Eclectic ‘Weirdfest!’ shakes, rattles and rolls into downtown arts district

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Photos by Courtney Pedroza, Jack Wilson, Sophie Blaylock and Amanda LaCasse

Jeff Moses walked among about a dozen bustling people, all setting up for Friday night’s show. He pointed out what would soon be light poles, installed to replace the lights perched on ladders the Firehouse previously had.

The speakers and sound system were all upgraded and the stage expanded, he said. On Friday night, the space near First and Roosevelt streets would become part of “It Gets Weirdfest!,” a three-day music, theatre, dance, comedy and variety festival.

“It Gets Weirdfest!” aimed to showcase the downtown Phoenix arts district for new students and others who don’t necessarily know it exists, said Moses, part of For Us Presents, the primary organizer of the festival.

Moses said he wanted to keep the Firehouse and arts district from becoming “like Mill Avenue” by throwing what he called “the most memorable underground party Phoenix has ever had.”

“I’m hoping it shows a bunch of people another side of the Phoenix arts district that they weren’t up on,” Moses said the Thursday before the show. “There’s a lot more to it than First Friday.”

Moses said the community, not him, puts on the “Weirdfest!” Almost all the acts are local — the farthest hailing from Sedona — lending a close-knit feel that may be absent at a larger, big-name festival.

“We (have) four acts here, right now, helping us set up,” Moses said before the festival. “You think you see that at Coachella or Bonnaroo? No. … For them it’s just a job. For a lot of these people playing here, this is part of their community.”

The communal spirit of “Weirdfest!” brought Bud’s Glass Joint owner Bud Meister on board four months ago, when the show was just a concept. He said he saw a group of people all working toward the same goal and decided to get behind it.

“When everyone pushes the same rock, you can actually push it a lot further,” Meister said.

Moses said he predicted shock value from the acts at “Weirdfest!” The band members of Naked Pizza once donned dresses, with the exception of the female drummer. Travis James and the Acrimonious Assembly of Arsonists are likewise known for usually “doing something ridiculous” on stage, Moses said.

The bands range in experience from first timers to local regular performers, but all are starved for stage time, Moses said.

“Nobody’s going to want to be the band who went on before so-and-so,” Moses said.

“There’s not a day, a second, a band that you can miss at ‘It Gets Weirdfest!'”

During the festival

Hippies with henna tattoos in fairy dresses and pro-legalization necklaces, punks with Mohawks in black eye shadow and all kinds of artists collaborated on the first day of the festival, discussing music and sharing performance experiences. Firehouse employees distributed wristbands at the door.

Moses’s commitment to variety showed in the line-up. The acts included Exploding Oranges (a.k.a. Joel Echtel), with light guitar and banjo; Blackwater, shoegazer garage; Something Villainous, a rap crew; Fairy Bones, a female-fronted rock group; and Crown Victoria Vandalism Committee, a regular local performer.

Many of these groups jumped at the opportunity to perform in a bigger festival.

“This show, it’s kind of a big deal,” said Daniel Suber of Something Villainous. “We don’t get to play very many shows, so this is a way of reaching more people in Phoenix.”

The musicians danced with the crowds and shouted for participation. Clipper Arnold of Something Villainous shook a water bottle and sprayed it on everyone. Joe Sawinski of For Us Presents donned a dog mask as he played the part of emcee.

Painters, sculptors and potters showcased their work off stage. Painter and comic-book artist Josh Kirby displayed pieces next to a hand-dug pool containing a toilet converted into a fountain that was constructed Friday. Kirby repurposes old materials — including records, guitar picks, VHS tapes and tabletops — for his art.

“It’s just weird, man, it’s where I belong,” Kirby said. “I figured, where else am I gonna find some other weird people, and this sounded about right.”

The Phoenix slam poetry team, a tap troupe and local comedians also appeared during the span of the festival.

For Us Presents worked better with artists than most other producers, said Mikey “Critical Zero,” the co-songwriter and melodica player for Crown Victoria Vandalism Committee.

“Weirdfest!” brought together the entire Phoenix art district’s wild, wacky and strange. The diverse acts, like the diverse community in attendance, had one thing in common: They’re all a little weird and proud of it.

Contact the reporter at noah.b.briggs@asu.edu

Correction: Sept. 30, 2013

A previous version of this article incorrectly named or characterized performing artists. The article has been updated to reflect correct information.

Additionally, some quotes in the article had been slightly altered for clarity. These instances have been noted with parentheses and ellipses.

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