Booze, Burritos, Bands: Charlie Levy spills the beans on the Flying Burrito Festival

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The outside stage at Crescent Ballroom at last year’s Viva Phx.

Just months after opening wildly successful venue The Van Buren, concert promoter Charlie Levy is back to doing what he does best — combining his love for food and music.

For the past four years, Levy has also put on Viva PHX, an annual music festival in Downtown Phoenix that has boasted big names like Crystal Castles, Warren G and The Growlers. However, the event, which usually hosts nearly 100 bands across dozens of venues in the heart of downtown, is on hiatus this year.  

“There were a variety of factors that went into our decision. We’re a super small team and we just opened up The Van Buren and we’re still working hard to get that on the right track,” Levy says. “We were putting feelers out for bands and working hard and we just didn’t feel like we could come up with enough bands for what we thought we could put our name behind. A couple of our sponsors dropped off. It was just a combination of things and we just decided that instead of putting on a festival that we weren’t 100 percent proud of, we’d rather not do it and wait until a better time.”

Though many music fans may be disheartened to hear Viva PHX won’t be happening this year, it is unlike Charlie Levy, who also owns Crescent Ballroom, to show up to festival season empty-handed.

Enter the Flying Burrito Festival, which Levy dares you to say without cracking a smile. At 25 bands and only four stages (all named after different types of burritos), the event is much smaller than Viva PHX, but it will certainly serve up a healthy dose of booze, bands and burritos, Levy says.

Levy jokes that he’s only been planning the festival for a few days. The formula is simple: “Someone says, ‘Let’s do this!’ and we’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ We’re known for putting the cart before the horse… next thing you know, we’re like ‘Well, it’s too late to stop now.’ We gotta finish and see what happens.”

It’s always fast and loose at Levy’s concert promotion company, Stateside Presents. He hopes that fun, freewheeling vibe will translate to Flying Burrito.

“It’s always non-stop around here,” he says. “We’ll see how it goes. Flying Burrito is going to be fun and I think that’s one of the reasons we went with that name. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will.”

Levy and his team worked with Downtown Phoenix Inc. to close down 2nd Avenue so eateries like Mi Salsa, Left Coast Burrito Company, Cocina 10 and Palettas Betty could set up shop in the street. Acts like Albert Hammond Jr., Anarbor, US Girls and several cumbia and Cuban-influenced bands will play across the four stages. The party starts at 4 p.m. and goes until 11 p.m., with an after-party featuring Talib Kweli at The Van Buren.

“I think it’s gonna be a little something for everybody. If someone’s going for the food portion, they’re gonna grab some samples and sit on the street… If you want to come and try a bunch of burritos and listen to cumbia, that’s for you,” he says. “If you’re really into the bands that are playing, go see eight bands that night and make a night of seeing different music. (There are) four stages… if you go see one band and say, ‘This isn’t for me,’ you can walk 20 feet and there’s another band.”

Whether it’s a food or a music festival is up for debate, though it certainly meets the criteria for both. Levy has a “make it what it is” mentality when it comes to the event.  

“You can come and not give two beans about the music and have more burritos than you could ever eat or you could be like, ‘I’m not hungry and all I’m gonna do is listen to great music’… or eat a bunch of burritos and watch a bunch of bands.”

Levy also says there will be a surprise photo op “that will put a smile on your face,” but he won’t spill all the beans. You’ll have to see for yourself, he says.

“Take the frozen burrito out of the microwave, quit watching Netflix and come down,” he says.

Flying Burrito Festival, 308 N. 2nd Avenue, Phoenix, crescentphx.com, Saturday, March 10, 4 p.m., $10.

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