Fans of punk, alternative, pop and alt-country music will have the opportunity to see more than 60 bands within 72 hours, at three venues within a half-mile of each other, at the inaugural Way Out West Fest.
The unifying factor among the acts is that they are all independent of the corporate music machine, says co-organizer Billy Brooks: "None of these bands have been signed to major labels. Some of them have record contracts with independent labels, and most of them release their own music."
Exciting young indie bands such as French Exit, the Pillowfights, Bastards of Young, Tin Horn Prayer, the Edison Record, Black Sails Western Shores, the Hurry Up and Die Alreadies, Tiltwheel, Something Fierce, the Plurals, Horror Squad and many others will play at Fourth Avenue venues O'Malley's and The Hut.
A few blocks away in the downtown area, Skrappy's will play host to two nights of all-ages, donation-based WOWFest gigs.
Convenience and ease of access were important factors in scheduling the festival.
"Every band is playing 20 to 25 minutes. ... The fest is set up so that if you are determined enough, you could see some of every band, because the schedules are staggered in terms of start times," Brooks says.
With his partner, Cameron Combs, and a growing army of volunteers, Brooks has been working for almost a year to put together WOWFest. They were inspired by Awesome Fest, a yearly music festival held in the North Park area of San Diego. Tucson bands such as Lenguas Largas and Shark Pants have played there—and they'll be among the acts at Way Out West Fest as well.
Combs and Brooks also wanted their festival to feature a variety of music. "We didn't want all the bands to sound the same," Brooks explains. "Like, you'll notice that there are bands with some metal influence, some punk, a lot of pop music, some folky stuff and a little bit of alt-country. There's pretty much everything that I've ever listened to."
Planning the event was like an extended game of telephone tag, facilitated by the Internet, Brooks adds. "I have some friends in some pretty well-known bands, so it was basically a seven-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon-type deal. You can ask somebody if they knew another person, and they could ask somebody if they have the phone number or the e-mail address, and we could kind of get in touch.
"But, really, with the Internet is how it took off. We had a lot of bands that hit us up that we didn't even know who they were before they did."
The organizers of WOWFest also have made good use of the Internet, including on their site links to purchase three-day passes, links to most of the bands' homepages, and no less than five free, downloadable album samplers of music by many of the bands performing.
"I discovered that site Bandcamp, which is mostly free, and a lot of my friends were putting their music up there, and I decided: What better way to spread the word than just put it out there?" Brooks says.
He adds that he doesn't know any festival that has created a sampler of its music before it happened. "I thought it was a good idea and ran with it, and people seem to enjoy it, so I kept asking the bands for songs and putting them together, and now we have five compilations up there on the site."
Three weeks before the event, the compilations had been downloaded close to 500 times, and individual songs had been streamed more than 3,000 times, Brooks says.
In addition to bands from out of town—many from California, Texas, the Pacific Northwest and Phoenix—local groups will include Logan Greene and the Bricks, Doctor Dinosaur, Faster Than Light, Lenguas Largas, Ultramaroon, Discos, Shark Pants, Garboski, Just Animals and the Runaway Five.
The festival's main goal, Brooks says, is "to show people how cool we are here in Tucson, that the scene is thriving, and the music is good. We'll have close to 70 bands, and probably 50 of those will never have been to Tucson. And hopefully, we'll have close to 300, 400 people who have never been to Tucson, just hanging out and listening to music."
He says WOWFest can also help to contradict prevailing national opinions of Arizona culture. "We get a really bad rap in the national media as a state, but in general, the attitudes of people here are open and positive. We have a large art scene, and we don't have a lot of hate crimes and things like that. We're depicted as this minority-hating, super-Republican society, and it's not like that at all."
Music fans from New Mexico, California and Texas have already purchased passes in advance. Brooks is expecting concertgoers from Colorado and Washington, D.C., too.
Brooks, by the way, is not a musician; he works in customer service at a car dealership. He and Combs—who has played in bands such as the Elemenopees—have joined together to produce WOWFest simply because they love the music.
Brooks also sees the nonprofit festival—which they hope will become an annual event—and its emphasis on do-it-yourself culture as a harbinger for the music business.
"With the Internet, if you are willing to give your music away for free, or sell it at a minimal cost, people will come to your shows if they like you, and they will buy the CD or buy a T-shirt. So it's not that you need to sell the music so much as you need to sell the experience."