Story & Photography: Kail Rose
I was lucky to attend the third annual Innings Festival in Tempe, Arizona this past weekend. With an incredible lineup, a picturesque location and the draw of baseball-themed activities, this midsize early-season niche festival proved to be the perfect catch for a festival lover like myself.
When my team first ‘pitched’ the Arizona festival as our opening fest of the year, I’m not sure if it was the lineup or the baseball theme that really won me over (pun intended). A perfect blend of genres with big names and trending newcomers, the Innings lineup was a work of art. The booking team really hit a home run with headliners Dave Matthews Band and Weezer stacked against a flawless assembly of rock, pop, country and alternative artists. But aside from the ‘diamond’-level lineup, it proved to be a laid-back, fun, and well-organized event in a gorgeous and accessible setting with the added bonus of family-friendly baseball activities and delectable food and beverage offerings.
On day one, Boy Named Banjo set the stage with string-heavy melody and captivating harmonies on the far Right Field stage adjacent to the blue waters of Tempe Town Lake. The crowd basked in the mid-afternoon sun atop picnic blankets with a cold Hazy IPA in one hand and an overflowing Island Noodles in the other. We were treated to an upbeat set from Strand of Oaks and the enchantingly pitch-perfect ZZ Ward. As the sun settled low in the sky, we found ourselves visiting the batting cages and stopping for photo opps with none other than legends Ryan Dempster and Kenny Lofton. Ice Cream in hand (because we’re never ones to strike out on the food offerings when it’s festival time), we dodged family groups and girl squads to head back over to Right Field for a set of quirky, colorful effervescent rock with Dr. Dog. It was a spectacular afternoon on the green lawn of Tempe Beach Park – 80 degrees, puffy white clouds and just the right number of attendees to make this feel like an energetic picnic in the park. Portugal the Man followed, and against our will, we were all on our feet dancing. No lounging on a picnic blanket for this contagiously high-energy act. I caught one final country set with Jason Isbell before grabbing a Corona Cherry seltzer (holy cow, these are great!) and got ready for Dave Matthews Band on the Home Plate stage. Erupting from stage right with his band in tow and a special kind of energy that evening, Dave Matthews put on a cheeky, fun, and-oh-so delightful performance to wrap Day One of Innings fest. Having seen Dave Matthews recently in a less-than-enthralling set, this one was special. I think I fell in ‘glove’ that night (ar ar arrr..). A magnificent day; Innings really hit it out of the park on Saturday.
Day Two rolled around with weather equally as glorious and a pleasant upbeat vibe. The lineup was even more stacked on Sunday – we had a lot to take in. We hit it out of the park from the first set with Wilderado’s flawless blend of indie rock, stunning harmony and guitar that may or may not be otherworldly. Innings had covered their bases with win after win on the music front. Next up was sassy country crooner Nikki Lane – a sparkling addition to an already stellar lineup. The highlights continued; The Struts entertained a large crowd with nonstop energy, perfect British accents, fans losing their minds in the front row, sparkles, tassels and utterly irresistible rock – all the while giving us a high-energy set of their biggest hits.
Following the Struts, I headed back to the laid-back lounge and picnic areas, where I chatted with some of my festival photographer friends over a quick Jack Daniels & coke. The folks at Innings were so friendly and approachable; we met and chatted with attendees from all walks of life. From happy couples, solo festivalers, girl gangs in flowing floral frocks, a big group who had just returned from throwing frisbees on the lawn and even some diehard music festival groupies, there for the big names. Their enthusiasm for The Struts, Weezer, RKS, Dave Matthews and more was such a welcome change of pace, and an entertaining conversation, no less.
As the late afternoon sun disappeared, Rainbow Kitten Surprise paired their literal rainbow of alt/indie rock songs with some of the grooviest dance moves we’d seen that weekend. The sun set as we grabbed one last El Jefe taco and zipped over to Right Field to see Death Cab for Cutie. Beloved frontman Ben stepped out on stage despite having been ill all week and put on an admirable performance before cutting the set short. Get well soon, Ben – we’ll catch ya next time! As if they hadn’t already hit a homerun, Innings managed to top everything with our Sunday headliner. Weezer brought us to our final inning with an unstoppable nostalgia-fueled ninety-minutes of their greatest rock hits, a particular delight for me and, well, just about everyone else in that crowd.
All home runs aside, Innings festival was so much more than just a great lineup and some fun spring training-themed activities. It’s clear that the team behind the festival really put some thought into it. From ample amenities (including enough food and beverage vendors to ensure that lines were never terrible, even at peak), to beautiful grassy shaded spots to relax, even within the GA areas. VIP, Cabanas and GA+ took it a step higher, but I enjoyed my time primarily in the general admission area with no concern. Food vendors had clearly been handpicked with quality in mind; from Hoss doggies to El Jefe’s giant nachos-in-a-pizza-box, we certainly did not suffer for amazing food options. With the bridges spanning the park and Tempe Town Lake lit up with bright colors, it was nothing but breathtaking to stroll along the waterfront in between sets – and the selfie/photo opps were numerous.
Tempe itself, a town I’d never visited previously, was an absolute delight. From a tidy downtown area, exceptional hotels, plentiful parking, excellent public transport and numerous places to eat and relax, to the ease of access off the interstate. It is even incredibly close to Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. Tempe was a super accessible and well-chosen festival location. If I can be quite honest, Tempe is truly a wonderful place to visit and a place I could see myself returning to for a low-key weekend. To wrap the experience, Innings festival staff and security were so friendly and jovial, and it struck me just how tidy, pleasant and organized the whole event was – no strikes here. I really can’t say enough about my experience at Innings Festival 2020 and will definitely return next year. Innings Fest, you’re a catch!
We invited our friend Renee to share her attendee experience at Innings Festival 2020:
What does a 52-year-old Mom and three 18-year-old boys have in common? A 12 hour road trip from Colorado to Tempe! Over the weekend my son, his two friends and I attended Innings Fest in Tempe Arizona. When he first brought the festival to my attention, he mentioned that he really wanted to see his favorite band, Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Then I looked at the line-up and saw that one of my favorite bands, The Struts would be there too. Since The Struts haven’t announced a Colorado tour date, I knew we needed to make this adventure a reality for the both of us, to see our favorites. So we made plans to head south for the weekend.
It has been many years since I‘ve been to an actual music festival, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Once we got there, I was pleasantly surprised. One of the things that I appreciated most about the Festival was the thousands of people of different ages, races and backgrounds who were in the same place, at the same time, enjoying music, baseball and wonderful food. That was it! There wasn’t any nonsense. It was a happy place to be away from the realities of our sometimes crazy world. I also appreciated that the festival was really in-tune with the environment, providing unlimited recycling, water fill stations, and resources for the least amount of waste.
There were quite a few bands that were in the line-up that I had never seen before, and many that I hadn’t ever heard of. What a perfect opportunity to enjoy a laid back atmosphere that you may not normally enjoy when you are seeing a specific band at a concert venue. The acts were spaced far enough apart that you could enjoy all the bands that you wanted to see, without rushing around. I had never seen Weezer, Big Head Todd and The Monsters (and they even hail from my home state of Colorado!), Dave Mathews, Death Cab for Cutie, or even Whiskey Myers, but I was able to see all of them in one place.
Lets get back to The Stuts. I have seen this band 6 different times, but never in a setting this large. They are only getting better and better, and deserve the greatest success. One of the highlights for me was seeing and meeting my fellow Strutters and the camaraderie that we all share. Many of us came from other states just because they were performing. When Luke asked the crowd how many of use had never seen them before, over half of the crowd raised their hands. I felt like I was a part of history knowing how big these guys are going to be.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Renee is 52 year old self-proclaimed “cool mom”, without the mom jeans who resides in Denver, Colorado. Her obsession for music, and attending concerts began when she inadvertently met her first true love Rick Springfield after a concert, in a parking lot, by his bus, without a cell phone to capture this life altering moment.