instrument, we're both guitar players so we can riff back and forth until we find the right sound."

"When practicing lately, I keep reminding myself  that when you're totally sick of playing a song, you're probably only half as good as you should be at it for performing. And then there's performing which is the biggest challenge. We love the energy we get from performing, it's a total high but with every good high comes some really low lows too. Like when you've played a bad show for a big crowd or your best show ever for only like two people. Or you're having an insecure day but your having to convince a whole crowd of people that you're really good and pro at what you do even though you're always wishing you were better at."

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"I would say right now our overall aesthetic would be energetic, fun yet complex rock and roll songs that seem light on the surface but have some pretty dark meaning and undertones. Especially in today's political environment, I think one thing that made us get louder and more aggressive with our playing was just how mad we are at everything right now. And since music is how we process our emotions that aggression is certainly showing up in our new record. We feel like teenagers again in some ways with our writing but then we get on stage and perform at that level of energy for a few nights in a row and we feel old and tired pretty quickly after that."  

"I think every artist injects everything from themselves into their art, even when they try not to. We can't help it, art is an extension/expression of what's happening in our deep psyche. It comes from a level that most artist don't even truly understand. We have moments where we'll sit down and play an old song or complete a new one and think to ourselves 'how did we do that, and where did that come from?'" 

"I would say our biggest influence right now outside of music is just life, getting older, and still trying to take chances while also trying not doing anything too stupid like repeating big past mistakes — not feeling complacent. Also, politically we are driven right now to express our frustrations.  Me, as a woman in what's forever been such a man's world  - this new #MeToo movement is exposing that in a huge way — and Pete as an immigrant in this country [from the U.K.]

"Even though he's a white man he's still not yet a citizen, though he's been here in the States for a long time, but I think not being an American has always made him feel a bit like an outsider. So, we're processing some of this anger and frustration in our music right now for sure. Pete is planning to get his citizenship this year though so he can vote in the next election! I think he and [British-born local blues musician]Tom Walbank may even try to do it together — two Englishmen in Tucson." 

In addition to their primary collaboration as a couple and the core of Birds and Arrows, the duo often works with outside collaborators. In North Carolina the pair had a chance to play with Chris Stamey of the dB's and were invited by Stamey to play in a couple of reunions of the band Big Star, hosted by Big Star's former drummer Jody Stephens. 

One of their favorite Tucson co-conspirators is Gabriel Sullivan, who not only played bass on some of Birds and Arrows' latest record, but recorded and produced it.

A.C.: "The three of us (Pete, Andrea and Sullivan) worked on it together in Gabe's studio, Dust and Stones, in bits and pieces over the last year and it was such a great experience. His calm and encouraging energy mixed with his ear/attraction to raw, real sounds and performances really influenced the sound of this new record."

"[The album] pretty much sounds the way we sound live since we played it all live in the studio.  But then we couldn't resist inviting some new friends for flair here and there, like Gabe on bass, Connor Gallaher on guitar and pedal steel on a couple songs, Ben Nisbet on some dirty rock and roll lead guitar on two songs and Katie Haverly on backing vocals on our single "Stay Down." There are just too many talented people here that we knew would make this record sound even better. It would have been a mistake not to utilize that at least a little."

Birds and Arrows plan an album release later in the year and more touring, including Southern California and Los Angeles gigs. In the meantime, the duo continues to write and practice and play live locally, as well as focus on artistic endeavors. Pete Connolly's artwork can be seen on the band's website and Birds and Arrows at one point even designed their own Tarot deck.

A.C.: "[The new album is] going to be out this fall and we're thrilled to share it with people, especially because it's such a departure from what we were doing back in N.C. We're always touring we plan to head back east in the fall to share our new music with all our loyal fans back there too. So, the rest of the year is looking pretty busy but also very invigorating artistically speaking."

While you'll have to wait a bit for the album's release, you can see some of the band's new material, along with their older tunes this weekend. Birds and Arrows, along with Miss Olivia and The Interlopers, play Club Congress on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Who's on second (Saturdays, that is)?

It's that time again. On the second Saturday of every month, the heart of our city comes alive as music, food and entertainment take over the streets of Downtown Tucson. This month's edition of Second Saturdays Downtown boasts an incredible lineup including rock and roll troubador Jeremy Michael Cashman and his band Wooden Hearts, the Sonoran folk rock of Leigh Lesho and The Night Lights and the fiercely catchy bicultural pop punk of Diluvio.

Beyond the main stage, you can catch even more live music at the many bars and venues along the Second Saturday route including live jazz at Cushing Street Bar, multiple bands on the indoor and outdoor stages at Hotel Congress and a performance of Wagner's Das Rheingold (the most rock and roll of 19th century German operas!) at the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall.  

Fest on Fourth

Meanwhile, just a few blocks away from the Second Saturday stage, two historic Tucson institutions come together for another musical celebration as Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association and the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association host the first ever Fest on Fourth. The free evening festival features a dozen bands and solo musical artists performing on four different outdoor stages along the historic Fourth Avenue district to give folks a taste of next month's Tucson Folk Festival. 

This year's Fest runs from 6-9 p.m. culminating in the inaugural edition of another new musical milestone, the First Annual Tucson Acoustic Lottery, which takes place at  9 p.m. at The Flycatcher. Much like its sister event, the long running Tucson Rock Lottery, the Acoustic Lottery consists of a lineup of some of the best local talent chosen by lottery to form temporary bands who must rehearse and perform an original live set with little prep time. 

Fest on Fourth takes place at various locations on Historic Fourth Avenue this Saturday from 6-9 p.m. The Tucson Acoustic Lottery follows at 9 p.m. at The Flycatcher, 340E 6th St (Downtown.)

For those who like some noise in their fests...

For those who like things a little bit louder, there's a "fest" of a different sort happening at Che's Lounge Saturday night as Midtown Islands and Baby Tooth Records team up to present Free Machines and Carbon Canyons as the two bands gear up for their upcoming joint West Coast tour.

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Both bands are known for their energetic live shows, pounding garage punk rhythms and loud, edgy, unpretentious cacaphonic badassery, so a good time is guaranteed for most. 

Check them out Saturday at 10 p.m. at Che's Lounge, 350 N. 4th Ave.

Tune In,Psych Out

It's a trippy annual tradition as local LPFM station Downtown Radio hosts its third annual Psychout!, a night long event featuring live local psych and psych-influenced bands performing in front of vintage movie footage and psychedelic special effects. 

Previously held at now-defunct venue The Screening Room, this year's Psychout! has moved to a larger and more centralized venue at The Loft Cinema in Midtown. The event features Tucson bands The Myrrors and Silver Cloud Express, recent Prescott transplants Tropical Beach, and Phoenix psych band The Psychedelephants. 

Downtown Radio's Third Annual Psychout! begins Thursday, April 19, at 8 p.m. at The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway.

Check your local listings...

Friday, April 13

  • Little Cloud - 5:30 p.m. The Flycatcher (Downtown)
  • Yung Gravy, Caleon Fox - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios, Billy Sedlmayr - 7 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Giant Blue - 7 p.m. Monterey Court (North/Central)
  • Lydian Osman - 7:30 p.m. Borderlands (Downtown)
  • The Roilers, Double Darre, Phil Free Band - 8 p.m. The Loudhouse (Downtown)
  • Japanese Breakfast, Snail Mail - 9 p.m. 191 Toole (Downtown)
  • Tammy West and the Culprits - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern (S of Downtown)
  • Austin Counts and Tom Walbank - 9 p.m. The Parish (North)

Saturday, April 14

  • JC & Laney Trio, Big Grin, Marty Province - 6 p.m. Fest on Fourth: Haggerty Plaza (Downtown)
  • Dash Pocket, Infinite Flame, Eb Eberlein.- 6 p.m. Fest on Fourth: Lindy's on 4th (Downtown)
  • Ice 9, Adara Rae & the Homewreckers Duo, Bruce Carlson - 6 p.m. Fest on Fourth: Magpie's Pizza (Downtown)
  • Naim Amor - 6 p.m. Mercado San Agustin (W. of Downtown)
  • Jeff Lewis Trio - 6:30 p.m. Cushing Street Bar (Downtown)
  • Tortolita Gutpluckers - 7 p.m. Borderlands (Downtown)
  • Infinite Souls - 7 p.m. Hop Shop (Central)
  • Miss Olivia & the Interlopers, Birds and Arrows - 7 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Yamantaka , Sonic Titan, Zig Zags - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Lonna Kelley, Howe Gelb - 8 p.m. Exo Bar (Downtown)
  • Respect the Underground - 8 p.m. The Loudhouse (North)
  • Hanna y Ashley - 8 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)
  • First Annual Tucson Acoustic Lottery - 9 p.m. The Flycatcher (Downtown)
  • Natalie Pohanic - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern (S of Downtown)
  • Jeremy Michael Cashman - 6 p.m. Second Saturday Main Stage (Downtown)
  • Leigh Lesho and The Night Lights - 7:30 p.m. Second Saturday Main Stage (Downtown)
  • Diluvio - 9 p.m. Second Saturday Main Stage (Downtown)
  • Free Machines, Carbon Canyon - 10 p.m. Che's Lounge (Downtown)

Sunday, April 15

  • Mariachi Luz de Luna - 11 a.m. Playground (Downtown)
  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 11 a.m. La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Innocense Tour Feat. jayteKz and friends - 6 p.m. Club 4th Avenue (S of Downtown)
  • Ryley Walker, Casey Golden - 7 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Ian Lamson, the Lucky Losers - 8 p.m. House of Bards (Central)
  • Jonny Lang, Zane Carney - 8 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)

Monday, April 16

  • Uriah Heep, The Bennu - 8 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)
  • Califone - 8 p.m. Exo Bar (Downtown)

Tuesday, April 17

  • Tom Walbank - 6:30 p.m. Sky Bar (Downtown)
  • For Love Or Absinthe - 7 p.m. Royal Sun (Downtown)
  • Glove - 8 p.m. The Flycatcher (Downtown)
  • Moonwalks - 8 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown)
  • The War On Drugs, Califone - 8 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)
  • Dos Munoz - 8:30 p.m. Sky Bar (Downtown)

Wednesday, April 18

  • Miss Lana Rebel & Kevin Michael Mayfield - 6 p.m. La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Charlie Stout - 6 p.m. Tap and Bottle North (North)
  • Street Blues Family - 8 p.m. Club Congress(Downtown)
  • The Maension - 8 p.m. House of Bards (Central)
  • Americas, Antiphony, Grimm - 8 p.m. The Loudhouse (North)
  • Marshall Tucker Band, Austin Counts, Tom Walbank - 8 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)
  • Shook Twins, Dustbowl Revival - 191 Toole (Downtown)

Thursday, April 19

  • Downtown Radio's Third Annual Psychout! with The Myrrors, The Psychedelephants  Silver Cloud Express,Tropical Beach - 8 p.m. The Loft Cinema (Central)
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