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Tempe Jam and Playlist Shines Spotlight on Local Musicians

The Tempe Sports Complex is alive the night of Oct. 21. The stage is bathed in neon lights and the music floats over the sea of people sitting on the grass and mingling in the beer garden. The scents of fried food waft towards the stage from the food trucks on the far side of the field. The children walk away from the tie-dye tents, triumphantly holding their dyed T-shirts for their parents to see. 

The night is filled with the musical sounds of the Banana Guns, the Paper Foxes and The Stakes, the audience is thrilled by the dance performance by the neon dancers of The Sacred G’s. 

The Tempe Playlist offers artists a chance to collaborate as a whole and connect the Tempe community with the artists that reside in the city. 

The Tempe Jam and Playlist was created in 2017 when Tempe was selected for the AZ Creative Communities Institute. The institute provided the Tempe government with training, mentorship, and funding to create a positive relationship between the arts and the community. 

Tempe Community Arts Manager Maja Aurora helped create the event. 

“We were focusing on, specifically, south Tempe at the time. This was a couple of years ago and what really came from those discussions and through that process was wanting to highlight the local musicians and talent that was already existing in our community, to showcase just how many creatives are out there,” Aurora said. 

Originally, the Tempe Playlist included musicians, poets, and singers, but in recent years has focused on the musical talent in Tempe. The program has received more attention as it’s continued through the years. 

Aurora said that there were over 300 songs submitted for the 2021 Tempe Playlist, which can be found on Spotify. 

The main goal of the Tempe Jam and Playlist is to promote and support local artists in Tempe. 

“So, we’re looking forward to launching that and so the event of Tempe Jam is to launch that Tempe Playlist. The Jam is a community event, it’s free. It’s highlighting local musicians and talent,” Aurora said. 

Musician Scott Jeffers from the band Traveler also sees the Tempe Jam and Playlist as a means of shining a spotlight on local talent. 

“I’m hoping that they’ll be more exposed and appreciative of their local music and all the talent that’s just right in their own neighborhood,” Jeffers said. “Because sometimes the famous talent is just somebody that could have been from your neighborhood. But they were in the right place at the right time, and they got their song hooked to a major event and the next thing you know they’re a household name. But that kind of talent exists in Tempe.”

One of the local bands that will be performing at the Tempe Jam this year is Paper Foxes, a band that was invited to perform by the program. Guitarist Christopher “CJ” Jacobson is excited to perform in the birthplace of the band. 

“We, as a band, started in Tempe. That’s where our roots are from. It’s always fun to be able to be a part of events at Tempe and we just like to be able to help out so they can make things bigger and better over there,” Jacobson said. 

Japhys Descent guitarist Travis Ryder emphasized the excitement that this event causes in the community.

“(Tempe government) do the events to represent it and it’s just really cool to see them follow through on something like that,” Ryder said. “It’s sometimes hard to rally the troops or that, but I don’t think with the Playlist it’s been very hard because as soon as people know what’s going on, everyone wants to be heard.” 

Tempe Jam and Playlist opportunities 

Artists who have participated in the past Tempe Jam and Playlist were drawn to it for the different opportunities it offered. Exposure to the public was a common motivator for musicians to participate. 

“I’m sure thousands of people apply for it, because every musician is looking for some kind of exposure and break to get heard,” Jeffers said.  

The Tempe Jam and Playlist offered performance opportunities, which drew in other musicians, like Donald Boles from Casual Alien. 

“At the time, this electronic group of mine (Casual Alien) needed a gig. It’s a very hard group to place in that it’s not a bar band. We’ve done some rave activities. Coffeehouse kind of things, gallery things, but I was looking for a gig opportunity and that’s why I did it,” Boles said. 

Additionally, musicians were offered the chance to record in a professional studio, which allowed them to further foster their music. 

“It really impacted (their sound) in the sense of using part of that prize to go and record something really kind of fresh and new,” Boles said. 

Recording pushed musicians to be more comfortable with their music and performing, and it encouraged them to create more content.

Musician Oliverio Balcells had two different recording experiences that impacted him as a musician. One recording session of his song “Otra oportunidad” took place at Marcos de Niza High School, with a live audience, something that he said caused him to get nervous. 

“They put me right in the middle and they made a big circle and most of them were musicians, students, whatever. But you get nervous there in front of that many people and stuff. I remember the microphone came down from the ceiling and the microphone was here and there were people on back and on the sides,” Balcells said. 

His second recording session was with a partner of the Tempe Jam and Playlist, Topkat Studios. In this session Balcells decided to record a new song and said he was supported by the owner throughout that whole process. 

Beyond the benefits it has for musicians, it also creates a stronger connection between musicians and the Tempe community, rebuilding that lost connection during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I hope it reminds people that the arts haven’t gone anywhere in this town. They're still stronger than ever, and I think everyone’s been missing live shows,” Ryder said. “Bands get kind of so in their heads — these kinds of lists remind us that people do care, and that there is a culture here and a scene that’s stronger than ever. Just kind of the dust settled after the pandemic, that it’s just time to go out and hear music again.”

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