In terms of the national consciousness, Arizona is most likely known for its proud Southwestern culture, its many natural wonders — including the Grand Canyon — and the near-constant warmth and sunshine that does not prevent the state from being home to quite a few popular ski resorts. While the state is most commonly associated with these aspects, Arizona’s lesser-known influence on all kinds of music can be heard on a frequent basis regardless of the genre or era.
With the origin of the state’s music scene drawing primarily on Native American styles along with the styles of musicians who crossed the border from Mexico, the music of Arizona has evolved quite a bit over the years and is nonetheless distinctive and unique. In fact, many natives of the state are able to immediately recognize when a band is composed of fellow Arizonans or if they are playing music inspired by a band whose origins can be traced back to the Grand Canyon State.
Much of this awareness stems from the pride Arizonans feel in all things originating in the Southwest, but the passion of these musicians has also played a significant role. It seems that no matter how popular these bands become that they never forget the place where they got their start. These musicians are willing to play small venues like bars, clubs and theaters, and they can even be found playing their music for an appreciative audience at a Phoenix caregiving service or a Tucson medical care facility. With this sort of pride and passion for music, it should come as little surprise that those who were raised outside of Arizona are often drawn to this uncompromising and unique style.
While Native American, mariachi, corrido and banda music can still be heard with great frequency throughout the state, the genres that have grown out of these styles or that have been modified to include these styles are incredibly varied and are represented in rock, R&B, hip-hop, folk, country, punk and soul, among countless others as well. Both the Meat Puppets and the Gin Blossoms have their origins in the Phoenix music scene, and the lead singer of Jimmy Eat World has frequently referred to Phoenix as a “rock mecca,” where many bands are able to hone their craft and get their start in the music industry.
From mariachi to Alice Cooper, Arizona has long occupied an important space in the music scene, with many musicians crediting the many venues willing to give unproven bands and performers a chance to play for an audience in order to continue to work on and improve their sound. There are few music scenes that are so welcoming and so forgiving, and Arizona’s musicians likely benefit from the supportive tendencies of the state’s music lovers along with the sheer volume of venues that are constantly on the lookout for live performers.
Perhaps the state’s appreciation of all things musical is best represented by the origin story of the Grand Canyon Music Festival, an event that has been held annually for well over 30 years. One of the festival’s founders was playing “in the washed out trunk of a tree,” when one of the park rangers overheard her flute and asked if she and her future co-founder (who had a harmonica) would perform for a small audience in the ranger’s cabin. They accepted and performed a concert for an audience of two, which led to the founding of the music festival that features the kind of music that is just perfectly suited for such a wondrous and beautiful natural setting.
In how many places could such a long-running event be sparked by a chance encounter with a pair of hikers carrying a flute and a harmonica, and how many people have such a deep appreciation for music that they would go so far as to ask for an impromptu concert performance? For that matter, how many would be willing to accept on a moment’s notice? The story represents everything that is wonderful and magical about the state and its residents, and it further advances the notion that music is deep in the heart of every native Arizonan.