Best of Phoenix 2020: The Biggest Local Music News of the Year

Despite the absence of live music for much of the past 12 months, there were still some big music news stories around town.

From music video cameos to a long-awaited reunion, here are the music news winners from Best of Phoenix 2020.

Gorgeous storm shots by Mike Olbinski caught Pearl Jam's attention this year.

Gorgeous storm shots by Mike Olbinski caught Pearl Jam’s attention this year.

Mike Olbinski

Best Music Video Cameo

Mike Olbinski’s Storm Footage in Pearl Jam’s “Dance of the Clairvoyants” Video

It took a whopping seven years for Pearl Jam to come out with their latest album, Gigaton. And when we watched the music video for the band’s single, “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” we were delighted to see something familiar: dramatic storm footage by Phoenix photographer and weather chaser Mike Olbinski. Our gorgeous Arizona lightning was featured alongside other nature imagery like the Northern Lights, waves crashing, the Earth from space, and floating fire embers. While the track likely won’t be played at any of the weddings Olbinski photographs when he isn’t capturing lightning strikes, it’s still something on his résumé he can brag about at the reception.

The Format playing at Modified Arts in 2002.EXPAND

The Format playing at Modified Arts in 2002.

Stephen Chevalier

Best Reunion

The Format

The last few years have seen a crush of rock reunions, from stadium stars like Rage Against the Machine to indie darlings like Pavement. But none have meant more to Arizona than The Format announcing a series of shows for spring 2020. The Format were, for a specific generation of music fans around these parts, the first big local band that broke through to the national mainstream. Those fans are now in their mid-30s, many of them pining for the sweet serotonin of simpler times. The reunion of this pure indie-pop group — two friends, a shared love of music, and a lot of great songs — is the feel-good story of the year, maybe the decade. Those concert dates were eventually pushed back to July 2021, due to COVID. We’ll wait. The Format’s reunion is something worth living for.

All those RATM fans got upset for nothing.EXPAND

All those RATM fans got upset for nothing.

Penner/Wikimedia Commons

Best Misplaced Rage

Rage Against the Machine Ticket Drama

It was one of the most anticipated tours of 2020, and rumor had it that tickets for the Rage Against the Machine reunion show at Gila River Arena in Glendale — originally scheduled to take place in late March before their Coachella dates — had sold out in less than an hour. It was the band’s first round of concerts since 2011, and those who didn’t snag a $125 seat made their, well, rage against the band known on social media. Tom Morello took to Twitter to calm down angry fans, but that only made things worse, with those who didn’t get a ticket telling the guitarist that it was his fault they wouldn’t be going because the quartet was “too popular.” The band magnanimously added a second show, but it didn’t matter in the end. The pandemic canceled music events throughout the country, including the Rage shows. The rage against Rage was, ultimately, for naught.

Lil Nas X ended up canceling his Mesa tour date.EXPAND

Lil Nas X ended up canceling his Mesa tour date.

Columbia Records

Best Fakeout

Lil Nas X at Sandbox Music Festival

It was quite a coup when the inaugural Sandbox Music Festival in Mesa booked Lil Nas X as a headliner just as his infectious single “Old Town Road” was making its historic journey to the top of the charts. But two days before the rapper was supposed to slide his Porsche into the parking lot of the Scarizona Scaregrounds, he announced on Twitter that he was taking some time off and would not be appearing. Festival organizers were surprised by the move, but they more than made up for the cancellation by refunding tickets and even making the event free to attend. Then, just as the organizers were mounting a triumphant return in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic ensured that no one would be playing at Sandbox this year, either.

Futuristic went back to the basics when promoting his last album.EXPAND

Futuristic went back to the basics when promoting his last album.

Jim Louvau

Best Marketing Gimmick

Futuristic’s Stimulus Package

To promote his new album, Still on the Rise, rapper Futuristic looked to music’s past for a marketing idea: the album preorder. The thought of purchasing an album before its release date seems weird in the age of streaming, but artists don’t make much money when you listen to their music on Spotify or Apple Music. With no live shows on the horizon, album sales are more important than ever. Back in April, the Tempe rapper offered fans who posted a screenshot of their preorder receipt on Instagram and tagged him and his label in the pic the chance to win $100. The promotion lasted for five days, and the catch was only one fan a day could win. No word if the idea helped boost his numbers, but it only cost him $500 to try.