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Presenting Psyko Steve

Meet one of the music presenters who brought the Phoenix scene back to life


Presenting Psyko Steve

Meet one of the music presenters who brought the Phoenix scene back to life

From Mesa to Tempe to Phoenix, Stephen Chilton transformed his hobby of booking bands into a full-fledged career and took ownership of the public persona ‘Psyko Steve’ along the way.

Psyko Steve is everywhere. He routinely books shows at The Van Buren, Crescent Ballroom, Valley Bar, The Marquee, The Pressroom, Club Congress, 191 Toole, The Rialto, Green Room, Club Red and his very own venue, The Rebel Lounge

Uninterested in fraternities or student life clubs during his time at ASU from 2001-2005, Chilton focused on booking shows and breathing life into what was a relatively dismal scene at the time. Although the shows began as a hobby, what he accomplished while attending ASU evolved into a career.

He was first dubbed a ‘psyko’ in high school and hated it. However, when he began booking shows, his friends convinced him to write the now famous “presented by Psyko Steve” slogan on the flyer as a joke. 

Little did Chilton know, he would be recognized by the nickname for the next 20 years. 

“I never thought there’d be a business in it and explaining it. I definitely would not have done that if I had thought about it,” he said with a grin. 

Chilton started booking shows in high school and continued to do so throughout his time at ASU. He focused on the DIY (Do It Yourself) music scene and Phoenix shows, in particular. 

“Some friends of mine from high school were in a band … and that was it,” Chilton said. “The first dozen shows I booked were all friends of mine from high school.”

Once he booked his friends, his network grew. He was contacted by friends of friends, touring bands and, eventually, agents. His pastime gradually grew in popularity, and Psyko Steve became a fixture of the Phoenix music scene. 

“There was no plan, it was just whatever happened next, whatever opportunity. There was no thought that this would be it,” Chilton said. “It was just something I did for fun when I was at ASU, it was my hobby … it wasn’t until later that we realized we could make this a thing.”

Chilton started booking shows in the downtown area and brought the Phoenix music scene to life. Although many questioned his choice to host city shows at the time, people now complain when concerts are outside of Phoenix, Chilton said.

During this time, Chilton promoted shows for the Mason Jar, which is known for holding acts like Nirvana and Meat Puppets. In 2015, when the venue went up for sale, Chilton jumped on the opportunity to own what was once the launchpad for his career. Thus, The Rebel Lounge was born.

The Rebel Lounge differs from other music venues in the area, namely for its emphasis on variety. It hosts shows of all genres, from DJ sets to old school punk, hip-hop to indie pop. The venue intentionally rotates every night to ensure there is a diverse calendar for the audience. Additionally, Psyko Steve makes sure The Rebel Lounge provides a platform for bands around the Valley. 

“We’ve had a lot of younger bands tell us Rebel’s the first venue they’ve played,” Chilton said, “and their dad tells me the Mason Jar was the first place his band played, so it’s got this neat, generational thing.” 

Growing up in the Arizona music scene, Chilton saw many local bands grow into national acts. He views The Rebel Lounge as a way to help bands enter the scene, and then move them up to other notable venues of larger capacity like Crescent Ballroom and the Marquee Theater. 

In his early years, Chilton worked with singer-songwriter Frank Turner for 10 years and booked international rock band Thrice’s early shows. Seeing the bands sell out arenas now is amazing to him, he said. 

“I was friends with Nate Ruess from the Format and Fun ... Then seeing Nate winning Grammys … when I was in high school I was going to see his bands,” Chilton said. “That’s why so much of what we do is new artists. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh have you heard of this new band?’ and I’m like ‘yeah, we did that three years ago.’” 

LANY and Mitski are two of Chilton’s favorites acts that have made it “big time” since playing at The Rebel Lounge. He even joked that one of his favorite parts of the job is hearing kids brag about how they saw LANY at Rebel when no one else knew them. 

Chilton booked about 200 shows a year when he first started out. This number has since tripled and currently sits at nearly 600 shows annually, most of which occur at The Rebel Lounge. 

Chilton was able to break another personal record in January when he hosted once-local band The Maine’s 8123 Festival in Phoenix. He booked some of The Maine’s very first shows, so throwing its biggest show yet was surreal, Chilton said. 

Another high note for Chilton in recent years was Jimmy Eat World’s 20th Anniversary celebration. 

“I was a huge fan of (Jimmy Eat World) in high school back in the ‘90s. We announced the show the day of and it was sold out, literally, in seconds. It was really cool, that band hasn’t played clubs that size in years. That one was one where I was like, ‘wow, I can’t believe this is here,’” Chilton said. 

With nearly 20 years of experience in the industry, Chilton has seen almost everything. While there are achievements under his belt, he has also witnessed tragedy and loss within the music scene. The most recent case of this was British band Her’s fatal car collision.

Fans left flowers outside of the Rebel Lounge following the death of the members of the band Her's, which played at the venue just days before the passing. The photo was taken on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

After playing The Rebel Lounge on Tuesday, March 26, Her’s headed out to their next show in California. However, before they crossed state lines, a wrong-way driver under the influence of alcohol collided with their van, killing both band members, their manager and the driver. 

Chilton said he has never seen anything like this accident in all his years. Outside The Rebel Lounge, fans left flowers, photos, balloons and cards in honor of the band, and Chilton does not plan on removing the shrine any time soon.

“It’s so absolutely tragic. We sold out, we were talking about bringing them to bigger venues in the fall and almost their entire tour sold out. It was so on the up for them. People were just starting to discover that band, and it was cut so incredibly short,” Chilton said.

Remembering artists and appreciating them as people as well as for the art they create is an important part of music across all genres. From intense tragedies to big successes, running so many integral venues in the ever-developing Phoenix music scene has given Chilton a purview unique to someone so ingrained within it.

Psyko Steve is always planning for the future, currently booking bands and finding their fit when they visit the Valley. And the unknown is part of the fun.

“At Rebel, you really don’t know what you’re going to get ... and that’s intentional."

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