When I arrived at Groundworks Tucson's beautiful new Grant Road location for their long-anticipated grand opening on November 13th, the atmosphere was welcoming and celebratory. The walls were painted with stunning, colorful artwork by local artists, and the raucous noise of bands sound checking floated throughout the space. Though I was a newcomer to the venue, I felt a tangible sense of community there among the groundworks staff, the bands, and the young Tucson music enthusiasts filing in to watch the show. We were all there united by a common purpose: to celebrate Tucson’s wonderful musicians and to support the opening of an organization that is certain to help Tucson’s already vibrant youth arts scene thrive.
Groundworks is a non-profit organization that aims to support youth arts and music here in Tucson. Their main goals are to provide arts education, resources, community, and a safe space for young creatives. Groundworks originally planned to hold a grand opening in the Spring of 2020, and I personally remembering being excited to attend the event. However, Groundworks’ intended opening unfortunately coincided with the worldwide shutdown of live events and businesses due to the Covid-19 pandemic, postponing the opening for months. That’s not to say that Groundworks postponed the start of operations until now; they still participated in virtual art and music shows and even created a virtual building tour during the pandemic. I spoke with Groundworks’ college intern Meggie Keung about the amazing things Groundworks got up to over the past few months, and you can read our interview here.
In many ways, the long wait for the grand opening made it all the more exciting. Watching great live music alongside friends after not being able to do so for so long reminds me just how special such experiences are.
Before the bands started playing at the grand opening, I perused Groundworks’ art gallery, which displays a gorgeous mix of mix of 3D and 2D art by Tucson artists. Groundworks’ gallery puts on a variety of shows and regularly accepts submissions from artists of all ages, prioritizing the work of artists belonging to underrepresented groups.
The first band to play was Los Velvets, a wonderful pop-rock band that blends synths with intricate electric guitar. They played a mix of softer, more ambient songs and more upbeat rock tracks. I had never seen them perform before, but I will definitely be on the lookout for future shows they play, as I really loved their sound.
The second band up was Th’eyus, a band that recently performed at the KAMP station (you can listen to their performance here). Th’eyus is a noisy, psychedelic, garage rock band that boasts incredible guitar shreddin’ courtesy of guitarist Max Smith. The band has a great stage presence; its clear from their intense performance that they are extremely passionate about the music they play.
The Sinks, the third band to take the stage, played a fun Weezer-esque pop-punk set. Their music sounds like something one might hear while weaving through the crowd at Warped Tour, so naturally I felt right at home and thoroughly enjoyed their performance.
The Sinks were followed by singer-songwriter Imogen Rose, the only solo performer of the night. She sang accompanied only by acoustic guitar, a stripped-down performance that contrasted perfectly with the wailing distortion of the previous acts. Her voice was absolutely beautiful, as were her original songs, and I found myself holding back tears by the end of her set.
The poster for the grand opening boasted a “secret guest”, which was revealed to be Phoenix punk band Playboy Manbaby. Playboy Manbaby gave a truly unforgettable performance. The singer, Robbie, began the set standing eerily still, but when the drums kicked in he began thrashing and headbanging with the music, which he continued to do throughout the band’s energetic punk set. The ensemble included a trumpet player, which stood out among the more traditional rock instrumentation of the preceding acts and added a ska flavor to the night.
The evening ended with a headlining performance from Arizona folk-punk legends AJJ. The atmosphere in the venue felt familiar and warm as Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty took the stage to present their signature blend of stand-up bass, folksy acoustic guitar strumming, and witty but deeply emotional lyrics.
The set was very interactive, with Sean and Ben looking to the audience for song suggestions and encouraging us all to sing along. They made the show feel like a group of friends experiencing music together rather than a band singing down to their fans from an unreachable stage. When singing the call-and response gang vocals at the end of “A Big Day for Grimely” in unison with my friends and everyone else in the audience, I felt a sense of community through music that I have not felt in a long time.
This feeling of community that comes with creating art with others is, from my point of view, at the heart of Groundworks’ ethos and role in the Tucson art scene. I am very grateful to have been involved in this grand opening event, and am excited to see what the future holds for Groundworks.
Follow groundworks at @groundworkstucson on social media and check out their website, groundworkstucson.com !
And be sure to grab your tickets for the upcoming KAMP Presents show at Groundworks on January 29th when they go on sale!