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South By Southwest: Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones and The High Divers bring southern rock to Shady Park

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Hannah Wicklund and her brother, Luke Mitchell, have always been on parallel paths when it comes to music.

The 20-year-old South Carolina-bred singer and guitarist started her blues rock band, Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin’ Stones, when she was just 8 years old. She says seeing Mitchell, who is seven years her senior, perform folk-influenced rock while growing up was a huge inspiration to her.

Hannah Wicklund

Now, Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin’ Stones and Mitchell’s band, The High Divers, are on tour together for the first time. It’s dubbed The Sibling Rivalry Tour, but Wicklund insists it’s more of a friendly competition and collaboration — Mitchell is playing drums for Wicklund throughout the tour. They stop by Tempe’s Shady Park on Thursday, April 5.

“Both of us are very determined people, so we’ve always kind of focused on our own projects; this is the first time we’re even collaborating on a consistent basis, so it’s been really cool,” she says of the tour so far. “The whole concept of the tour is that it’s The High Divers, and then it’s my band… My brother is the frontman, but he’s also a badass drummer, so he’s playing drums for me…The tour is named Rivalry, but there’s definitely a lot of love to be had.”

Wicklund jokes that she’s only hit Mitchell with her guitar a few times. Because of the ambitious spirit they share, she admits there was some healthy competition when they were younger.

“There was definitely a bit of rivalry when I was young, but it was a healthy rivalry,” she recalls.

“It was more about us pushing each other. Whenever I would see Luke, I would always feel like I needed to go home and practice because I didn’t want to fall too far behind.”

Nowadays, falling behind seems like the least of Wicklund’s worries. With a thick canopy of caramel-colored curls cascading down to her hips and a raw energy and talent reminiscent of Janis Joplin or Stevie Nicks, it’s easy to forget the singer and guitarist is a few weeks shy of her 21st birthday.

The High Divers

“I’ve been asked how old I am I don’t know how many times… That’s definitely the No. 1 question,” she says. “People definitely get a kick out of my age, for sure… but to me, I feel like I should’ve done more.”

The songstress refers to her brand of blues rock as “refreshed rock ‘n’ roll,” a genre which she believes has recently experienced a well-deserved resurgence, offering a reprieve from the humdrum hip-hop and pop that currently dominates the charts.

“It feels like rock ‘n’ roll is starting to make a comeback. I think it’s time for it,” she says. “It’s kind of like that classic thing where everybody in high school listens to pop and rap and then they go to college and they find real music and start to branch out a little bit. I feel like hopefully that same kind of thing is happening in the music industry. Hopefully the music industry is going to college.”

LOCAL FLAVOR

Seasoned Americana ensemble The Sugar Thieves, which is also female-fronted, will open the show at Shady Park. The Phoenix-based band has been synonymous with American roots music in Arizona since 2006. The band’s frontwoman, Meridith Moore, is excited to share the stage with Wicklund.

“It’s always exciting to meet and experience other lady singers,” Moore says. “We need more strong, confident mamas on the scene.”

Meridith Moore

Joey Gutos, who is responsible for live music booking and artist relations at Shady Park, says The Sibling Rivalry Tour will be one of the first national tours to hit the Shady Park stage.

“It’s been mostly local up to this point,” he says. “(Shady Park) is much more intimate than the average venue… You can get right up in people’s faces, in a good way, and I think that creates a closer connection with people, when you’re on their level. I think that’s what they found attractive about this place when they were deciding on where to play next.”

Another selling point was Shady Park’s versatility; the venue, located right off Mill Avenue, is also a bar and restaurant.

“I think it’s the perfect spot, especially for a weekday show,” Gutos says. “You can come in, have some bomb food, stay for a beer and enjoy (the music). I think it will be high-energy because it’s that feel-good, soulful music that just captivates you. It’s not so obtrusive that you can’t still have a conversation with your friends, but it’s also not so low-key that you don’t want to get up on the dance floor and get down.”

Moore predicts an eclectic mix of old and young music fans at the show. Much like the music scene itself, her band and its sound continues to evolve and grow.

Sibling Rivalry Tour poster

“We perform folk, country, Americana, blues, and some rockin’ stuff too,” she says. “It’s a melting pot of sounds that can reach anyone, in any demographic. Our live shows are where it’s at. You will not see a Sugar Thieves performance without taking home a bag of feelings. We will get you right in the gut, whether it’s a soul-searing ballad, or a whiskey stompin’ (guitarist) Mikel Lander lick.”

Gutos hopes booking more shows like this will help put Phoenix on the map as a major music destination.

“I think the more national acts and festivals we can put on, the more people are going to want to come here,” he says. “I think a big part of it is the people. There’s a really strong, supportive scene… no matter what your background is, if you’re doing something new and interesting and cool and you’re excited about it, it’s very attractive and I think people gravitate towards it.”

“The Phoenix music scene is unlike any other in the United States,” Moore adds. “In many big cities, you see segregation between genres. You’ll have your hip-hop scene, your jam band scene, your blues scene… They are all their own entity. In our music community, you see acts from all realms sharing a bill and cross-pollinating audiences. It’s an amazing thing. Everyone works together and has an appreciation for one another’s art form.”

That sentiment compliments Gutos’ goal for the Shady Park show.

“I think my main goal is to just throw a really good show. If anything comes of it afterwards, great, but I think the focus for a show like this is to just make it as cool as possible,” he says. “Usually things tend to happen when you least expect them in situations where you just focus on the outcome of that thing. And I think people can feel that when they’re here, too.”

The Sibling Rivalry Tour w/ Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin’ Stones, The High Divers and The Sugar Thieves at Shady Park, 26 E. University Drive, Tempe, shadyparktempe.com, Thursday, April 5, 8 p.m., $7-$15.

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