Arizona Musicfest Performances with a Purpose
Writer Joseph J. Airdo
Photography Courtesy of Arizona Musicfest
Country music artist Wynonna Judd has been delighting audiences for 35 years, beginning with her iconic act with her mother Naomi and continuing through a successful solo career. Now, the five-time Grammy Award winner enters the stage as part of a Valley tradition that aspires to promote the arts.
Judd and her band The Big Noise will perform 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17. The performance is part of Arizona Musicfest’s 2018–19 festival season, which will bring a diverse lineup of musical artists to the North Valley between Nov. 2 and March 15.
Arizona Musicfest Executive and Producing Director Allan Naplan said the event, which is now in its 28th year, aims to provide accessible, affordable and entertaining performances to audiences in the North Valley—an area that might otherwise be underserved due to its absence of a formal performing arts center.
“We have tremendous agility to create a performance experience that is really customizable, both for the artists that we present and also for the audience,” said Naplan, noting the organization makes use of the impressive audio and video technology of the North Valley’s churches and other venues to present unique concert experiences.
Judd is the headliner of Arizona Musicfest’s fall lineup, which includes four other performances throughout the month of November. She is the fourth country artist to appear as part of the event over the years, following Rosanne Cash, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Lee Ann Womack.
“We love having an artist of this caliber on the Arizona Musicfest stage,” said Naplan, noting Judd’s sound with The Big Noise mixes country with a little blues and rock. “Wynonna is a country artist who has gone so far beyond the country realm in becoming attractive to a much broader audience. We’re excited to bring her to Arizona Musicfest.”
Over the years, the festival has presented a number of top artists in a wide array of musical genres. Recent guests include Chris Botti and The Manhattan Transfer, while Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Neil Sedaka are scheduled to appear later this season. The executive and producing director believes such artists are attracted to Arizona Musicfest because of the Valley’s especially enthusiastic crowds.
“For any artist that’s performing on the Arizona Musicfest stage, it’s a really rewarding experience,” Naplan explained. “Even if they’re doing hundreds of performances in a given season, they want to feel loved every night and they want to feel as though they’re making a difference with the audience.”
The venue sizes benefit both the artists and the audiences. Highlands Church, the site of Judd’s performance, seats 1,500 people. Naplan noted that the seating capacity is significantly less than that of a typical performing arts center, thereby fostering the feeling of a more intimate performance experience.
“We can have a dialogue between the artists and the audience,” Naplan said. “I think artists leave feeling as though this was a really wonderful conversation that they had with the Arizona Musicfest audience.”
The event has grown exponentially in recent years, from about 7,300 attendees and 17 concerts per season to about 23,000 attendees and 27 concerts per season. And although Judd is drawing the most interest, there are plenty of other performances from which audiences can choose.
Naplan hopes people will allow Arizona Musicfest to expand their musical palette.
“When our patrons are attracted to a major artist [like Wynonna Judd], that helps to open up the door for everything else that we offer,” Naplan explained. “We love to see when someone comes as a first-timer then turns around and buys many tickets. It’s nice that they are willing to come on a journey with us as we cross-pollinate their interests.”
That journey begins with a Nov. 2 concert in which musical artists Kenny Metcalf and Patrick Farrell pay tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel, and continues with a Nov. 8 performance by The Bronx Wanderers. The Bronx Wanderers previously appeared as part of the event and havebeen brought back by popular demand.
“It says a lot when people are that eager to hear an artist,” said Naplan, noting the group is known for their act at Bally’s Las Vegas in which they bring to life the music of the 50s, 60s and 70s. “The nostalgia of their act really speaks to our audience who gets to relive some of the classic tunes of their youth.”
The Anderson and Roe Piano Duo comes to the North Valley as part of Arizona Musicfest Nov. 13, playing not only classical music but also reinterpreted contemporary music. The act takes audiences on a musical journey, and is on the cutting edge of classical chamber music.
“These are two virtuosic pianists who are very exciting in what they do and how they’re really attractive to all audiences.” Naplan explained. “They’ve become darlings of YouTube with thousands of hits and views of their interpretations of both classical music and also popular music that they have classicalized in their very inventive arrangements.”
Arizona Musicfest’s fall event culminates Nov. 18 with the Young Musicians Fall Concert. Naplan said the organization is committed to providing the Valley’s youth with quality access to music education and performance opportunities. That is, after all, one of Arizona Musicfest’s primary objectives. Money the organization makes from the concerts benefit those programs.
“Our Valley is very fortunate to have some extraordinary young musicians,” Naplan said. “Arizona Musicfest wants to be a vehicle for them to advance their performance careers and their [education]. A chance to get in front of a very receptive audience is key to that process as they’re evolving as young musicians.”
While this is only the third time Arizona Musicfest has held performances in the fall, this year marks the first time the organization has presented a Christmas concert. The inaugural event brings The Ten Tenors and their “Home for the Holidays” concert to the North Valley Dec. 3. Naplan hopes the event will become an annual tradition as Arizona Musicfest continues to expand its footprint.
“The Ten Tenors from Australia have a tremendous reputation for their programming and for their excellence in musicianship,” Naplan said. “They put on a fantastic Christmas show. We’re excited to be able to jump into that realm because around that time people are looking for great entertainment options that celebrate the season.”
Arizona Musicfest does so much more than entertain, Naplan added.
“In an at times broken world, the arts can provide an understanding of different cultures, of different people, and of different worldviews,” he said. “The arts has always been that tremendous vehicle for interpersonal relationships and understanding the world around us. The arts uplifts people and provides them with a wonderful experience.”