Weekend What's Up: Apache Lake Music Festival
By Jason Shoff
Apache Lake. For anyone who’s spent any amount of time in the local music scene here, those two words conjure up thoughts of many things: campfires, swimming, friendship, drinking, jamming, and experimenting, to name but a few. But the first thing people think of? Music.
See, for the past six years, the two-day Apache Lake Music Festival has signaled many things. For some, it means enjoying some of the best local music has to offer; for others, it means taking a weekend escape to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, or just simply enjoying one of the first weekends after summer when it’s not 100 degrees. But if one thing’s for sure, it’s that it’s definitely outgrown its humble origins into something more: it’s an annual gathering, if not exodus, of the close-knit circle of local Tempe and Phoenix talent to truly let their freak flags fly.
I myself have been to this festival a few times. In fact, the 2012 festival (which had expanded to three days that year) is still one of the best times I’ve ever had in my life. The music scene had reached a pinnacle of sorts that year, and it seemed as if every band worth their salt was performing on its three stages. It all added up to feeling like a culmination, and a celebration, of sorts to the hard work that all of the bands put into getting Tempe and Phoenix music to the high point that it was at. Sadly, as bands from this line-up continue to either disband or fade from the scene, it feels more like a closing chapter than a new beginning in retrospect. But it still shows the somewhat transcendent power that ALMF can have for those that are there.
Now that’s not to say that this year’s festival is no slouch. In fact, there are still plenty of acts playing that are worth the drive through one of the most treacherous roads in the state of Arizona. Friday’s headliner, Wyves, is one such band, and the fact that they’re topping a bill after only gigging for about five months tells you all to need to know. Combining former Strange Young Things frontman and Dry River Yacht Club guitarist Corey Gloden with the former three musical members of Sara Robinson and Midnight Special, it’s like Phoenix’s version of Audioslave, but without the disappointment. Trust me, I’ve seen them: the songs are tight, the musicianship incredible, and it’s just so good to see Gloden playing (and fronting) this Stonesy/Faces blend of blues rock again. It just feels right.
As for other Friday indoor acts, make room on your schedule for the stellar live hip-hop of The Stakes and the punk-rock-by-way-of-bar-mitzvah sound of Jerusafunk. But the other big highlight, at least for me, comes at the outdoor stage, where Harrison Fjord will be making their ALMF debut. For those who have yet to see them, it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly what they sound like; however, if I had to describe them, they manage to blend the epicness and retro stylings of Future Loves Past with the grand psychedelia of Captain Squeegee. And if that sounds like a pretty bold comparison, then you’ll understand what I mean once you hear them.
Speaking of Captain Squeegee, they’re playing the indoor stage on Saturday, and from what I hear they just might have some surprises up their sleeves (possibly involving time portals?). But it will be interesting to see how they sound as a unit without former guitarist Garrett Ortega, though I’m absolutely sure Danny Torgersen and crew are more than capable of blowing people’s minds, regardless.
The rest of Saturday’s indoor stage line-up features your typical Tempe music stalwarts: the ska of the Hourglass Cats, the gutter punk of the Woodworks, the Arctic Monkeys-via-Stevie Ray Vaughn sound of Sunset Voodoo, and of course the blues rock of local scene staple Japhy’s Descent (because really, an ALMF bill would just feel incomplete without them on it).
As for the outdoor stage line-up, you know it’s an epic bill when .decker is billed five acts below the headliner. But it will be an absolute treat to hear tracks from their latest (and arguably best) album, Patsy, in this kind of a setting. As for the indoor stage headliner, Jared and the Mill take the “KONGOS” spot on the bill, which is well deserved. Not only does their popularity continue to grow across the country with each passing year, but they’ve also recently managed to open for Barry Gibb and share the stage with such bands as Death Cab for Cutie and legends like Stevie fucking Wonder (seriously, I’m still incredibly jealous of all of them for this). Other acts to keep your eye on? The absolutely undeniable funkiness of Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, for a start, who will assuredly turn the entire room into one gigantic dance party (and it’ll also be interesting to see how the entire band fits on that size of a stage).
Also the spaghetti western rock of XIXA (aka Chicha Dust) will make you feel like you should be in a Tarantino film with their duel guitar leads and timbale percussion. Then add other acts like the “punkgrass for the people” of the Haymarket Squares and recent Wilco openers Banana Gun, and you’ve got a night of music that shouldn’t be missed.
Now does that mean this line-up is perfect? Well there have been some complaints from people who feel that ALMF has a too similar line-up of blues rock and Americana bands playing every year, and this bill does nothing to dispel these assumptions. And in my honest opinion, it would be nice to see other scenes and bands of a few other genres play, as that would only expand the audience of the festival.
Even if they were to add a couple of bands that you’d normally see at Trunk Space, for example, or on a Rubber Brothers tape release, and you’d have a little bit of a more rounded line-up. But still, if you’re looking to get away to enjoy some beautiful weather, great company and some pretty wonderful music, then Apache Lake is where you need to be.