Whistle While You Work (from home)

Story: Derek Jones & Kail Rose

‘Twas the worst of times, the best of times… perhaps the end of times. In the age of COVID-19, an uncanny silence settles over the cityscape as the mechanized, technologized, commuter industry of mankind grounds to a halt. Trading briefcases and pantsuits for polka-dot pajama pants and fuzzy slippers, humanity finds themselves hopelessly homeridden. The morning fog breaks to yet another work-from-home hour; trapped, claustrophobic, lonely within the four walls of our own residence. Stress levels at an all-time high, civilization in crisis, one thing remained…

A good tune to whistle along to.

Our Top Ten Whistle Songs

  1. Joywave- Destruction
  2. Wax Fang- The Majestic
  3. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zero’s – Home
  4. Gun’s & Roses – Patience
  5. Ying Yang Twins- Whistle While you twerk
  6. Bleached – Hard To kill
  7. Awolnation- Jailbreak
  8. Black Eyed Peas – Just Can’t get enough
  9. One Republic – Good Life
  10. Saint PHNX – Scream

What is it about a good whistle-along? Perhaps its the simple act of breathing; a stress-coping mechanism paired to an uplifting chorus. Or maybe it’s just fun. Either way, we put together a playlist of our favorite whistle songs to make your time alone at home just a little bit brighter. Click play, crank it up and whistle your worries away.

M3F Festival 2020 Review

Review & Photography by Kail Rose

Two girls in steampunk corsets, flowing skirts and over-the-top hair and glitter climb atop a giant rusty LED-adorned Vee-Dub-esque vehicle, straight out of Mad Max. Lace parasols twirling, they pout and pose in the sparkling sunshine while the rhythms of the drum circle behind us pulse through the warm spring afternoon air. Whimsical seems the word of the day. An eclectic crowd filters through the modest festival gates. They stop for a selfie in front of oversize technicolor M3F letters, grab a Hazy IPA, and assemble tye-dyed picnic blankets, hula hoops and sequined capes in a semicircle on the grass surrounding the Kesey and Kerouac stages. It’s clearly an all-ages crowd, at least this early in the day. Families with children assemble at the craft stations, others attempt to teach older kids to hula-hoop to the opening riffs of our early afternoon bands, Jawny and Slwly. It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon in Phoenix.

Moby Rich live on the main stage at M3F Festival 2020, Friday.

I’ve arrived in time to survey the afternoon scene before heading over to the towering main stage, Kerouac, for pop duo Moby Rich. Stepping up the energy with infectious hooks and euphoric lyrics, they toss in a few cover songs before delighting the small crowd with hits Yoko Ono and Loser. New Madrid and Sure Sure follow as the crowd slowly fills in. In between sets, folk peruse the market stalls purchasing all matter of eclectic offerings; from wooden watches and loud-patterned parachute pants to heavily-sequined capes featuring T-rexes, owls and unicorns. As the sun sinks lower in the sky, our 70-degree afternoon becomes crisp and the energy amplifies. By the opening of San Holo’s larger-than life electronica-meets-rock-god opening, it’s clear that the demographic has shifted.The laid-back atmosphere had somehow condensed to a packed, predominantly college-age crowd and with that came a change in sentiment. Now it was all about dancing, jostling through the crowd, many clearly no longer sober. But all in a rush to get to the front rail. 

We manage a brief reprieve with a stunning almost-should-have-been-the-headliners set from Local Natives. An ethereal indie rock set on the towering stage, punctuated by energy and poignant lyricism. Early in the set, frontman Taylor Rice leaps the barricade and into the enormous crowd, inviting his stunned and adoring fans to sing along, face to face. 

Local Natives take crowd involvement to a whole new level as frontman Taylor Rice leaps into the crowd for a song.

As the headliners near, we find ourselves back at the Kesey stage, where the EDM bros with a date in the front row shove and trample to find their place in the crowd. It was all I could do to retreat to the 27-minute drink line (I timed it, yes…) for a mood-saving adult beverage. I hung to the far back of a now-overwhelming crowd for LANY, and then to the absolute fence line for the opening of Bon Iver. I’ll admit I made an early departure to find some real food and wine at nearby restaurant, Match. Grateful for the break from an exuberant crowd, I was finally able to use a real bathroom, rest my weary feet and wash my hands. 

The Kesey stage of M3F on Saturday draws a large crowd for Snakehips EDM set

With mixed sentiments, we headed back for day two of the festival, hopeful that a varied Saturday lineup and beautiful weather would somehow make up for the previous day’s descent into college-kid pandemonium. Once again it was fairly easy to get to the festival, right off interstate 10 at the East end of Margaret T Hance park, and an expansive parking garage quite literally at the festival gate offered easy parking for a $20 flat rate. I arrived in time for my favorite (and highly anticipated) band of the weekend, Thumpasaurus. So unique that they almost defy classification, this dance-heavy funk-jam band hailing from California immediately became a personal favorite after catching them at Firefly Music Festival last June. I was thrilled to see them again. They’ve been described as “an eclectic, homemade aesthetic unlike anything else this side of the Milky Way,” and if upbeat, joyful and quirky is your thing, we can’t recommend them enough. Within half a song, the crowd were on their feet and the pancakes were a-cookin’ (yes, there really were pancakes being made on-stage). Great start to Day Two.

We followed with Aussie act Crooked Colours, indie/new-wave duo Generationals, and EDM powerhouse Snakehips. And with that, it seems, the Bros were back. So fittingly described by fellow fest reviewer, Ed Masley of Arizona Republic; “the vibe could now be compromised by the same sort of macho behavior that ruined the Warped Tour and Lollapalooza in the ‘90s.”

Nevertheless we persist, dodging the unruly crowd for a stunningly gruff hour of garage/psych rock with The Growlers. This set certainly made up for an unruly crowd, with Brooks Nielsen’s idiosyncratic swagger, clutching cigarette-and-(what we can only assume was)-liquor in one hand while commandeering the mic with trademark ‘beach-goth’ grunge vocals on the other.

Brooks Nielsen of The Growlers puts on a perfect grunge rock set at M3F music festival 2020

In stark contrast, the next set brought us a cartoonishly upbeat jungle-themed EDM set with multi-lingual superstars Sofi Tukker on the smaller Kesey stage. Hits such as Best Friend and Drinkee elevated the crowd as much as Sophie’s guitar-goddess showmanship, flawless vocals and Tucker’s iconic commandeering of the midi-drum tech-art installation center stage; the ‘book tree.’ The evening wrapped, almost anticlimactically with Rufus Du Sol on the main Kerouac stage. Again, we didn’t stay for the entire set as a cold evening breeze rushed in and the deterring realities of this bro-heavy crowd sent us scampering for the gates. 

Sofi Tukker put on an explosive electronic set at M3F Festival 2020

Sunday, quite unfortunately, arrived even more anticlimactically than expected. With the cancellation of headliner Stick Figure, the schedule was adjusted, bumping The Funk Hunters to primo placement on an already stunted daily lineup. The crowds reflected it, too – much smaller than expected. Highlights were few and far-between. 

The towering main stage at M3F Festival 2020

While we applaud this small festival for what it is – a charitable endeavor bringing some big names to a small outdoor venue – we can’t help but make comparisons to the prior weekend’s festivities just a few miles away at Innings Festival. M3F certainly had some highlights: an eclectic crowd, a phenomenal musical lineup, a small park venue that was easy to navigate and the draw of being a non-profit generating over $2mil for a handful of deserving charitable groups. 

But the contrast between a laid-back afternoon crowd and the less-than-desirable conduct of the evening EDM-heavy scene was quite literally day-and-night. It also became painfully obvious as attending media that things were a little less than organized on many fronts. With public concerns over Coronavirus surfacing, I found measures to ensure health and hygeine severely lacking. Handwashing stations were almost nonexistent (with the exception of city park restrooms) and hand sanitizer was available in a few places, but ran out quickly. I was prohibited from entering the festival gates with my jar of Purell, so I was incredibly thankful I’d thought to also stash a pack of disinfecting hand wipes in my backpack. Almost nothing on the food/beverage vendors was being sanitized or cleaned – particularly payment stations, which were greasy and clearly touched by every single person ordering food. Call me a complete germaphobe, but I do hope that we’ve dodged a bullet on the sanitation front. 

I have mixed feelings about M3F festival, but having only attended one year, I’d be willing to give it another try in 2021. Knowing what I know now, I’d likely avoid the evening crowds unless a killer headliner made it worthwhile. The afternoon vibes on Friday and Saturday set the scene magnificently, and I did enjoy the variety and quality of the music – no faults there. While I found the overlapping schedule a bit of a deterrent, as was the bleed in sound across stages from opposite ends of the park, the overall small size of the festival was actually a great thing and maintained an intimate feel throughout the weekend. I wouldn’t classify any of the above a gross fault, but rather I’d hope they can improve upon this in future years. In retrospect of the above, M3F festival really was ultimately a success. The magnitude of these acts far surpassed the size of the festival and I applaud M3F for managing to book big artists for such a noteworthy and intimate nonprofit cause. That alone, I believe, makes M3F a shining success in 2020. 

Happy crowd dancing in the front row at M3F music Festival 2020 for Sofi Tukker

Innings Festival Hits a Home Run in 2020

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.

Recommended:

Feature: Ryan Dempster and Off The Mound

Blog: Innings Festival 2020 Recap – A Baseball Bonanza

River City Rockfest Cancelled, and this time it’s for good

After the 2019 cancellation of River City Rockfest, yesterday’s news came as little surprise – albeit to the dismay of fans throughout Texas. Citing increasing performer prices and limited availability of top-notch talent, River City Rockfest has, indeed, decided to close it’s doors for good.

This news comes on the tail of many other festivals facing the same issue in recent years. With rising costs, many festivals have chosen to increase ticket prices. Running for six years, Rockfest drew upward of 35,000 fans annually and aimed to keep ticket prices affordable at just $60 a piece. But this seems no longer possible. VP of Spurs Sports, Casey Heverling also claims that “the number of top-drawing rock and metal acts has dwindled in recent years,” and gives credit to the team for their successes in previous years; “Rockfest was an anomaly.”

This leaves space for new and innovative festival concepts to move into the region, with efforts such as Splice Record’s novel micro-festival concept, Zenfest and Austin’s third-annual Skunkfest kicking off in 2020. Is it time for a revolution in the festival universe? Perhaps so.

Transviolet, Armors and Kady Rain – an evening of alt pop/Rock At Barracuda Austin

Artist Spotlight: Rachel B, Photography: Kenny Sanford + Christopher De La Rosa

Hailing from San Diego, California, Transviolet is an alt/pop-rock band that first stole our hearts at KAABOO Cayman festival in early 2019. Lead vocalist Sarah McTaggart, with Judah McCarthy, Michael Panek, and Jon Garcia originally collaborated online, but then moved to the West Coast to write and perform.

Transviolet. Photos by Kenny Sanford.

Originally known as Noise Floor, the name was changed to Transviolet (inspired by Charles Bukowski’s poem When The Violets Roar At The Sun) and chosen to mean “transcendence into a new, violet awareness”. They made waves with a publicity stunt, mailing cassette tapes with “just press play” handwritten on them to a number of industry insiders, including members of the Fueled By Ramen street team and Electra Records. It worked, and their popularity grew. They are currently with Sony BMG and have released four EPs, including 2020’s Born To Rule and single of the same name.

Transviolet. Photos by Kenny Sanford.

Team dRiFFt caught their high-energy, colorful show at Barracuda Austin on February 26, where McTaggart put on her signature cant-look-away performance, following openers Austin local Kady Rain (below) and Armors, hailing from Orange County CA.

Kady Rain. Photos by Christopher De La Rosa.

News: Splice Records Announces Groundbreaking New Festival Concept Zenfest

Hot off the press: The revolutionary team behind last year’s smashing success River Revival Music Festival have just announced their newest festival offering. Taking place April 3-5 in New Braunfels, the festival concept targets the ever-popular micro-festival niche, inviting just three hundred attendees to join them for a camping and music-filled weekend on the banks of the Guadalupe River. Artists will include DeadEye, The Light Rock Express, IllumiYachty and favorites Folk Family Revival across two stages; the Lone Star Beer main stage and late night at Zen City.

Festival tickets include camping, access to the music festival, a commemorative T-shirt, morning yoga sessions and river activities (including costume contests and a fishing competition). The event is BYOB and family-friendly, and sources tell us that they’ve already sold the majority of their tickets, so grab yours here and use code RIVERREVIVALFAMILY for $35 off your ticket. See you on the river!

Must-see or Meh? Vote below!!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Meh (1) – – – – > Must-See (5)

Let us know your thoughts – is this a must-see or a meh? Vote above!

NEWS: Pet Shop Boys Announce Unity Tour with New Order

Pet Shop Boys have just announced an 11-stop tour with New Order in 2020. Dubbed “The Unity Tour,” they’ll kick off September 5th in Toronto and stop in cities such as New York, Philly, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco (scroll down for full tour schedule). Reaching massive popularity in the 80s and 90s, the English synth-pop duo consisting of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have overjoyed fans with the announcement. Bringing acclaimed post-punk/electronic act New Order along for the party, this tour will be nothing but unbridled joy and reverence for a revolution in dance music. On this tour, both bands will play a full set, alternating each night as headliner.

Tickets are on sale Feb 28th at 10am local time – grab yours HERE and scroll down to see the full tour schedule.

Must-see or Meh? Vote below!!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Meh (1) – – – – > Must-See (5)

The Unity Tour Dates: Pet Shop Boys x New Order:

September 5 – Toronto, ON @ Budweiser Stage
September 9 – Boston, MA @ Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion
September 11 – Philadelphia, PA @ TD Pavilion at The Mann
September 12 – New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
September 15 – Columbia, MD @ Merriweather Post Pavilion
September 18 – Chicago, IL @ Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island
September 20 – Minneapolis, MN @ Armory
September 24 – Vancouver, BC @ Rogers Arena
September 26 – George, WA @ Gorge Amphitheatre
September 30 – San Francisco, CA @ Chase Center
October 2 – Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Bowl

Ground Up Music Festival 2020

Photography + Review by Geoff Clowes /Sage + Spirit Photo

The 4th annual iteration of the GroundUp Music Festival is now in the books. The festival, with an annual lineup of jam-based jazz and funk acts curated by three-day headliners Snarky Puppy was this year a gathering of the best of the best. Taking place at the North Beach Bandshell, the event runs counter to most festivals in that it is set in a small venue with a capacity of only a few thousand attendees. While small, the crowd is in no way less enthusiastic than at one of the giant festivals. 

The lineup for the 2020 GUMF was one of the most noteworthy, with acts including Snarky PuppyMichael McDonald, and Lettuce, alongside lesser known acts such as Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band and FORQ.

One of the highlights of the weekend was seeing Michael League, bandleader and bassist from Snarky Puppy sitting in on bass for so many other acts, including Michael McDonald’s set, that also featured the rhythm section and backing vocals from Snarky Puppy. Other highlights include Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band with their Miles Davis sound and Banda Magda performing a set of Greek tinged jazz, and the uban Jazz of Yissy Garcia & Bandancha.

The GroundUp Music Festival is one of the most important music festivals in South Florida and certainly one of the best small festivals in the jazz/funk world. This year was no exception, as the festival was awash in warm breezes and sunshine other than Saturday night – which was awsh in gale force winds and rain. But hey, it’s South Florida after all, what do you expect?

News: Inaugural Day In The Vines Concert Series Lineup Announced in Texas

C3 Presents and CRS have just announced the Inaugural A Day In The Vines concert series to take place May 9 and 10 at Spicewood Vineyards in Texas. This Mother’s Day weekend celebration was inspired by New Zealand’s Winery Tour and will benefit Kids in a New Groove, with a portion of proceeds benefitting the nonprofit.

With the popularity of similar festivals such as Bottlerock in Napa Valley, this brand new concert series fills a big niche in Texas and highlights the diversity and beauty of our very own wine region. With headliners The Revivalists and Norah Jones, incredible food and wine, plus a diverse roster of all-ages activities, this is a Mothers-day bash that all can enjoy.

Must-see or Meh? Vote below!!

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Meh (1) – – – – > Must-See (5)

Let us know your thoughts – is this a must-see or a meh? Vote above!

Show Review: Black Sunday Blowout with Maryann Cotton, Black Smoke Sinners and Black Heart Saints

Review & Photography: Kail Rose

Motorcycles and their admirers line up outside under the sodium vapor street lights, glittering in a dizzying assemblage of chrome, cigarette smoke and black leather. I can hear fading remnants of the last riff of soundcheck as security hands back my ID, swipes a black cat stamp over my hand and ushers me through the ominous dark-paneled gates off seventh street. I grab a Lonestar and survey the scene at Empire Control Room & Garage – this evening it’s bustling. It’s not one for the faint of heart. Beer and cigarettes, leather and silver, low-cut, hi-crop and tight everything; big hair, loud makeup and heavy Doc Martens. There’s a little old-school glam rock here mixed with grunge and biker culture, collecting to celebrate rock music of a classic era on Black Sunday. Tomorrow is a holiday, so there are no holds barred tonight.

I love the rock crowd – their big energy, and their raucously over-enthusiastic passion for the music and the community they’ve built around it. I greet friends and acquaintances; most offer a warm hug and witty, excited banter. We’re all here to celebrate what’s become an underground Austin movement – led largely by the very man who invited me here, Robert Wagner. Texan rock legend and son of Dick Wagner (who needs no introduction), Robert is doing big things to reinvigorate this cult classic rock community, right here in our own town.

As I ready my camera gear and chat with fans in the front row, we’re hit with the fuzzy opening riff of a sound that’s not entirely foreign. It’s so familiar, I’m halted mid-conversation. Maryann Cotton slides on stage with the self-assured swagger of a man opening on a much larger stage. Immediately, the presence and prowess of a rock artist who is destined for very big places becomes overwhelmingly obvious. Clad in skintight patent leather, buckles, chains, black eyeliner, fantastically big hair and a snarl that’s as gritty as it is sexy, he launches into his set. It’s dramatic, glamorous and oh-so-delicious to watch. I hear some Alice Cooper, a young KISS maybe, a little Motley Crue in there. Reminiscent of so many favorites, the crowd rocks as hard as the band. This is a production of truly excellent caliber. I catch myself thinking once again: we needed someone like this on the scene, and these guys are destined for big places. Maryann Cotton has ties to the Wagner family as well as a nod from Alice Cooper himself. With a varied discography released to date, their sound is a brilliant homage to the glam rock of the late 70s and 80s. The set is high-energy: it’s dirty, sexy, gritty and sweaty and leaves me wishing I could transport myself back forty years to see glam rock in its heyday. But who needs that when we’ve got Maryann Cotton?

Sir Robert Wagner is next on the evening’s lineup; his new band Black Smoke Sinners launches into a setlist heavy on covers. This is a band with a unique take on both their music and a lifestyle, priding themselves on being “lifetime riders but also lifetime musicians.” Forged from lifelong friendships, this crew wants to “bring the true ‘Rock Show’ Experience back to the National rally scene.” The roster includes Robert Wagner on vocals, Austin favorite Jake Sherard on guitar/vocals, Dave Beeson on guitar/vocals, biker and builder Chris Callen on bass, and builder and acclaimed drummer of Buckcherry fame, Xavier Muriel. As he always does, Wagner grooves, moves and schmoozes his brilliant self into our hearts and it’s an hour that passes in a second. Backed by musicians of such magnitude and passion, this little quintet has big plans and an even bigger future as they bring rock back to the rally world. 

Questioning whether we could top the energy and spectacle of our first two bands, we’re treated to a third set that blows us out of the water. Revving up for their first official SXSW showcase, Austin favorites Black Heart Saints hit the stage as our headliner. It’s immediately clear that their momentum is on an upswing. It’s an explosive set, beginning with a handful of cherished favorites from existing discography. They follow with some newer tunes, no less than flawless, before dropping into a couple of cover songs. When the opening grooves of Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song bombard my eardrums, these Saints hit a whole new level: this ain’t just another mediocre cover of a cult classic. Frontman Josh Ross hits those high notes just right; he’s a triple threat with powerful vocals, an inimitable stage presence and enough strut and substance to make Sir Robert Plant himself proud. Once again, Black Heart Saints harness a certain something about their music that’s rarely imitated. When we interviewed them almost exactly a year ago, we predicted a meteoric rise as one of the nation’s top emerging rock acts. Now on the precipice of a major SX set, we’ll be sitting smugly in the sidelines watching them take over the rock world.

What an evening. As always, the Austin rock scene brings us an evening of ineffable energy. From the sexy, gritty Maryann Cotton to the unbridled revelry of rock/rally heavyweights Black Smoke Sinners – or the dangerous, dirty and delicious Black Heart Saints – what a way to wrap a Sunday. 2020’s take on Black Sunday, that is.