A little over a year ago, this festival out of town was brought to my attention. Even though I knew one of the organizers, it was not until I formally met another that it truly sunk in to go. Unfortunately, last year had an overlap of our local Phoenix Ska Punk Bowling and bad combination of not taking Monday off for the longer road trip. However, this year, I took the plunge down to Bisbee and the Sidepony Express Music Festival.
Sidepony Express is a festival on its 8th year made up of mostly local Arizonan musicians. They converge from various towns and cities onto the historic town of Bisbee for three days of music. The takeover includes your traditional venues such as the Quarry and less than traditional hosts like the Screaming Banshee Pizza parlor. Meanwhile you are doing it while passing through their many shops and food to explore with the in the quaint old mining town all around you.
As for my story, it is mostly a day of exploring the Sidepony festival. I arrived near 2 AM Saturday after watching the old school punk rockers of The Avengers play Tucson. Now, despite what you think about arriving that late, there was adventure and fun to be found post live music. This is because after the bars closed, plenty of musicians and friends are out and about the normally sleepy town. This night many of them ended up taking residence in the park and amphitheater. Some adorned with their instruments and others just enjoying the time left of being less than sober. It was easy to come across people you knew roaming away from the park too. With all of that, I did not find my air mattress until about 4 AM.
Around noon I started my first full day at the festival. The first quest would be where I can find food while trying to minimize missing musicians I want to catch. Low and behold, the Old Bisbee Brewing Company had both covered.
First part being I got to watch Las Chollas Peligrosas for only my second time. They played to a packed patio and onlookers from the street below. The second part being I got chili on a bratwurst as a breakfast. Not the most ideal breakfast food, but it hit the spot nonetheless.
I stuck around to watch the Rae Lydia duo for my first time. I had met Rae earlier in the year and Tabitha about a month prior, but had not caught their performance yet. Sidepony finally gave me the opportunity to catch this talented duo. Rae told the stories behind their songs. A few songs were born out of loss, dark times, and while others of finding love.
Tabitha was happy and smiling much of the time on the violin opposite Rae. It only took me going to another town to finally catch the Rae Lydia duo, but what a fantastic songwriter and performance I finally caught.
This is where the dash truly started around Sidepony. It is inevitable when you have music across thirteen locations that will create overlapping. Though always being able to catch music is part of the charm of the festival. I ran down to the Quarry across the parking lot to catch Monty O’Blivion. Since his move to L.A., my opportunities to watch him have been less. I took advantage to once again see his unique blend of industrial and rock music. Backed by tracks on his laptop, he mixes in live guitar and vocals to each. You can hear his rockabilly past prevalent in his song styles. It left me happy to once again see my friend and his music.
Then it was just next door to St. Elmos to catch the tail end of a Ben Anderson solo set and the full set of The Maybe Next Years. I actually ran into Davey and Ian, of the latter, on my way to the Quarry. It was a perfectly timed way to remind me to head over there after Monty.
The Maybe Next Years continuing to impress with high energy and humor through the set. I even ran into Bailey Pyritz, once of the band Not Confined, and her friend in attendance for their set. The Maybe Next Years always impress and leave me smiling by the end.
From there I explored Bisbee a little to get my bearings on the locations of the other venues setup for music. I would adventure up to the street where the Copper City Saloon sat above part of the town. I wondered in for a band setting up. Then it was back outside to take in what more I could from the overlook of the town while there daylight.
Afterward, it was down the stairs to the Quarry to catch Rad Dude, aka Gren, DJ. Gone is his biker helmet from the last time I saw him and it replaced by a pair stylish shades. After twenty minutes late catching a text about trying to see the last music at the Screaming Banshee, it was another test of endurance against the incline.
I moved through the now darkening streets to see the illuminated lights stretched over the main stretch of shops as their own lights lit the sidewalks. Although I was at only halfway, I had to make the stop at the Bisbee Grand to catch Ben Anderson. These days he performs with Radio Blonde, but if you get the opportunity to see him solo it is just as pleasurable.
Unfortunately, I would run into Shannon by the Bisbee Grand to find I would not be in time at the pizza place for music. So continuing the Sidepony adventure from here was heading to catch DOMS at Chuckleheads. Although, by the time I got there, it was a song and over. Turned out over the course of three songs, lowering the volume each time, the bartender felt they were too loud. It was a shame, although they took in stride and civil. I must say it was nice to have a little lull before heading back up to the Copper City Salooon.
Next I got to catch John and his new drummer for Gnarwhal Jrz. It has been a little while since I have watched John perform and he has improved from last I saw. The band itself is a more rock ‘n roll with alternative and punk rock weaved through.
He has a characteristic I always enjoy from a front person of a band. He moves and plays around the stage. His new drummer was smiles and appeared to be enjoying every moment. Funny enough, this would not be the last time I see Gnarwhal Jrz this evening either.
Though following them was a Flagstaff band I caught earlier this year with Tiny Bird. Their music is slower than our prior band. It is more akin to our local Celebration Guns and Twin Ponies in sound. Tiny Bird is a more atmospheric, Alternative Rock.
Another where character and smiles shown through the band’s performance. You could say Tiny Bird’s performance a little symbolic of the overall vibe and feel of the Sidepony Express.
After that, there was no way I would go an entire Sidepony without catching one of Bisbee’s own in the Exbats. I would lean calling this an acoustic set with no drums, as Inez and her dad, Kenny, performed to a high energy and full audience at St. Elmo.
When I say high energy, there was a point where a gentleman slid up to their spot in front of the stage on the ground. He tapped to the rhythm while lying there eventually doing circles to a song or two. You can find a picture I caught of it in the gallery below too. The love for this band from their now hometown was very evident. That is for good reason, because in all the times I have caught the Exbats I have never been disappointed.
Remember that I said I would catch Gnarwhal Jrz again? That came running next door after the Exbats to see the duo up the stairs to the Quarry’s stage. In this case, John looked like he was enjoying the more traditional stage space to the floor space at the Copper City Saloon. He moved back and forth, putting on poses of flair to his guitar playing. In both instances, it was wonderful to catch Gnarwhal Jrz again.
One more Bisbee band would be on the docket for my day, Prose and Cons. This band of a gal and guys put on a friendly and fun performance of songs. What I caught was more covers, well done, and certainly well sung by a fantastic voice of Kara Peters.
The environment seemed to have relaxed in the Quarry, though a few making their way up to dance and make sure the band knew how good they were. As the last formal band I would catch, Prose and Cons was another excellent bunch of musicians I discovered at this festival.
Last of my Sidepony music experience would be a Bisbee resident Melissa Reaves with the assortment of musicians in town for a near two hour jam session. At this point of the night, Sidepony purposely winds down any other music to funnel locals and visitors to the town into this one place. This audience, whether it is through the alcohol or pure infectious energy of the jam session, is in full jumping around and dancing mode.
The ever rotating musician list was anyone willing to jump up. I saw Jessie and Ehren from Bittersweet Way, Ronnie Winters, Sidepony organizer and Treasurefruit, Las Chollas Peligrosas member, Anameike, and many more. It was an amazing coming together and showing the comradery of everyone in one room. You could say a perfect culmination to close out the Sidepony Express festival for another year.
The night went on past the music, getting a little more alcohol in myself and enjoying hanging out with the friends who stayed up to the end of the night. I spent the Monday morning exploring and getting a late breakfast in what became the quiet and sleepy town of Bisbee again. After just one day’s experience of the Sidepony Express Music Festival, I would do this again in a heartbeat. From the time spent with many of friends and new friends made to the ambiance of catching superb musicians around the old town of Bisbee, this is one of the best music festival experiences in Arizona.