SPM Acoustics at the River Jones Music & Friends Festival

As a major metropolis, Phoenix has been on running full-steam urbanization over the last decade.  From the continued development of the west side’s Westgate City Center and multimillion dollar football stadium, to the glitz and glamour of the recently unveiled CityScape in downtown Phoenix, progress in the Copper State has not been all bright lights and show.

Independent record labels such as River Jones Music and local musicians are doing their part to nourish a thriving music scene. River Jones Music hosted the first RJM & Friends Festival at the Paisley Violin in Phoenix Sunday, Jan. 16. The festival featured bands from the RJM label as well as other labels to round up a 13 band set that provided more than nine hours of music.

River Jones, the namesake and founder of the label, says he prefers to stay behind the scenes, focusing more on the bands and studio time. He credits the all-day event to the first artist signed on his label, Courtney Marie Andrews.

“The music really speaks for itself,” Andrews says.

The crowd that arrived early that afternoon supported her sentiment as they filled the Paisley Violin. With two stages, one indoor and the other nestled in the village-like courtyard, the sounds of violins, banjos, piano keys and acoustic and electric guitars filled the calm air.

California resident Johanna Chase was one of the first artists to play that day. She described the event as "organic" —  what music should be. “Everyone’s just so excited to be here to play music,” Chase says. “It’s not a business; it’s an art.”

Armed with an acoustic guitar, wild dreadlocks and a sometimes booming, other times shrieking voice, Chase took time from her set to thank the crowd. “I’m currently living in Los Angeles at the moment, which is less fun,” Chase says. “You guys are nicer.”

Chase describes the difference between Phoenix and our Golden State neighbor:

“Everyone goes there to try to break into this industry that’s already kind of formatted,” she explains. “Everyone’s kind of trying to fit in.” Chase arrived in the Valley the night before and took in a show herself. “When you come to Phoenix, there are [bands] just trying to be themselves. It’s so refreshing.”

Andrews views River Jones Music more as a family than a label. “Being supportive is really important in a community of artists,” she says. “It’s hard to get that elsewhere.”

The event began at 1:30 p.m. and continued into the night, attracting a steady crowd from the get-go.

Jason Smith, a 24-year-old former California resident, was one of the fans that stopped by later in the afternoon, just in time to catch Andrews’ set. “People seem to care a lot more [in Phoenix],” Smith says, echoing Chase. “They seem to be a lot more friendly and genuinely interested in what people are doing.”

“I didn’t really get that up in north [California],” he continues. “People are just like, ‘Whatever, I’m doing my own thing.’"

More than just a parade of folk artists and songs, the festival provided a varied exhibition of apt musicians and eager fans.

“It shows that Phoenix isn’t this place where nothing happens,” Andrews says. “It’s not a place you always have to leave.”

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