Ben’s Breakdown | AZ Musicfest with Simply Three is Simply Fun!

The Two Gay Geeks had the enormous pleasure of taking in a concert Friday night as part of the annual Arizona Musicfest. For those who do not know, Arizona Musicfest was started to engage, stimulate, and delight audiences from near and far, as an important destination music festival. Every winter the best musicians, in areas of music including classical, Broadway, and pop, come together in Arizona and perform in a festival of concerts that can last several months. The highlight is when music director Bob Moody puts together a Festival Orchestra comprised of the best orchestral musicians throughout the country, and they perform a wide variety of music for a series of concerts for approximately one week in the month of February. This concert we attended not only had Bob Moody (it was nice to see the animated maestro again, who has been sorely missed since leaving as Assistant Conductor for the Phoenix Symphony) and the Festival Orchestra, but also as special guests Moody brought along Pop vocalist Susie Pepper, as well as the amazing string trio simply known as Simply Three. Comprised of Glen McDaniel on violin, Nick Villalobos on bass, and Zack Clarkon cello, this amazing combo put on a musical performance that will go down as one of the best we have ever experienced.

Starting with the Festival Orchestra, they opened the concert with the Overture to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss Jr., and played some amazing music that was concluded with one of the most rousing renditions of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

Simply Three took the stage with a number that certainly breaks the boundaries of classical convention with a piece titled Maverick, which involved a variety of some fiery technical playing, as well as some clever percussion on the part of Villalobos by hitting his bass in interesting ways. They then demonstrated that they are more than just technical wizards, but also serious artists by playing a beautifully stirring arrangement of the song Photograph by Ed Sheeran. I daresay there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience, least of all from me. They closed the first half of the concert with the original number DNA.

After the intermission Simply Three came on and performed a couple of amazing arrangements of two songs by the Beatles, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Come Together. Then Moody joined them as he sang Leonard Cohen’s classic Hallelujah with Simply Three accompanying him. After this there was only one possible number that this trio could play, and that is the original number that some might view as their biggest hit, the beautiful Rain.

I would be remiss if I did not also address Susie Pepper. For the first half of the concert she came out and channeled her inner Steve Perry and sang the Journey classic hit Don’t Stop Believin’ and for the second set she performed Let It Go from the movie “Frozen.” Admittedly that is a movie that neither Keith nor I like, and to say that we had no desire to hear another performance of the movie’s hit song is something of an understatement. Nevertheless, Pepper shows what kind of pipes she has because there is no denying that she could give Adele Dazeem Idina Menzel a run for the money! The second half of the concert with Simply Three was closed out with Pepper joining in on the song Wake Me Up.

One of the missions of Arizona Musicfest is to inspire young and old alike with music. Interestingly enough, one of the big causes that the Two Gay Geeks support is inspiring young people in the area of music by using it as a means of outreach as well as entertainment. That is what Simply Three did tonight. One would look at this trio and assume from their instruments that all they would play is classical music, but they are more than that. There is something wonderful in hearing McDaniel play a melody from a pop song and do it in a way that would make you listen to it with new ears, or to see both Villalobos and Clark on their instruments (bass and cello respectively) and not just headbang away, but to do so with the biggest smiles on their faces while playing in a manner that some might almost consider “shredding.”

I have been a fan of Simply Three for some time now, and to finally see them perform live was something that I was eagerly looking forward to. However, nothing could have prepared me for the quality that was to be dished out that night. From the Festival Orchestra’s incredible playing, to Susie Pepper’s amazing singing, to the awe inspiring performance of Simply Three, the only words I have left regarding this concert is that it was Simply Fun!!!

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