By Christopher Boan
A lineup of baseball and rock music descends upon Tempe Town Lake in late February for the third iteration of Innings Festival.
Slated for Saturday, February 29, and Sunday, March 1, Innings Festival features acts like Dave Matthews Band, Weezer, Portugal. The Man, Death Cab for Cutie, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and more.
Atlanta-based festival director Tim Sweetwood long envisioned an event that combined the hoopla of the Cactus League with the glitz and glamor of a music festival.
Sweetwood and C3 Presents set out to create the festival several years ago, assembling a roster of players and bands to take the stage at the first event in 2018.
Fast-forward three years, and Sweetwood believes the festival has become a mainstay for Arizonans and baseball nuts.
“We have a really good round of artists coming in, led by Dave Matthews and Weezer, to go with having even more player involvement than we’ve had before,” Sweetwood says. “So, it kind of brings together the full vision of the festival.”
An avid baseball fan, Sweetwood says his team was surprised by the enthusiasm for Spring Training in Arizona.
That love inspired Sweetwood and his team to create a unique festival that incorporates the best elements of both pastimes.
The result is a convergence of the two, with batting cages and a virtual home-run derby interwoven into the stages and incredible voltage that such festivals require.
“I realized how many hundreds of thousands of people come to town to watch this, and I thought one of the things missing was entertainment,” Sweetwood says. “So, that’s kind of where the vision for the event came from, was, let’s give those fans that are coming to town some entertainment to go along with (Spring Training) and then local residents can come as well.”
Innings Fest is unlike other large music events in that the sets do not overlap. Bands take the stage at different times. Such a feat allows festivalgoers to take in all the musicians, without having to worry about splitting time between stages.
Sweetwood also gives fans the chance to meet athletes such as former San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy and Hall of Famers like Trevor Hoffman and Jim Thome. Former D-backs Luis Gonzalez and Miguel Montero will also take part.
“If you’re a baseball fan, there’s a possibility to touch these legends of baseball. And from a musical standpoint, we’re not forcing someone to buy a ticket to the whole weekend,” Sweetwood says.
A dream comes true
One such act that’ll take the stage in Tempe is Philadelphia-based quintet Dr. Dog.
Drummer Eric Slick is stoked to play Innings Fest, given his lifelong love of the Philadelphia Phillies. Slick is looking forward to shooting the breeze with former Phillies pitcher Ryan Dempster, who will be in attendance, in addition to former Philadelphia mainstays, like Aaron Rowand and Thome.
Slick says various members of Dr. Dog have made attending Phillies Spring Training games in Florida an annual pastime.
Such dedication to the sport gives the band added reason to jump at the opportunity to play in Tempe, as they’ll be able to rub elbows with some of the game’s greatest players.
“We’re all such big baseball fans,” Slick says. “We’ve actually written a song for the Phillie Phanatic. So, it’s going to be fun.”
Slick, whose favorite baseball player is former Phillies first baseman John Kruk, is excited to add to the short but storied history of Innings Fest.
Slick believes the band, which is on the road in support of its 2018 album, “Critical Equation,” will be in fine form by Innings Fest.
“It’ll be our last show of the tour and it will be a well-oiled machine by that point,” Slick says. “And the song choices for this tour are going to be really weird and different. And so, anybody who’s seen a Dr. Dog show, it’s going to be a handful of songs that they haven’t heard in a really long time, and it’s going to be a blast.”
Hitting their stride
The excitement Slick has is shared by Sweetwood and his team, given the stacked lineup of acts and players on this year’s lineup.
Sweetwood says organizers try to choose artists who love baseball.
One such example is Isbell, who is a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, adding an extra element to the band’s set.
“We try to see if they’re really into baseball, because if they are, then we can get them involved in different contests or competitions that are going on,” Sweetwood says. “So, that’s just an added feature of what’s going on.”
Sweetwood says this year’s fest, as in years past, will only feature retired MLB players, given the time constraints and restrictions current players face.
He hopes the who’s-who cast of retired players will motivate interested patrons, given the month-long ode to baseball that is the 15-team Cactus League.
Above all, the greatest highlight for Sweetwood is watching festivalgoers flock to the lakeside stages, savoring the work that his team has put forth.
Sweetwood is excited to see how the third installment of Innings Fest compares to previous iterations.
The reaction to previous years has been incredible, according to Sweetwood, giving him a sense of hope that this year’s event will live up to billing.
“You never know what the outcome’s going to be or if people will really like it, but this is one where people have taken to it and they’ve really liked it,” Sweetwood says. “And all of our offerings and different ticket types and experiences have definitely helped.
“I think that’s been our nicest pleasure point and enjoyment, is that people are very receptive to the programming and to what we’re putting together.”
Tempe Beach Park & Arts Park, 80 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, inningsfestival.com, all day Saturday, February 29, to Sunday, March 1, tickets start at $99.
Saturday, February 29
Dave Matthews Band, Portugal. The Man, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Dr. Dog, Whiskey Myers, ZZ Ward, Strand of Oaks, Boy Named Banjo
Sunday, March 1
Death Cab for Cutie, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, O.A.R., The Struts, Big Head Todd & The Monsters, Nikki Lane, Pedro the Lion, Wilderado
Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy, Bret Saberhagen, Rick Sutcliffe, Luis Gonzalez, Trevor Hoffman, Jim Thome, Miguel Montero and Aaron Rowand.