In the history of music festivals, I'd venture to guess almost none have ever said, "let's dial it back next year." (Aside from maybe both Woodstocks.) So it's no wonder that Night of the Living Fest is bigger than the previous two years' events; drawing in larger national acts, incorporating a decent spread of local favorites and giving the event a handmade, albeit kind of goofy touch that sets it apart.
Although the festival started off at Old Tucson for its inaugural event in 2013, the concert moved right to the heart of the city for the second and third years, taking over La Cocina and the surrounding areas. This year has seen a lot of growth for the massive DIY festival both in size and concept. The second stage is now at the Presidio San Agustin, with the main stage at the corner of Telles Street and Meyers Avenue and a third inside the La Cocina courtyard.
"I'm excited that we get to use the Presidio as a second stage," festival founder Ben Schneider says. "It's such a beautiful unique space that doesn't get used like this very often."
The event is also beginning to realize Schneider's vision in that it has expanded to a two-day event. While Saturday offers the bulk of the live music featured this year, Sunday will be the official All Souls Procession after party in conjunction with events at the Mercado San Agustin. The by-donation event will host local DJs and a performance by zany rock trio The Pork Torta beginning at 6 p.m. Donations from the second day, which Schneider says will be an all ages "big fun street dance party," go back to the All Souls Procession.
Saturday, on the other hand, will host nearly 20 national and local bands, along with a handful of local artists and vendors .
Not to pick favorites (especially since he's playing this year), but Schneider says one act in particular has him anticipating this year's show.
"I'm most excited for Cakes da Killa this year," he says. "I don't think he's toured the Southwest at all and the queer rap movement just isn't represented very well here."
Although Schneider and his team were able to pull in larger acts, the festival still strikes a balance and showcases just about half Tucson bands. Schneider says the large local showing fits in line with his initial idea for the festival.
"I was just looking to do a big event because nothing goes on the night before that's epic. There wasn't anything going on that really showcased Tucson," he says. "It's nice to have a platform to show off our weird art and ideas."
However, music is just one way Schneider is representing what Tucson is about. Along with Parker Arriaga and a crew of volunteers, Schneider is actually building almost every piece of the festival by hand, excluding some of the stage and sound equipment. From carnival games and photo booths to an obstacle course and a "big surprise" at the main stage, Night of the Living Fest is as much about the unique art experience as it is the music in some sense.
"We're not promoters or booking agents. We're all just musicians and artists that are putting it on, so it has some legitimacy still," he says. "It's all still even handmade ... we're building everything."
Luckily, Schneider says rallying friends to help build was actually pretty easy.
"People just really want to help, which is nice because we don't make any money doing it either," Schneider says. "Our work parties aren't boring like work."
With some of the proceeds from the night's event going back to Many Mouths One Stomach in order to keep the All Souls Procession alive, Schneider says he's proud to be able to add on to the weekend's events, which truly offer a cultural legacy for Tucson.
"It's an important weekend to put Tucson on the map," he says. "Plus, it's kind of weird to just have a Sunday event."
The first day of Night of the Living Fest will run from 4 p.m. until 1 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7. Should you get hungry, everything from Vietnamese to Mexican to pizza and ramen is available from any of the eight food trucks on site, along with food from La Cocina. Drinks will be available at La Cocina, The Dusty Monk and bars set up by the main and Presidio stages. But, with all of that planning and building, Schneider admits even he isn't quite sure how it'll go.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Schneider says. "In theory, it should be pretty cool."