This year at the Oro Valley Music Festival, rain may have fallen, but it wasn’t to the detriment of concert-goers. In some ways, it added to the experience, never growing harsh enough to shut down any sets and adding an extra dose of excitement and unpredictability to the show that only made it that much more memorable. Then again, maybe that’s just speaking for this reviewer, who loves rain in many forms, but nevertheless—kudos to the organizers of the event for pushing the second annual iteration of the event into October instead of the still somewhat iffy September, which may or may not be plagued by torrential monsoons well into the second or third week of the month until the season is officially over. It was a banger.
While I was only able to attend the second day of festivities due to obligations outside of work pulling me either which-way during the festival’s Saturday ensemble of country acts including Dan + Shay and David Nail, Sunday’s set, once again curated by local iHeart Radio pop station my92.9 Tucson, carried enough fire alongside it to keep things exciting for the thousands-strong crowd going into the latter half of an entire weekend’s worth of music.
The bill, specifically, was made up of Kaylor Cox, Howie Day, Ben Rector, Simple Plan, Colbie Caillat, Phillip Phillips, and Daughtry. While the majority of that list are names that you have either heard of or have most definitely at least heard one of their megaton radio jams from at least once, Cox is something of a different beast coming into play amongst the other acts of relative star power and revere. A Tucson local just out of high school, lucky Cox was offered the opportunity to show her roots in country and rock to the OVMF crowds on both days of the festival, and she was definitely no slouch. A little green, but with a shining personality on and off the stage and a voice clearly ready to make a mark on the radio itself, she helped represent all of the fun that such a festival should emanate from top to bottom, and definitely managed to get crowds rowdy for a long day of celebration.
Day and Rector, respectively, followed Cox and both played out similar quips to one another as they knew they were the lesser-known headliners out of the bill, perhaps known best as the names behind current hits “Collide” and “Brand New” but not yet too much else on the pop circuit. Still, Day, with his “whether you know me or not, the goal is for us to have a good time”, alongside “I thought only nine people would be at this radio show and now I want all five thousand of you on my team” Rector, brought the goods. Day topping his set off to “Collide” as the audience was met with the heftiest showers of the day, alongside the dance-alongs and jokes espoused by Rector every couple of minutes between (and during) his incredibly listenable overall performance both made for early highlights.
Simple Plan came up next, and while it was an unfortunate case of the “hunger blues” that kept us from being as up-close and personal as we were with the previous three acts, what we could see and hear clear across the other side of the green was the kind of stellar set catering to new and old fans alike that one would come to expect of a band that’s been at it for 17 fantastic years. Unlike Daughtry later in the night, who kept things stripped-down and acoustic for an intimate means of closing the night, Pierre and the boys brought their electric a-game to the stage and really got the crowd riled up through the midday blues with songs like “Jump” and “Singing in the Rain”. Each member of the band seemed to linger after their set, too, scoping out the crowd and enjoying the impending Caillat’s performance amongst the crowd – a real testament to how down-to-earth these dudes really are.
Following up the quartet of early afternoon performances came one from Colbie Caillat, who one really needs to see in a setting like this one to fully appreciate her sunny, kind persona as she manages to fill an entire golfing green’s worth of people up with warmth during a damp autumn’s night—that, and it’s easy to forget just how many hits that she has until you hear them all performed live up-close for yourself. Speaking of up-close, the meet-and-greet guests of her set, situated on a couch beside her as she crooned her way effortlessly through “Bubbly” and “Lucky” and more, were a couple of preschool-aged girls who even got to sing and dance along with Caillat and her crew during her closer (“Brighter Than the Sun”) to make for that staple “aww” moment of the entire festival.
In lieu of an upcoming album soon-to-be announced, Phillip Phillips and lead guitarist Nick stopped by next-in-line for a scintillating acoustic set as day ceded into night. Speaking of meet-and-greeters, I myself was the one who had won the particular auction to see Phillips perform from backstage during his set—a treat that will likely never be replicated in my life. Singing and clapping along with a thousands-strong crowd in front of an artist you admire is one thing, but right behind them in front of all of those beaming faces is another entirely. To have this sort of experience is one of the greatest that any festival could offer, and one that comes highly recommended from this reviewer for anyone with the money saved up ($400 – $600 was the average winning bid per artist during the eBay auctions on-offer by the festival this year) to meet their favorite artist and kind-of see through their eyes for an hourish-long set. Outside of that, Phillips brought his A-game, notably playing songs that will presumably be on his new record (including the sweet wedding song, “Dance With Me”), an extremely scintillating, all-acoustic cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”, and, of course, “Home”.
Closing out the night were Daughtry, whose numbers were cut by half from a usual six to just a keyboardist, percussionist, and good ol’ Chris himself on lead guitar for this particularly intimate acoustic performance taking a page out of Phillips’s book before them. It’s hard to believe, but this particular band has been around for a solid decade now, and nothing really made me feel old like remembering songs like “It’s Not Over” from off of his first album word-for-word and being surrounded by school-age kids without an idea of any of his tracks pre-“Superman”, but in a euphoric kind-of way instead of something altogether terrifying and dystopic as the general feeling would usually go. The lighter, leaner Daughtry trio held things together tightly to wrap-up a great night of music with a bow, capping things of with the song that netted them a record deal to begin with—their own penultimate “Home”.
The Oro Valley Music Festival, all-in-all, soared above and beyond the expectations held to it compared to last year. They had rain, but they did not falter, and almost every complaint I’d had during its first annual celebration of festivities was taken care of. Everything was much better organized and the showrunners were clearly far more aware of what could potentially go wrong based on prior experiences. They really hit a home-run, and I, for one, am hoping to attend both days of the festival upon its hopeful return in 2017. For now, all that’s left is to speculate and cross my fingers on what acts might pop up next year!
Words by: Jonathan Frahm