Apache Lake Music Festival 2012

Photo by Devon Christopher Adams

(Editors Note: When this blog was relaunched in August, I had mentioned that I would be inviting guest writers to appear here and invite more voices than just mine. Now,  just past mid-October, we have our first guest writer at soundsaroundtown.net. Devon Christopher Adams is a pretty brilliant photographer and most recently he has started branching out into the written word. Here, without further ado is his take on this years Apache Lake Music Fesitval, an event many of us have still not quite recovered from.)

In all honesty, I didn’t want to go. Apache Lake Music Festival felt like the fringe of my involvement with the music scene in the valley, and while I know who the musicians are, I’ve never really hung out with them for a long period of time. I knew if I could go with someone I’d be good. It’s like going to a huge party where you kind of know people but if you could find someone to go with you, it’d be way cooler. I had no one. Joe, my partner in photography crime, was stuck working for the man, and others who considered attending could not. So I went alone, but can anyone really be alone at the largest local music festival in Arizona? I soon discovered that it was not possible.

Prior to January 2012 my experience photographing live music included Joan Jett, Katy Perry, and KNOTBSB (don’t judge), but Panda Hat hired Joe Abbruscato to shoot at 910 Live for bands that included Doctor Bones, who was releasing their CD Numbers that evening, and Japhy’s Descent, who reminded me only of their namesake from Kerouac’s novel. I was intrigued, so I tagged along. That night really shifted everything about local art for me; I grew up a Pittsburgh person loving the culture and hating the sterility of living in the desert for the last 13 years…until I went to 910 Live.

Audrea Lim gave me and Joe All Access and asked a slight, squirrely looking guy with a bad tape job on his glasses to show us to the “green room”. PBR filled the shower stall and a smirky brunette adjusted her red dress with “danger” tape all over it. Stickers asked “Who is Doctor Bones?” and some guy named Paul was in danger that night for the first time. Memories from my first live show included all of Japhy’s Descent coming out in Doctor Bones shirts, how nice Travis really is, how it was Danger Paul’s first show, and the slight guy with the taped glasses goofy off stage erupted into everything that represents who Doctor Bones truly is as Anthony, Hannah, Chad, Jess and Mike ripped through Numbers with the entire crowd on stage with them. I was hooked.

Hundreds of shows, thousands of PBRs, and tens of thousand photos later, I am enmeshed in the Arizona music scene. I love the music, I love the musicians, and I love hearing from musicians who appreciate my capturing their art. So I promised myself that, even alone, I’d attend Apache Lake Music Festival.

I planned to shoot as many bands as I could, sleep very little, patronize the resort, and just be a part of it all. Prior to the festival I found very few photographs that showed “behind the scenes” from the first two years, and I sought advice from Jess Pruitt of Doctor Bones. He suggested I sleep in my car so the 4am drum circles and 6am boats on the lake would not bother me.

If you’ve never driven the Apache Trail, you’d be surprised by the several miles of bumpy dirt roads etched into the high desert rock walls. I followed the men from PALMS to Apache Lake, found a parking lot close enough to the action but far enough to sleep, and geared up for the weekend. I hoped to catch Anthony Fama’s acoustic set since I’d never seen him unplug and sit down as I’d only ever seen him perform as the frontman for Doctor Bones. I realized quickly I’d shoot very little in the “Acoustic Lounge” – primarily since the background beer signs and posters just didn’t shout “Rock Show!”

Thursday night highlights included the rain. Lots and lots of rain. PC and Brannon swore no one would be canceled but the huge hail poured for over half an hour while people hid in the performer tent or huddled together on the resort porch. Goetta was moved inside and Wizards of Time blew away a mildly damp outside audience with their esoteric sounds. Inside IAMWE’s Tim Maiden pounded the keys prior to Playboy Manbaby jamming through their set with Robbie Pfeffer climbing onto the speaker, throwing himself onto the floor, and never missing a note. Doctor Bones played inside last and, while I hate the inside stage (too small and hard to photograph), I dig this band. They played Thursday since Fama had to fly east for a family wedding, or I bet the band would’ve been booked outside Saturday with the hard hitters. Their eclectic and energetic set started with my favorite “The Sun City” with those mysteriously apocalyptic vocals of hope and later Hannah Kilen ripped through “Angora,” her signature song about Bela Lugosi, while kicking a sweaty shirtless Fama around the stage’s floor. By then everyone was exhausted and while some returned to the haunted house on site or rain drenched tents, I slipped into my dry truck.

Photo by Devon Christopher Adams

Friday morning brought the sun blaring over the eastern hills and jet fights rumbling low over the lake. Some tent groups stirred awake with morning fires promising hot coffee while other people clearly had not slept at all. At camp, Chad Stark, Brendon  McBride (he introduced himself no less than twice throughout the weekend) and later Ari Leopold broke into an impromptu jam of guitars and drumsticks (have you met Ari Leopold? You’d know.)

By now my apprehension with coming to ALMF was long gone as Mike Vigil and Ashley Meadows welcomed me to Camp Future Lo, the omnipresent Joel Ekdahl and James Erwin shot along side me (not to mention Christopher Reed who joined me shooting on Saturday), and the love for all of the music echoed off the lake side cliffs. But by Friday afternoon, I was dragging. The fabulous Sedona band decker. destroyed the outside stage with their message of hope after surviving a vicious auto accident. I was eager to hear new bands I’d not seen like decker. but some others hadn’t been on my radar including We Were Strangers.

Chelsea Kae’s presence on the inside stage grabbed me and shook my soul. Her energy and voice pounded through each song, from “Gypsy Song” on which she also played keys to one of my new favorites “Game Called Life.” Brian Neil of Japhy’s Descent couldn’t believe the power of this band fronted by this small blonde woman. (I subsequently made it to a point to see them acoustic Saturday and bought their CD.)

Elizabeth Rose, who was running late, eventually made it from Colorado to the inside stage with PC playing guitar, while a mash-up of musicians filled an earlier void that included PC’s brother on guitar and Brendon McBride on drums. Kalen Lander rapped over them while DJ Stowner sang backing vocals. Yellow Minute ramped it up with a conga line and the Friday evening crowd found their groove with Banana Gun. One man said he’d always thought Banana Gun was a jam band but he was duly impressed. The evening continued through Dry River Yacht Club as Garnet, broken arm and all, spun across the stage and Meridith Moore and Mike Lander crooned their blusey jazz of Sugar Thieves. My evening ended inside with Super Stereo, who I’d seen two years ago and met again recently. I’d hoped to spend some time with their music and was front and center when the inside lights went down and their neon came up. Lo & T popped  through their set from “Can I get In” through “Remind Me” but their song “Just Kiss Me” rolled through the crowd as we all danced as one.

While Thursday was mellow and Friday ramped up the merriment, by Saturday morning the festival was full tilt with James Sharp leading a drum line through the camp while several groups enjoyed the cool lake water. Deon Doughty even offered me a shower in his room as he set up his latest painting on the lawn, a 5’x5’ of Japhy’s Descent playing live at The Sail Inn.

The Madera Strand completed a twenty minute sound check jam prior to Avery taking the inside stage. While lead singer Mariah DeRaet looks a lot like Ashley Tisdale, her sultry swagger was far from sugar pop. I have a weakness for female vocals and later Sara Robinson & Midnight Special was the hat-trick. The eventual arrival of Robinson on stage was whispered throughout the afternoon as musicians and audiences alike were eager to see the songstress perform. Her belting blues brought down the sun as Saturday fell on the festival.

Photo by Devon Christopher Adams

The explosion of energy continued with Japhy’s Descent and any party goer who hasn’t seen Travis, Brian, Marty and James do their thing will know that this performance alone was worth the ticket price. A dressed down band throughout the day exploded onto the stage in ties, vests, and, in the case of Brian Neil, a bright white duster with matching sunglasses. Kalen Lander joined again for “Ballad of Dean” and everyone within hearing distance felt the music’s magic. Future Loves Past continued that magic with the flight of paper mache butterflies flittered and balloons bounced across the audiences’ heads. FLP brought several guest musicians on stage including Danger Paul and Kalen (who we agree guest performed more than pretty much everyone). What I like about FLP is they’re like Japhy’s happier, chiller cousins on lithium. While the sound beat on through the night, Hot Birds & the Chili Sauce jammed across the stage in synchronous sound with a new lead vocalist, Andria Bunnell.

On the outside stage Mergence, who I’ve always wanted to see, set up tree lights across the stage and moved into a stripped down set of good old funk beat with haunting vocals while others partied inside to two of my favorites, Zero Zero (who was playing their second live show ever) and TKLB? who graciously sat waiting for Mergence to finish before starting his own set. Kalen even commented that if he went on while Mergence was still playing that he wouldn’t have an audience. (I was there, man. I was there.) Zero Zero popped through their second show with Nicole Laurenne’s vocals like “I know you play me like a video game” in “I’ll Wait” creating instant sound bites while Michael Johnny Walker, Laurenne’s Love Me Nots bandmate, and smiley Nick Ramirez made up this newly inked trio.

For me, TKLB? is always the late show and I was exhausted. We bobbed happily with Kalen covering his hits and ending with the infamous “Lorax” while DJ Stowner, in a skeleton outfit, mixed beats and sang backup (on a side note, I carried on an entire conversation with Stowner Friday having no idea who he was until much later. He seems stoic behind the beats but one on one he’s quite amicable.)

By this point in the festival, having spent approximately 40 hours on my feet shooting over three days, I had burned through 132 gigs of memory and generated 6,605 image files. I was done, and I was happy.

You know what? It wasn’t so bad going to Apache Lake Music Festival alone because I did not go alone. I went with over a hundred people who I’ve met, Facebooked, photographed or given my own art freely in exchange for theirs. I went with friends and a family of artists who share their joys at venues across the valley, state, country and, for some, internationally. Apache Lake Music Festival is the premiere AZ local
music festival and will continue to grow moving into its fourth year, and I will be back next year to capture the magic all over again.

My advice for attending Apache Lake Music Festival 2013:

If you’re buying beer there (one of the only monetary perks for the musicians is free beer), consider patronizing the mini-mart; their selection is better than the bar’s and for some selections a buck cheaper.

Get a room for at least one night to sleep in a real bed and get a shower. I didn’t reek by Saturday, but that shower carried me through to Sunday easily.

October at Apache Lake is still swimming weather; if you look good in a suit (or without a suit for the brave ones) then flaunt it. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

The resort has breakfast in the morning. If you can get up by then (or are still up), patronize the restaurant. They have basic breakfasts and bottomless coffee.

You can’t see every band. You can try (and I did) but you just can’t. Pick some you’ve never heard of but also cheer on your friends, too.

If you have access to the beer tent, tip the volunteers in there. The beer wench probably sips between customers and the nice lady who fed me tacos Saturday night asked for no money for the dinner.

Consider sleeping on the beach (or not sleeping) at least one night so you can join the community throughout the night. Sleep will come later.

 –by Devon Christopher Adams