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Tucson sounds: Fest or famine (From HoCo Fest to NoCo Fest)

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Tucson sounds: Fest or famine (From HoCo Fest to NoCo Fest)

  • Shadows of Xixa at HoCo Fest 2017
    Cynthia ElliotShadows of Xixa at HoCo Fest 2017
  • Adara Rae on the HoCo Fest outdoor stage 2017
    Cynthia ElliotAdara Rae on the HoCo Fest outdoor stage 2017
  • Annie Jump Cannon at Club Congress, April 2019
    Photo courtesy of the bandAnnie Jump Cannon at Club Congress, April 2019

To fest or not to fest? That is the question.

 HoCo Fest, the once hyper-local, venue-specific annual festival held annually at Hotel Congress has gradually grown beyond its humble origins, especially in the past few years. As the Coachella-style music festival circuit has grown in the greater international scheme of things, it seems inevitable that such a grand local endeavor would hop on the "boutique festival" bandwagon and HoCo Fest 2019 has definitely risen to the occasion in this regard, with a mix of official ticketed venue offerings at Hotel Congress, the Rialto and 191 Toole and a plethora of affiliated events in Downtown Tucson, Fourth Avenue and nearby spots like the Hotel McCoy.

This year's fest, which features a mix of live shows, learning panels, DJ sets and other events, seems to be aiming as much for the SXSW music conference model as it is for the Instagram-ready festival-goer set. But at the same time, inviting a massive event crowd into the greater Downtown area will definitely shape your Labor Day live music plans.

To that end, your humble local music scribe offers a guide to this weekend's HoCo Fest related spectacles, both official and non official. But she's also done some homework toward highlighting some equally stellar options for those who want to get a live music fix this week minus the festival crowd, including a DIY show which has gleefully dubbed itself "NoCo Fest."

The first thing to keep in mind about the greater HoCo event list is that, although official fest showcases at Congress, Rialto and 191 Toole, as well as invite-only festival events like the Semiotic Sunrise, are reserved for HoCo Fest ticket or passholders only, many of the affiliated HoCo listed gigs are free or low cost - basically on the same terms as usual. For instance Che's Lounge shows are, as they always are, free to the public. So even if you don't have a full-blown festival budget at your disposal, you can sample some of the offerings on the menu, including three nights of Che's shows and some epic afternoon showcases at Wooden Tooth as well as a sure to be spectacular Saturday evening performance by local costumed rock outfit Sad Reptilian on Downtown's Rattlesnake Bridge. A word to the wise, however — in order to cope with the expected crowds, many of the off site events require an online RSVP to attend, so make sure to check the fine print ahead of time.

With that in mind, if you are so inclined, get your HoCo Fest on! The event roster day-by-day and venue-by-venue can be found in the listings below.

For those of you less inclined to brave the crowds, though, it's still not a bad week for live gigs of another stripe. For instance on Friday night, you can catch Bisbee's finest, the Exbats at Saint Charles Tavern, far from the teeming crowds of Downtown on South 4th Avenue. That same night, on the East side of town, you can check out a solo acoustic set by Juju Fontaine's John Matzek at Arizona Beer House. And more shows abound, including a benefit show at DIY space Blacklidge Community Collective, a rock showcase at the Runway Bar, and shows at low key venues such as Moneterey Court and Sand-Reckoner Vineyards.

The funnest local shows of the week may well be post HoCo Fest as Blacklidge Community Collective pokes fun at the hoopla while offering a solid night of live music at Monday night's "NoCo Fest" with Wrinkles, Logan Greene Whatever, Kell and Elephants Gerald and University area restaurant Illegal Pete's invites a Tuesday lineup worthy of the local DIY scene with Mudpuppy, Annie Jump Cannon and Pelt rocking the house on Tuesday night.

Whatever your live event plans for the weekend, make sure they involve music of some kind. We certainly aren't hurting for it in this town. And with that in mind, let's talk about business.

The business of music episode two: Nelene DeGuzman and Liz Cerepanya

Last week we began our discussion of  the business side of local music by talking to Tucson expat Marianne Dissard. This week we turn our focus to some local musicians from very different segments of the Tucson musicverse - a talented indie rocker just dipping their toes in the waters of solo gigs and a young folk and acoustic player with a few years' experience as part of Tucson's professional folk, blues, jazz and bluegrass gig circuit: Nelene DeGuzman of the Rifle, and Liz Cerepanya of Big Grin.

Nelene DeGuzman For readers that don't already know your work, what is your instrument of choice and what bands and projects have you been part of? 

Nelene DeGuzman: "The Rifle is my main musical project. I sing and play guitar mainly, but I have a background in classical piano and I teach piano at School House Of Rock.

TS: Do you mostly play solo, as part of a consistent band? And what genre of music do you mostly play?

ND: "I mostly play as part of a three piece band, but have been dabbling in playing solo. I guess our genre is indie rock?"

TS: How did you get started in the music business and how did you make your first steps into the "business" side of it, vs. the idea of playing for the sake of playing.

ND: "My bandmates both have full time day jobs, but I quit mine very recently and am focusing on things I love - supported by some hard side hustling. For the Rifle, we've always kept money we've made from shows in a 'band fund' that goes back into band expenses like recording and touring. We have not been great at negotiating or advocating for ourselves in terms of money and in the past mostly just accepted what we were given.

TS: Experiences outside of Tucson in terms of pay, venues, appreciative audiences and the like?

ND: "We've toured a bit, mostly west coast and it's a mixed bag with Tucson landing closer to the top in my experience. Its hard to compare scenes when our experiences on tour are based on a single show in a region.  

TS: Experiences in Tucson/Arizona regarding the same issues?

ND: "Tucson is a pretty supportive little scene. Though we've had some blows in terms of losing well beloved 'middle size' venues (such as Flycatcher and Cans) there are still certain venues/people that are consistently supportive and consistently pay well/fairly.   

TS:  How can venues do better at compensating (and promoting) musicians while still meeting their overhead and staying afloat? 

ND: "This one's really hard. I feel like Che's is the gold standard to me. Jill does such a great job. Maybe it has to do with the fact that they are already a super successful bar and so they don't have to do shows every single night so they are able to do more/better for the smaller amount of shows they do have?"

"It's hard to comment from the venue's point of view, because I've never been on the other side, booking shows and trying to run a venue as a business.  I honestly feel like even though there's always room for improvement, venues in Tucson are pretty supportive and pay pretty fairly.  There were a couple (one in particular) in the past that just consistently never paid well/fairly even when we brought a decent crowd. I'm not sure if there was a change in upper management or what happened, but that has changed and they pay decently now." 

TS: How can musicians better support each other without hurting their own prospects?

ND: "I think the whole concept of competition in the local scene is silly. On the one hand, when there are multiple shows happening at the same time, inherently it is a competition for attendance. But at the same time, we're a tiny community.  Treating each other as competition is absurd. We should be supporting each other."

"I have to say I'm the worst at this a lot of the time, but we should be going to each others shows, talking about what was good. Also, I would love for some venues to consider doing earlier shows, not just cause I'm an "old lady" but so not all shows are starting at the exact same time. "

TS: What would you say to those who fall more on the "love" than "money" side of the musician spectrum? Is it possible to make a living or at least a decent side gig out of music without losing passion and originality?  

ND: "That is the question. I feel like I fall into this category.  I make music I love and I hustle hard so I can pay the bills while not losing all my time and energy to a 9 to 5.  I respect those that are able to make music they love for money and even those who make music they don't love for money.  Music is hard.  It's one of those arenas where working hard doesn't necessarily mean you'll be successful.  It's all so subjective and success is tied to whether or not people like what you make.  So you can either make what people like (easier said than done) or make what you love and just try to make it work, which is what I'm doing. I don't really see an alternative path for myself.  But I 100% respect artists that are taking a path fundamentally different from my own.  There's a million different ways to be a musician and there's not one way that's inherently better. I could make music I hate and make more money but I could also make music I hate and still not make more money than I'm making now so I dunno. I just do my best and make music that I love and just hope and pray that it makes it into the hands of people that will appreciate it.  Not a great strategy from a business perspective but I'm not really a businesswoman.

TS: Is it neccessary to "pay ones' dues" in the music business still? How should newer players approach this? 

ND: "Yes, but not necessarily in the way people always think. Paying one's dues, in my opinion, is playing a ton of shows and being nice to people.  Go to other people's shows, stay for the other bands on bills you are on.  Sure you can get away with not doing those things but I feel like if you expect people to come to your show, not be an asshole to you and stay for your set, the bare minimum you can do is do that for other people." 

TS: Is Tucson still an "old boys" club when it comes to professional music? Are things getting more fair for women and people of color in local music? Does it depend on genre and venue?

ND: "I can only speak for my own experience and maybe this is due to my own little bubble of playing the same places over an over again or maybe it's because I came from a town/community that was more overtly racist and sexist and close minded, but my experience here has been that people are really open and accepting and supportive."

"There is always room for improvement and I've definitely experienced isolated unpleasant incidences but personally I'm super grateful for the generally supportive inclusivity of the Tucson music scene. There are some gatekeeper/clique-y aspects to the scene but I think that's present everywhere." 

TS: Now a chance to shamelessly self promote! Any upcoming gigs or recordings?

ND: "We'll be playing on September 6 at Sky Bar and later in the month at Che's and Owl's Club. We also finished tracking an mixing the new Rifle album with our release date to be announced. And I'm solo touring for a couple weeks in october!"

TS: Thanks, Nelene. We can't wait for the new Rifle album! 

Liz Cerepanya of Big Grin

Liz Cerepanya: "I've been a vocalist for most of my life, doing projects in both Tucson and California. My current project, Big Grin, is a Tucson based indie folk group that most often plays as a trio with guitar and violin. My previous local band was the Long Wait, a 5 piece folk group that played together for about 6 years. Before that I was in a folk group called Gates Pass. I've been the front person for all three groups. I have also performed with and/or recorded studio vocal tracks with other local folk, bluegrass and americana musicians like Sabra Faulk, Cadillac Mountain, Gregory Morton Band, and Eric Shaffer and the Other Troublemakers. I'll be performing next month with Don Armstrong and the Whiskeypalians, and coming up in October with PD Rondstadt and the Company.

LC: "I grew up singing in choirs, and I started singing in a couple of women's vocal groups in California in my late teens, including a female barbershop quartet and another a capella group. I also focused on theater and vocal performance while studying abroad in London. But I probably didn't focus much on the business side of music until joining Gates Pass in my 20s, when I started to learn about the process of making albums and booking venues. My professional experience has mainly been in Tucson and the surrounding region since I wasn't very involved in the business side of things while in California. It varies so much based on the venue. "

"I have had a hard time trying to navigate compensation with venues since every place has different expectations and most aren't clear at all, nor are they consistent. Speaking with other performers, many of the same venues will offer very different rates of pay that are so subjective based on the booker and how much they want certain performers to play at thei venue. Plus, it seems there are always groups willing to play for free or just for tips and "exposure" which further confuses venues' ideas of what good music is worth. I'm still learning about the venue's side of things in this regard, so I'm not sure what the best solution is, except perhaps to have clear expectations and agreements with performers from the start of the booking process, and to communicate better about whose responsibility it will be to promote the show and such.

"I've been fortunate in that most of my folk/bluegrass/americana musical community has been generous about helping each other grow rather than stepping on one another to advance. When we share experiences and information that will help others get booked, everyone wins and our musical community can be more diverse and cooperative. I especially appreciate other women musicians I've met since I find that, with some exceptions, women are often more supportive of one another in this business."

"As someone who tries to make a living from the music I love to create, I believe you can most definitely have both. It is extremely hard to perform music exclusively and still pay the bills, but you can still manage at least a decent supplementary income once you learn to navigate the business part of it all. And I never see playing music as the kind of work I will tire of...hard as it can be, I feel passionate about it every time I create and perform. Otherwise I wouldn't be doing it.

"I often feel like I'm still paying my dues as a musician despite being a vocalist my whole life, though I believe this keeps me learning and growing. I still feel incredibly grateful anytime someone wants to book me or have me sing on their albums. But I think the difference from how this felt when I first got started vs now is that I now have a solid track record showing that I am consistant and dependable in addition to having talent, and I can now expect to be recognized and appreciated for my hard work. In that, I feel more confident asking to be paid what I'm worth compared with other talented musicians in this community. I certainly don't need to accept gigs that only offer a small percentage of beer sales or "exposure." Those offers can seem appealing to new musicians, but I've had plenty of exposure by now."

"To echo others who've said similar things, I dp find that Tucson's musical community can be a bit cliquey and divided based on genre, though I believe it's getting better over time. My community is largely supportive and we have many amazing female musicians. But I have definitely witnessed a largely disproportionate white male presence in some genres and communities that makes me uncomfortable. Especially when some of these men actively disrespect women (musicians or not) and work to keep them out of their white male dominated world. Makes my blood boil to be honest, especially when so many generic male rock bands don't have nearly as much talent as many women I see within the same scene. In certain parts of the local music scene, it's just expected that women musicians should be eye candy for other men. Blech."

"I am so grateful for networking groups where women can support each other and share stories, and where we can band together to make real changes in regard to these issues and challenges we all face.

"As for my own upcoming gigs, while I listed some of my collaborative projects above, my own group Big Grin has been keeping quite busy . We're slowly working on our first album and we've been booking a lot of shows lately, with more adding weekly. Our next couple of shows are at Sand-Reckoner vineyard on September 13 and Skybar on September 14, as well as shows at La Cocina and Harbottle Brewing later in the month. I'm also performing (just me) with Don Armstrong and the Whiskeypalians on Tues Oct 1st at Monterey Court.

Stay tuned next week for thoughts from more local players including Eric Schaffer and Clinton Wyatt Smith.

Check your local listings...

Each week this column compiles a choice selection of live gigs in and around Tucson with the help of good venue and band event announcements and other resources. If you've got a gig coming up and you'd like your event listed in this space (or if your local band has a major announcement or a new release) drop me a line at Or message me on Facebook (juliejenningspatterson) or Instagram (@spitegeist).

Friday August 30

  • Sensi Trails. Los Streetlight Curb PLayers, Desert Fish - 10 p.m. The Hut
  • HoCo Fest at Che's: Ryley Walker, Wild Pink - 8 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • John Matzek - 8 p.m. Arizona Beer House
  • Santa Pachita - 7 p.m. Monterey Court
  • Final Fridays at the Runway: Silent Movie Actress, The Cubes, Flying Half Full - 7 p.m The Runway Bar
  • The Exbats - 7 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • BCC Benefit Show w/ BYOM,Hallow, It Might Not Change, Igloo Martian - 7:30 p.m. Blacklidge Community Collective (DIY Show, Contact bands for details)
  • Two-Door Hatchback - 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner Vineyards
  • HoCo Fest at Wooden Tooth: Holy Fawn, Super Unison, Lychee - 4 p.m. Wooden Tooth Records
  • HoCo Fest at HoCo: Lindsey Banis,  Ms Nina, Tomasa Del Real, San Cha, Mexican Jihad, Pelada, Yanga, Los Esplifs, Kidbusiness, Kefftys, Native Creed, Top Nax, Sonido Tambo - 6 p.m. Hotel Congress
  • HoCo Fest at Cobra: Humphouse - 10 p.m. Cobra Arcade
  • HoCo Fest at Exo: Malaena Cadiz, Mother Higgins Band - 6 p.m. Exo Bar
  • HoCo Fest at 191 Toole: Gatecreeper, Candy, Show Me The Body - 7 p.m. 191 Toole
  • HoCo Fest at Owl's Club: Big|Brave w/ Trees Speak - 10 p.m. Owl's Club
  • HoCo Fest at R Bar: Street Blues Family, Seanlois, Mattea - 10 p.m. R Bar
  • HoCo Fest Semiotic Sunrise DJ Party - 1:30 a.m.(Location revealed with purchase of HoCo event ticket)

Saturday, August 31

  • Step into the Spotlight (Hip-Hop Event) - 6 p.m. House of Bards
  • The Fineline Revisited - 8 p.m. Surly Wench
  • Adara Rae - 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner Vineyards
  • Little Cloud, Origami Ghosts, Human Ottoman - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
  • Roll Acosta, Jacob Acosta Band - 7 p.m. Hotel McCoy
  • HoCo Fest at Wooden Tooth: Dogbreth, Foxx Bodies, Pro Teens, Rough Draft - 4 p.m. Wooden Tooth Records
  • HoCo Fest at the Snake Bridge: Sad Reptilian - 8 p.m. Rattlesnake Bridge (Downtown)
  • HoCo Fest at HoCo: Xixa, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, Maggot Heart, Las Chollas Pelligrosas, Rotting Yellow - 6 p.m. Hotel Congress
  • HoCo Fest at Boxyard: Vox Urbana - 10 p.m. Boxyard
  • HoCo Fest at Cobra: Nedarb, Foxwedding, Positive Satan - 10 p.m. Cobra Arcade
  • HoCo Fest at Exo: Amy Rude, Mamma Coal - 8 p.m. Exo
  • HoCo Fest at Rialto: Dia De Las Luchas w/ Taco Sauce - 7 p.m. Rialto
  • HoCo Fest at 191 Toole: Wicca Phase Springs, Eternal, Dana Dentata, Creeks, Rituals of Mine - 7 p.m. 191 Toole
  • HoCo Fest at Owl's Club: Minimal Violence, Deafkids, JS Aurelius, Body Fluid, Scale - 10 p.m. Owl's Club
  • HoCo Fest at Che's: Chick Cashman w/ Kid Congo - 10 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • HoCo Fest Semiotic Sunrise DJ Party - 1:30 a.m.(Location revealed with purchase of HoCo event ticket)

Sunday, Sep 1

  • Mick and the Funky Brunch - 12 p.m. La Cocina
  • Heather "Lil Mama" Hardy - 6 p.m. Chicago Bar
  • Churchill's Memorial - 5 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • HoCo Fest at Che's: Loveland - 5 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • HoCo Fest at Wooden Tooth: The Courtneys, Hotline, TNT, Toner, Stripes - 5 p.m. Wooden Tooth Records
  • HoCo Fest Pool Party at Hotel McCoy: Bembona, Sonido Tambo - 2 p.m. Hotel McCoy
  • HoCo Fest at Rialto: Emo night w/ Aaron Gillespie, Lil Aaron and Green Shirt Guy - 8 p.m. Rialto
  • HoCo Fest: Injury Reserve, bbymutha, Fat Tony - 7 p.m. 191 Toole
  • HoCo Fest at HoCo: Bill Callahan, Howe Gelb, Jake Xerxes Fussell, June West, Casey Golden - 6 p.m. Hotel Congress
  • HoCo Fest Closing Party at HoCo:  Death Bell, Cold Showers, Marbled Eye, Lie, Droll, DJentrification - 9 p.m. Hotel Congress

Monday, September 2

  • Peter Dalton Ronstadt - 8 p.m. Chicago Bar
  • Comedy Night at the Wench - 7 p.m. Surly Wench
  • NoCo Fest at BCC: Wrinkles, Logan Greene Whatever, Kell, Elephants Gerald - 8 p.m. BCC (DIY Show - contact bands for details)

Tuesday, September 3

  • Deacon's Open Jam - 8 p.m. Chicago Bar
  • Annie Jump Cannon, Mudpuppy, Pelt - 8 p.m. Illegal Pete's

Wednesday, September 4

  • Clinton Smith - 5 p.m. Horshoe Grill
  • Bad News Blues - 8 p.m. Chicago Bar

Thursday, September 5

  • Hannah Yeun, Chelsey Lee Trejo, Sonoda - 7 p.m. The Quarry (Bisbee)


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