It was a dark and stormy night typical of monsoon season Arizona, lightning illuminating the Hotel Congress sign and rain spattering down on the small queue forming outside the Rialto Theater in downtown Tucson. The year was 2019, but the crowd of My Chemical Romance shirts, smudged eyeliner, plaid skirts, and vans gathered outside the venue looked like it could have stepped straight out of 2007. This could mean only one thing: Emo Nite LA had come to Tucson.
Emo Nite LA, founded 2014 by Morgan Freed, Babs Szabo, and T.J. Petracca, is essentially a party celebrating emo and pop-punk music. There has been debate over the years among both musicians and fans about what “emo” really means, but Emo Nite utilizes the word’s most widely accepted definition as angsty pop-rock from the beloved early 2000s scene, playing hits from the likes of Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday, and Paramore. The event began as a theme night at a Los Angeles nightclub and proceeded to gain outstanding popularity, eventually hosting performers like Ryan Ross (formerly of Panic! at the Disco) and bringing in scene icons like MCR’s Mikey Way and Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus as guest DJs. As someone who has stayed stubbornly planted in my emo phase well into my college career, I was thrilled to see that the party would be coming to my city.
The Tucson show started with the classic “Sugar We’re Going Down” followed by the equally as iconic “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” instantly sending the crowd into a frenzy. Obviously no playlist can compare to actual live music, but the level of ecstatic energy present as we shouted every word was the second best thing to a live show. The party truly began, however, when the DJs invited the crowd to the stage. The most enthusiastic attendees (myself among them) rushed up the stairs, eager to be as much a part of the show as possible. I’d like to think 14 year old me would have been proud of 19 year old me standing on stage, screaming the lyrics to MCR’s “Teenagers” at the people on the floor.
I found myself surprised at how intense the show was. I had expected it to be pretty laid back since we were essentially just listening to a playlist, but the lack of an actual live band didn’t stop anyone from moshing with everything they had when their favorite songs came on (much to security’s chagrin). But violent shoving and bruising aside, the party’s atmosphere was one of pure joy. From the dude in the Blink-182 shirt jumping higher than my head to the girl dancing next to me in a red plaid skirt over ripped black skinny jeans to the guy covered in glitter going absolutely wild in the mosh pit, everyone was there for the same reason: unabashed love for their favorite music.
One of the best parts of this particular show was the unique Tucson flavor added by the guest artists. The first was Banjo Guy, a very sweet elderly banjo player who achieved considerable internet fame following his protest song performance at a Tucson City Council meeting this summer. He shuffled to the mic to deliver a lovely cover of Wonderwall by Oasis, met by thunderous applause from the entire crowd. The terrifically talented Mariachi Luz de Luna band was also featured, putting their own spins on “Sugar We’re Going Down” and “Hey There Delilah”. I can say with confidence that Emo Nite is one of the only places I’ll ever hear a mariachi cover of a Fall Out Boy song.
The featured musical guest of the evening was Aaron Gillespie of Underoath. I am admittedly not extremely familiar with that band’s material, but I really like few songs of theirs that I have heard, so I was excited to hear him play. He performed acoustic versions of songs from Underoath and other bands he’d been in, along with the second Wonderwall cover of the night and a cover of Tom Petty’s Free Falling. The latter was a strange choice for Emo Nite but a very pretty song nonetheless. He had a great voice, and his set provided a beautiful moment of quiet amidst an otherwise chaotic and relentlessly high energy night. The fact that Emo Nite LA brings different live performers to every date of the show definitely adds a level of intrigue that wouldn’t be present if they just stuck to DJing or even if they had the same live acts every night. When no two dates are the same, there’s an element of surprise to each show.
On paper, Emo Nite doesn’t sound like it should be all that special. It’s a couple of guys behind a soundboard hitting play on a bunch of songs with a few short live sets dispersed randomly throughout the night. The songs aren’t mixed or altered in any way, and some tracks are even repeated. But what makes Emo Nite so much fun is the people, the community built around classic emo music and the blissful nostalgia it brings us. Everyone in attendance was there out of pure, unapologetic adoration of the music they grew up with. The pretentiousness and snobbery so prevalent in seemingly every other music scene today was nowhere to be found. It’s so incredibly refreshing to be in a space where it’s okay to just love music, not necessarily because it has the most advanced chord progression or the most unique lyrics, but simply because it means something to you and makes you feel alive. As I ended the night in a giant group hug with people I hadn’t known 4 hours before, swaying together and wailing along to Blink-182’s angst-ridden anthem “I Miss You,” I was reminded why I fell in love with music in the first place: this feeling of being connected with others and being part of something beautiful. So thank you, Emo Nite LA, for giving us former (and current) emo kids a place to reconnect with our roots and love what we love unashamedly.