Spotlight: Stephen “Psyko Steve” Chilton

Jason KeilNovember 3, 2022
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Photography by Steve Craft
Photography by Steve Craft

Festival Founder

If anyone can pull off a music festival three weeks before Christmas, it’s Stephen “Psyko Steve” Chilton. The owner of The Rebel Lounge and his eponymous concert promotion company is producing – in partnership with Downtown Phoenix, Inc. – the winter’s largest and most anticipated fest at Margaret T. Hance Park on December 3-4. There’s plenty about ZONA Music Festival to make live music fans merry and bright: an emphasis on local acts, plus indie darlings Beach House, Japanese Breakfast and Bleachers as headliners. A founding member of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), Chilton spoke to us about how he helped choose the inaugural festival’s acts and how he’s stepped up his game to become the Valley’s top rising indie promoter.

Is it challenging to program a music festival in December? 

It ended up being a convenient time for artists. It’s after the fall touring season, but before the holiday shows and when everyone takes off for the holidays. And because it is in December, there aren’t a lot of other events like this anywhere in the country or in Europe. It’s kind of a little island, and we hope it works out well.

Is there a through line with the acts you’ve chosen?

One of the biggest through lines is that most of these are artists we’ve worked with for a long time and have a good relationship with, which is another reason why booking was easy… A problem some first-year festivals have is building credibility, and we have credibility with a lot of these artists because we’re the ones who work with them when they come here.

Live Nation is getting bigger. What does that mean for you?

I work with Live Nation a lot. They are growing their presence in Phoenix. I compete with them on some days, and partner with them on others. They’re a good partner, but they’re hard to compete with… You have to step up and be competitive.

What’s live music like during this moment?

The pandemic definitely isn’t completely over. We’re having concerts canceled all the time because artists get COVID, but I think people are ready to go out. Concerts feel back to normal. The problem isn’t that people don’t want to go out, it’s because there are too many shows. Everyone is on the road. Everyone is touring. We booked a lot, and even if we took out ZONA, we’ve never been busier.

What did you learn from helping to put together NIVA’s Save Our Stages campaign?

It forced me to raise my game in so many different ways and exposed me to many different people. I worked on Save Our Stages festival on YouTube… It was the largest event I ever did. Working on events on that scale with that caliber of acts, from Foo Fighters to Miley Cyrus, wasn’t like anything I’ve ever done. One good takeaway is how important it is to put your axe to the grindstone and do the work. Watching UPSAHL become successful is great, but if you met her [Phoenix native Taylor Upsahl] when she was 15, you wouldn’t be surprised… Always bet on someone [willing] to do the work.

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