Phoenix 50 founder ponders future of local music ahead of first season’s final show

Marcus is the guitarist and singer of local alternative country rock band Soul Country and creator of Phoenix 50, a collaborative community project that promotes local bands. (Alaina Nevarez/DD)

At first glance, Matt Marcus doesn’t seem much different than anyone else living in the Valley.

He went to the University of Arizona, works and takes his kids to the park. But what makes Marcus special is his side passion project: Phoenix 50.

Phoenix 50, a community activism and promotions project that involves downtown music acts, started as something Marcus wanted to see; but as it grew, he discovered that the community needed the project. On April 22 in the Yucca Tap Room in Tempe, Phoenix 50 will be concluding their first season with their 17th show since launching in October.

“The only thing that’s lacking in the music scene is an awareness that it’s there,” he said. “That’s one of the main goals of Phoenix 50 … to create an awareness.”

The project gathers local musicians and bands together to have a safe place to talk about all the things up-and-coming acts could want to know about a scene: where to perform, where to promote and how to get your name out there. In addition, Phoenix 50 gives out guitar picks at concerts that feature bands in their group. Picks can be exchanged for merchandise, gift cards from participating venues and even tickets to other Phoenix 50 shows.

“It’s a reward system and also a fun way to see how many local bands are around town,” Marcus said.

Marcus is the guitarist and singer of local alternative country rock band Soul Country, which is a member of Phoenix 50.

He originally envisioned the idea of Phoenix 50 as a game millennials and local music groupies would play among each other: who can collect the most picks first.

“I think millennials are freaking awesome,” he said. “They’re always on the hunt for something new.”

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The local music scene in downtown Phoenix and venues like Crescent Ballroom have been home to The Format, Jimmy Eat World and Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. This encouragement toward local acts is something Marcus said makes Phoenix so special.

“People say that it’s up-and-coming, but my discovery through doing this is that Phoenix isn’t up-and-coming — it’s probably one of the best music scenes in the country,” he said. “It’s just not known. There is a ton of talent and the venues are extremely supportive.”

Powell said he joined because he sees Phoenix 50 as the best way an artist can show unity and love for the city. As a starting artist, he enjoys the freedom that the Phoenix has given him.

Mesa-based band Sister Lip (Becky Brisley/DD)
Mesa-based band Sister Lip (Becky Brisley/DD)

“I think the music scene in Phoenix is fair,” Powell said. “It gives artists a chance to shine and really express themselves in their music and their performances.”

As with any passion project, Phoenix 50 has had its troubles. Not every local band wants to join the organization.

“There have been a couple of bands that have outright said  ‘No we cannot participate,’ which I don’t understand why,” Marcus said. “Either I’m going to help them promote their show for free or I’m going to help them book their show for free.”

Other times, it’s venues that stop Phoenix 50 shows.

“We had a tentative date with Crescent (Ballroom), but they bumped us because some national act was coming through,” he said.

Marcus said he is concerned Phoenix might be approaching a standstill. Larger markets are noticing bands like Treasure MammaL, who was featured on the Flaming Lips psychedelic Beatles cover album “With a Little Help From My Fwends” alongside Zorch and Grace Potter in 2014. But as a whole, he said he feels like it’s not progressing as well as he had expected or wanted.

“I don’t know how you get there from here,” he said. “I think it’s literally one fan at a time, one person at a time.”

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Luckily, there are other venues in the Phoenix area that support Phoenix 50 and local musicians.

“We’ve decided to go through Rebel Lounge, because that venue is made for local bands,” Marcus said.

Radio stations like KWSS 93.9 FM and Arizona State University’s Blaze Radio 1330 AM — both of which have a local music focus — are helping musicians get air time and get noticed. Marcus said that KWSS DJ Beef Vegan and his dedication to supporting the valley’s music scene has been “a huge asset.”

Marcus said he believes there is still an abundance of untapped talent, and Phoenix 50 is not planning on slowing down.

“I feel like it’s worth it to promote the music scene as a whole,” he said. “I think it’s worth it to capture everyone’s imagination when it comes to music.”

The final show of Phoenix 50’s first season will feature Romen Buffalo in an Earth Day and CD Release celebration.

Editor’s note: Amanda Luberto is the music director at Blaze Radio.

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