Apache Lake Music Festival Hits a Decade

Bands from all over Arizona and the nation will descend upon Apache Lake on October 18 and 19 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of one of the best music festivals in the country.

Not only is the Apache Lake Music Festival a great showcase for bands on all levels of local, national, and international success, it is also a breathtakingly beautiful setting about 70 miles from Phoenix. Where else can you camp out with 1,000 or so of your friends, go kayaking all morning, and rock out for the rest of the day? (For a complete list of acts, check out the lineup here.)

Throw in a night sky full of stars and the legendary late-night jam sessions around the campfires, and it sounds pretty damn perfect for music fans who like to mix a little nature into their rock ’n’ roll.

Ten years? That’s something. Festival organizers Paul “PC” Cardone and Brannon Kleinlein are blown away by the longevity of their party by the lake.

“When we started this thing, we had no idea what we were getting into or if it would last past one year,” says Kleinlein, who also runs the venue Last Exit Live.

“That’s what Brannon said originally: ‘If we can make 10 years out of this, that’d be amazing.’ Because you always figure the venue or the lake [management] will get sick of it, or management changes, or the parks department is sick of your shit. You don’t know,” adds Cardone, bass player for Sara Robinson Band, who play Friday.

“It’s always been, like, every year if they invite us back, then we’ll do it. I think after the seventh year, we started thinking, ‘Okay, we made it this far, it would be cool if we make it 10.’ It’s pretty special that we’ve made it this far,” says Kleinlein.

The duo are not alone in making preparations for the 32 artists and bands who will grace the two main stages, or for the hundred or so performers who will take the smaller third stage, which doubles as an open mic of sorts. Ronnie Helinski from Future Exes, who are also playing on the inside stage on Saturday, October 19, at 5:40 p.m., helps Cardone and Kleinlein coordinate the nearly 50 volunteers who help with the festival.

How pretty is that?

Brian Dellis

With their core group, which also includes sound engineers Brian Stubblefield and Jim Messer, Cardone and Kleinlein have created a family atmosphere that brings bands and fans back year after year. Banana Gun’s Ross Troost, whose band plays on Saturday at 7:35 p.m. this year, says, “If you are reading this and have never been to this festival before, you should really try to make it. There are people that come from all over the country, and it seems every first-timer I meet, they say this is one of the best festivals they have ever been to and will be back next time, and they always are the next year. That should tell you something about this festival.”

This year, Cardone and Kleinlein have put together a stacked lineup headed up by Kongos at 10:40 p.m. on Saturday. With well over 1 million listeners a month on Spotify, the brothers Kongos are easily the most well-known act this year. The band return to ALMF for the third time, and attendees undoubtedly will appreciate their distinct sound. With the release of this year’s 1929, Pt. 1, Kongos bring new songs and an expanded sound to the lake.

Don’t worry. Friday’s lineup is fantastic, too. Jared & The Mill, who take the outdoor stage at 10:45 p.m., have been touring incessantly for the past few years. A highlight of their work is in their latest record, This Story Is No Longer Available.

“I’m looking forward to spending time with people I don’t get to see a whole lot of,” says guitarist and vocalist Jared Kolesar. “The camping and the lake time is a great reason to hang hard with my local favorites. I’m really excited to just get stoked on local music with the people that keep it going. Bands and fans alike, this community effort is a very special thing. Can’t wait to play.”

Wyves, another Valley favorite, play at 7:55 p.m. on Friday. They bring a ton of enthusiasm to the event while being aware of its importance.

“[ALMF] is important to this community because it is based solely around bands that operate or originated in the Arizona music scene,” says drummer Evan Knisely. “It gives us all a stage to prepare special sets for, usually accompanied by members of other bands [and also] gives us all one hell of a backdrop to celebrate and reconnect with each other. It’s basically the local music scene party of the year.”

This year, the coveted sunset slot on Friday is being handled by Extra Ticket, the long-running Arizona-based Grateful Dead cover band. A gorgeous backdrop is such a fitting way to pay tribute to recently deceased Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.

“We’ve never really had a tribute band, but their crowd loves to go to festivals, especially camping ones,” says Kleinlein. “Extra Ticket have been a band for 25 years and we wanted to have them on this year.”

Other bands to check out on Friday include Gelatinous Groove and Denver’s Sympathy F, among others. On Saturday, festival-goers should keep an ear out for several of the bands playing before Kongos.

At 9 p.m., the popular local band Mergence are reuniting for their first show in years. They benefited from Kongos playing a little hardball with Cardone and Kleinlein. According to the ALMF promotion dynamic duo, the lads said they would only play this year if Mergence would reunite and play with them.

“We’ve had some cosmic experiences as a band there. I walked 25 miles to Apache Lake Music Festival in 2016 from the south side with James [Mulhern of What Laura Says] and Chad [Leonard of Black Carl], and have written multiple songs while literally sitting at the Salt River,” says Mergence guitarist and vocalist Adam Bruce. “Apache Lake is still the mighty Salt River, only temporarily controlled by man.”

For Michael Pistrui of festival newcomers and Chandler mainstays Fat Gray Cat, it’s easy to sum up what it’s like to be part of the 10th anniversary of ALMF.

“This special backdrop creates a special bond to those who attend and perform, at least that is what we hope will be the case,” says Pistrui. “We think the event creates a chance to build community in a special way and we look forward to meeting many new people, music fans, and other bands.”

Apache Lake Music Festival is scheduled for October 18 and 19 at Apache Lake Resort & Marina. Tickets are available here. Directions to Apache Lake Music Festival can be found here.

Tom has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He’s been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.