Jewel of The Nile: Indie artists flood the Valley for Pop Culture Music Festival


In response to the cancellation of other local festivals, Atlas Artist Group is flipping the script for the Valley’s newest music festival.

A one-day event centered on popular music and popular culture, the inaugural Pop Culture Music Festival will be held at The Nile Theater on October 13, 2018. The lineup features a wide variety of independent artists with names ranging from popular actor and musician Drake Bell to native Phoenix rock band Anarbor.

Atlas Artist Group talent buyer David Kleinebreil, who curated the festival, says part of what motivated the planning of Pop Culture Music Festival was Superfly’s announcement of the cancellation of Lost Lake after its inaugural year in Phoenix.

“We saw an opening for something smaller and we wanted to keep the focus on the artists, which is why we decided on a one-day festival instead of the traditional two- or three-day festivals,” Kleinebreil says.

Kleinebreil says the festival had already been on his mind, but the cancellation of Lost Lake prompted him to action. “I just got my team together and said, ‘I have another crazy idea. I want to do a music festival,’” Kleinebreil says.

While larger companies have done similar festivals in the past, Kleinebreil says Atlas Artist Group’s approach to planning the event was unique because it was never about “who is on the radio and which agency wants to work with which agency.”

“For us, it wasn’t about the bottom line. It was always much more of a passion project.”

Similarly, Kleinebreil says the artist selection process was all about choosing groups who will bring a unique energy to the festival. “We tried a really informal approach to figuring out what artists are out there that people are genuinely enjoying and what artists are going to put on a strong performance,” Kleinebreil says.

While Drake Bell, one of the headliners, has celebrity appeal, Kleinebreil says artist recognizability wasn’t one of the factors in selecting artists for the lineup. Instead, the individual agency of the artists is what sets the Pop Culture Music Festival apart.

“The lineup is full of independent artists – most of them aren’t signed with any major record label, so I think they feel free to create what they want to create,” Kleinebreil says. “(The artists) got our attention for being unique instead of trying to appeal to the mainstream.”

In addition to staging “a great day of music,” Kleinebreil says accessibility was a top priority in planning the festival. The genre of music, lower-than-average ticket prices and venue all contributed to making the festival more accessible.

Kleinebreil says in addition to its rich history, The Nile is a familiar space for locals. “A lot of people grew up in the Valley going to shows at The Nile – for us, it felt like the perfect venue.”

Michelle Donovan, owner and operator of The Nile, says The Nile is honored to be chosen as the venue for the Pop Culture Music Festival: “There are newer locations in town which could have been selected for the inaugural event, but I feel our venue lends itself well to this type of festival environment.”

The Nile features bars on both the basement level and close to the main stage; however, Donovan assured The Nile is very much “an all-ages venue.”

You won’t find barricades separating festivalgoers older and younger than 21 at The Nile. “Everybody has the same concert experience here,” Donovan says.

The Nile is located between two light rail stops and has free parking, which Donovan says makes it “easy to get here and easy to leave.”

Festivalgoers don’t have to look far for food, as there is a vegan cafe inside the venue “The Nile is truly a one-stop shop for entertainment,” Donovan says.

The space features multiple stages in one building, making the venue conducive to more artists in a shorter time frame.

Performances are scheduled to take place on both the basement stage and upstairs venue throughout the day, so Donovan says to plan for a full day of music.

Adam Juwig, the guitarist for Anarbor, says coming back to play at an iconic venue like The Nile for the third time in the band’s 15-year history is “crazy.”

Juwig says growing up in the Valley, he would “sneak out and take the public bus to go see shows at The Nile.”

He is looking forward to meeting up with old tour mates The Ready Set, but his bandmate, Danny Stravers, has other reasons he is excited to share the stage with the other performers on the lineup. “I grew up watching Drake & Josh, so I am stoked to be sharing the same stage as Drake Bell,” Stravers says.

La Bouquet’s Brian Sammis says he is excited to be on the lineup with lots of other great talent in a city where he has family. More importantly, however, Sammis says he is simply looking forward to “dancing with everyone.”

Pop Culture Music Festival, The Nile, 105 W. Main Street, Mesa,, 480.559.5859, Saturday, October 13, $25.


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