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Homegrown Band: The Haymarket Squares “Let’s Start A Riot”




A Local Music Segment airing every Monday through Friday at 11pm w/ Mo!

Tonight’s Feature Band:


The Haymarket Squares: Punkgrass for the People!

Blending acoustic instruments, fast tempos, rich harmonies and rabble-rousing lyrics, The Haymarket Squares have been bringing punkgrass to audiences since 2009. “They’re smart. They’re funny. They’re raging against the machine in four-part harmony,” says the Arizona Republic              of the group’s incisive lyrics and boundless live energy.

That range of styles and emotions characterizes The Haymarket Squares’ new album, Light It Up      , released in February 2016. It’s a 12-song summation of the band’s musical influences and lyrical concerns, with tasty dollops of polka, gospel and Latin percussion mixed into the group’s signature punkgrass sound.

While recalling choirs and chapels, “Heaven,” the album’s gospel-tinged opener, dismisses the idea of divine help and optimistically asserts the power of ordinary humans:

There ain’t no heaven, got to make one here

No father, no son, no heavenly choir

Just hearts and hands and our desire

The urgent “Horrible Inventions” (driven by a blistering solo from slide guitarist Mark Allred) takes on the dirty business of unjust border policies:

We got helicopters, quads and drones

Border towns becoming battle zones

There’s humans to catch and money to be made From the victims of free trade

With an accordion providing a melancholy backdrop, Light It Up’s first single, “Let’s Start A Riot,” perfectly captures the “crushing weight of boredom and responsibility” of adult life, as the narrator finds himself “sitting in a cubicle, starting at a screen, playing with the lighter in the pocket of my jeans.”

The witty wordplay and pointed commentary continues throughout the rest of the album, touching on everything from surveillance (“No Such Agency”) to liberal guilt (“Part of the Problem”) to the end of the world (“Goodbye”). Acoustic guitarist John Luther Norris somehow manages to mention Zapatistas, Japanese vending machines and        elephants in his Latin-infused “Jump the Border.” And no Haymarket Squares release would be complete without a love/hate ditty about their hometown of Phoenix, where there are “a million little places with local bands and beer, to have a drink and wonder what the hell you’re doing here.”

Some of the songs on the album have been part of the band’s live show for years, while others are recent arrivals. But they all share the same genesis: “We’ll hear or read something on the news that pisses us off, and a few days/weeks/months later, a new song arrives,” laughs Mark Sunman, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who wrote several tracks on Light It Up. “For better or worse, there’s no shortage of inspiration out there,” adds Marc Oxborrow, who sings, plays bass, and wrote a number of songs on the album.

Light It Up was recorded and produced (on largely analog gear) by Bob Hoag (Dear and the Headlights, Gin Blossoms, The Ataris) at Flying Blanket Recording in Mesa, AZ, and mastered by Jason Livermore (Alkaline Trio, Propagandhi, Drag The River) at Blasting Room Studios in Fort Collins, CO.

Having played more than 500 shows in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, the 5-piece band will support their new album with a busy touring schedule, highlighted by a main stage performances at Arizona’s largest music gathering, the McDowell Mountain Music Festival (headlined by Beck and the Avett Brothers).  And as winners the 2015 Pickin’ in the Pines band competition, The Haymarket Squares will play that festival’s main stage in the fall of 2016.

In 2015, The Haymarket Squares were nominated as Best Local Band by the Phoenix New Times, who called them “Phoenix’s original protest band” and “one of the most distinctly talented groups in town.” And in 2010, less than two   years after their humble Craigslist beginnings (a rare case where online matchmaking actually worked), The Haymarket Squares won the Train Tracks band competition in Phoenix, beating out 50 other local acts in a year-long battle of acoustic performances on the city’s light rail system. “We’ve always been able to hold our own in that kind of setting,” says Oxborrow. “In fact, we end most shows by wading out into the crowd to play a few acoustic numbers.”

The Haymarket Squares have provided direct support for such national acts as The Meat Puppets, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Greensky Bluegrass, MarchFourth!, Young Dubliners, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Old Man Markley, The Brothers Comatose and others. The band has headlined the most prestigious mid-size venues in Arizona: Crescent Ballroom (Phoenix), Rialto Theatre (Tucson), and the Orpheum Theater (Flagstaff).

Dive deeper into The Haymarket Squares: