A play-by-play of the first Zona Music Festival: Muddy mosh pits to a psychedelic finish

It finally happened: the inaugural Zona Music Festival at Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix. Beach House, Portugal. The Man, Japanese Breakfast, Bleachers and several dozen other acts spread across four stages and two days, Dec. 3-4.

It was the first big music festival from Stephen Chilton, whose Psyko Steve Presents has been promoting concerts in metro Phoenix for 22 years.

And he's off to an amazing start with the lineup, despite the last-minute withdrawal of a fifth headlining act, Tegan and Sara, who had to cancel for medical reasons, according to a tweet on their official Twitter page.

The gates opened at noon on Saturday, music started at 12:30 p.m. and ran continuously until 10:45 p.m., with another full day of acts on Sunday.

We were at Hance Park all weekend updating this blog with photographs and highlights from Zona Music Festival 2022. Here's what went down.

More:The best, worst and wildest things we saw at Zona Music Festival 2022 in Phoenix

10:45p.m.: Portugal. the Man provided a triumphant finish to a muddy and memorable weekend

Portugal. the Man and Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra brought the second day of the inaugural ZONA Music Festival to a close on two competing stages, one of several Sophie’s Choice-style moments that are bound to happen at a four-stage festival.

I went with Portugal. The Man because they were the headliners, I love them and I hadn’t seen them live since Innings Festival in "the before times."

They were great and I’d encourage you to read about it in our ZONA highs and lows.

It was among the better sets I saw all day, in fact — up there with Japanese Breakfast, the Regrettes and Jeff Rosenstock. And by saw, I mean heard. The only way a person could get close enough to really see was by wading through the oozing mud field. I chose to hang back and listen and it sounded great.

Psyko Steve did a great job assembling a lineup I’d been looking forward to since he announced it earlier this year.

It’s sad the weather had to cut into his draw and make the whole experience a good deal less enjoyable. Here’s hoping he has better weather next time.

— Ed Masley

7:30 p.m.: Upsahl played songs from upcoming 'Sagittarius' and talked Arizona roots

Upsahl is a homegrown pop star on the rise, about to drop a concept EP titled “Sagittarius” later this week.

She worked the second stage with the authority and confidence it takes to be the type of artist who opens a festival performance with a song called “Lady Jesus.”

She’s a personality-driven performer playing the role of the party girl with a dark side, hanging one song’s chorus hook on “I’m a lunatic,” another song on “I just came here to the party for the drugs.”

She wears it well, with occasional moments of vulnerability to wash down the swagger.

She arrived at the festival with a drummer and guitarist, piping in the other instruments and additional vocals — to brilliant, majestic effect on “Antsy” from that forthcoming EP.

That song feels like it could be the breakthrough single she intended it to be. So does “Into My Body,” the EP’s lead single.

Toward the end of her performance, Upsahl talked about her Phoenix roots.

“Psyko Steve has been booking shows for me since I was in high school,” she said, pointing out that it was just a short walk from the festival to Arizona School for the Arts, her alma mater.

She’s a very different type of artist these days than she was in high school, edgier and worlds more provocative, but even as a kid she had a knack for writing songs that felt like pop hits. Some things never change.

— Ed Masley

5:45 p.m.: Lydia Night had fun in the mud

Lydia Night had the second-stage crowd eating out of her hands as she led the Regrettes through a set she said was their last show of 2022.

She had them moshing like their lives depended on it, waving their hands in the air like they just didn’t care and crouching in the mud until she gave the go-ahead to start jumping.

“I know it’s muddy,” she said. “But that’s what makes it fun.”

Everything about the set was fun.

They’ve never sounded more comfortable pushing their pop sensibilities forward than they do on “Further Joy,” their latest album.

But their riot-grrrl roots were definitely showing Sunday as they filtered elements of ‘60s girl-group music, New Wave, dance-punk, a straight-up pop song of the sort you might expect from Katy Perry, a Lily Allen song and more through the reckless abandon of punk.

At times, it felt like early Blondie, in the best way possible.

— Ed Masley

5 p.m.: Moshing to the oldies

I wandered off from Turnover’s breezy main-stage set of atmospheric indie-pop just long enough to witness Beach Goons inspire some serious moshing in the pit with their set-closing punk reinvention of the Ritchie Valens hit “La Bamba” on the smaller Mingus Stage.

It was great.

And Turnover were every bit as breathtaking as I had left them by the time I made it back to their stage, taking the energy up a notch or two to end with “Take my Head.”

— Ed Masley

4 p.m.: I’m no dining critic, but…

The green chili burger at the Phat Cheeks Grill food truck.
The green chili burger at the Phat Cheeks Grill food truck.

Not gonna lie, I do not go to a music festival thinking I'll stumble onto one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had in Arizona.

But here we are.

The green chili burger at the Phat Cheeks Grill food truck was shockingly perfect. And I only chose that truck because it seemed affordable compared to what the other trucks were charging. A $10 burger seemed like a pretty swell deal. Now, it’s the food truck I'll look for at every festival.

— Ed Masley

2:30 p.m.: Breakup Shoes bring an earnest charm to the Main Stage

Breakup Shoes followed Diva Bleach on ZONA’s Main Stage with a set that suggested these locals are bound to be inching their way up the bill on the festival circuit as they go.

They’ve got the perfect vibe for days like this, a little on the chill side, but blessed with the dynamic range to pull off huge cinematic crescendos driven by soaring, distorted guitar leads.

They also bring an earnest, unassuming charm to the occasion. And they got a great reaction from the crowd down front.

— Ed Masley

1:15 p.m.: The thing about rain….

Well, it isn’t raining. That’s a vast improvement.

But the park is oozing mud and water, making the trip from one stage to another way more of a chore than it was ever meant to be.

As Mia Berrin of Brooklyn’s Pom Pom Squad joked after a spirited “Head Cheerleader:” “I thought it was supposed to be dry in Arizona. How do you live like this?”

Fortunately, Berrin and her bandmates made it well worth trudging through the muck and mire to get to their performance after seeing local punk greats Diva Bleach in their first-ever music festival appearance.

If you hear somebody arguing that the exposure of playing a festival like ZONA, especially when saddled with a less-than-ideal time slot, isn’t worth it? You can tell them I’m a Diva Bleach fan now, so there’s that.

— Ed Masley

10 a.m. Sunday: Oh, the weather outside? Less frightful

Not gonna lie. Saturday's weather left a lot to be desired. Beach House even told the crowd the rain had made the stage feel "like 10 Slip 'N Slides" in the course of their headlining set at the end of a very wet day.

But things are looking up.

The National Weather Service in Phoenix says we can expect "a 20 percent chance of showers before noon" on a day that should be cloudy, with a high near 64 degrees and "calm wind... around 5 mph."

Compared to yesterday? We'll take it.

— Ed Masley

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9:45 p.m. Saturday: 'We're going to give you everything we've got,' Beach House vows

Fans who came to the inaugural Zona Music Festival at Hance Park in downtown Phoenix had to survive a chilly, rainy Saturday that felt like it never let up as the day progressed. But that didn't stop an enthusiastic crowd from sticking around for the headlining set from Beach House.

Lights flashed and smoke billowed as the band played the dreamy indie pop songs that earned them high accolades from the likes of Pitchfork and The A.V. Club.

Beach House played two songs before addressing the Zona crowd, thanking them for braving the elements to see them perform.

"It's been an awesome day. You're super troupers," lead singer Victoria Legrand said. "We're going to give you everything we've got."

Legrand later added the band felt like the remnants of the rain made the stage feel "like 10 Slip 'N Slides."

— Michael Salerno

7:45 p.m. Saturday: Miniature Tigers treat fans to some unexpected cover songs

Phoenix's own Miniature Tigers integrated a couple of unexpected covers as teasers leading into performances of their repertoire of indie rock songs.

In the middle of their set they sang the first verse and chorus of System of a Down's "Chop Suey," a song whose seemingly unintelligible verses made it an Internet meme.

Before their last song, Miniature Tigers teased the audience by singing lyrics from "Cotton Eye Joe," a traditional country folk song made famous by the Swedish dance music group Rednex in 1995. "That's our next single," lead singer Charlie Brand said.

— Michael Salerno

Zona Music Festival 2022 guide:Zona Music Festival 2022 guide: Everything to know about the brand new Phoenix event

6 p.m. Saturday: Phantom Planet says 'We're gonna have to be louder'

Phantom Planet weren't ready to be upstaged.

Near the end of a career-spanning set that included hits like "Do the Panic" and "Big Brat" and selections from their latest album "Devastator," it sounded like TV Girl just started their set at the nearby Nicks stage. But with the crowd's help, the band made a big finish with "California", best known as the theme song to the 2000s teen drama "The O.C."

"We're gonna have to be louder than them for this last song," lead singer Alex Greenwald told the audience, whose singing along and cheering at the end suggest he got his wish.

— Michael Salerno

More:Portugal. the Man singer thought he'd never sing again. How that inspired their new album

5 p.m. Saturday: The Garden's big sound is music for moshing

It wasn't too wet to mosh.

The Garden, the duo of Wyatt and Fletcher Shears who describe themselves on their website as a "constantly evolving band," got a big crowd headbanging during their set Saturday afternoon at Zona Music Festival.

The brothers Shears delivered their loud, abrasive brand of difficult to categorize heavy rock with a sound that felt like it came from a full band even though it was just the two of them. It got the crowd moving effortlessly — even those in the back couldn't resist bouncing.

— Michael Salerno

Carly Golisch dances and enjoys the music in the rain as Pariah Pete performs on the Ronstadt stage during day one of the Zona Music Festival at Margaret T. Hance Park on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.
Carly Golisch dances and enjoys the music in the rain as Pariah Pete performs on the Ronstadt stage during day one of the Zona Music Festival at Margaret T. Hance Park on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.

3:30 p.m. Saturday: Some good news for soaked music fans

The Zona Music Festival just tweeted that all Saturday wristband holders will be allowed reentry into the festival because of the rain. "In case anyone wants to go home, get changed, and come back to go even harder," Zona stated in its tweet.

— Michael Salerno

2:45 p.m. Saturday: Dancing in a sea of umbrellas to Bartees Strange

Rain picked up around 2 p.m. during Bartees Strange's set at the Zona Music Festival. A sea of umbrellas filled the viewing area of the Nicks stage as festival goers tried to stay dry. Strange commanded the audience to dance during his third song, "Wretched," and umbrellas could be seen moving back and forth as people nodded their heads and danced to the music.

Chris Schwartz of Tempe was among the fans dancing while holding his umbrella. He said the umbrella didn't block his view of the stage. "Best $15 I spent," he said. "They should have gotten some rain ponchos or umbrellas (to sell)."

— Michael Salerno

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1:45 p.m. Saturday: Sydney Sprague gets this soggy party started strong

“How’s it going, you wet little babies?”

Sydney Sprague had just gotten the Zona Music Festival off to an electrifying start with a powerful reminder of how she has become one of Phoenix's fastest-rising rock acts when she took a moment to address the elephant in, well, the park.

The weather had decided it was in no mood to play nice.

The crowd was pretty equally divided between fans wearing ponchos or holding umbrellas and people just sucking it up and getting rained on.

That actually suited the vibe of Sprague's music, recalling the best of the ‘90s alternative-rock explosion in songs that worked that classic whisper-to-a-scream dynamic for all it was worth while offsetting highlights of last year’s excellent “Maybe I Will See You at the End of the World” with new material.

This was a second big festival win for Sprague in 2022. She got the second day of Innings Festival off to an equally promising start in February under more ideal weather conditions.

— Ed Masley

Innings Festival 2022:Everything that happened at Tempe Beach Park

11:15 a.m. Saturday: Another COVID cancellation and a late start

Another of the weekend's most anticipated sets − Waxahatchee and Kevin Morby performing together − was canceled the day of the show due to COVID-19.

This follows Thursday's announcement that Tegan and Sara because "Sara has been bitten by the COVID bug," as they tweeted.

Zona Music Festival shared the Waxahatchee/Kevin Morby news on Instagram, wishing them a speedy recovery.

The IG post added that "unforeseen circumstances have forced the scheduled Pom Pom Squad performance to move to Sunday at 12:55 p.m."

These latest changes led to more revisions in the set times and the festival now starting at 12:55 p.m. with a main-stage set by Sydney Sprague.

Reaction was swift (and harsh) on Insta.

Robertledz wrote: "This is a #$!@ (expletive) show! Rain all day long with no cover. TEGAN AND SARA CANCELED along with Waxahachee and Morby. And u move Pom Pom to a day where I can't see them. Worst festival ever."

Msdaggermouth wrote, "Three of the biggest acts have cancelled since I bought tickets…are we getting any money back??"

And Bungalow9 chimed in with "Time to start giving refunds."

— Ed Masley

Bowing out:Tegan and Sara cancel Zona Music Festival concert due to COVID-19. Here's what we know

10:30 a.m. Saturday: Looks like rain?

As the Grateful Dead so memorably noted, "Looks like rain."

At least according to the National Weather Service, which puts the likelihood of rain on Saturday in Phoenix at 65% as showers continue to push northeast approaching Margaret T. Hance Park with the chance of rain increasing through the afternoon. Expect a high of 61 degrees today and a low of 56 tonight.

— Ed Masley

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Zona Music Festival: Weekend updates from Hance Park in Phoenix