Five years ago, Kenny and Inez McLain read about a little music festival in Bisbee.
The father-daughter, 1960s-style punk rock duo, known as the Exbats, decided to sign up and make the trip south for the weekend.
And a match in heaven was made.
“Honest to God, the Sidepony Express Music Festival changed our lives,” said Kenny McLain, who teaches at Greenway Elementary when not rocking out with his daughter. “We didn’t know that Bisbee existed, and the only reason we came was because randomly Anamieke liked one of our songs, booked us to come down. We drove down here, and Bisbee found us.
“We found our most natural place to live in the country, without a doubt.”
The Exbats, who originally hail from Portland but moved to Bisbee from the Navajo Nation after finding the town through the Sidepony Express, are currently gearing up for their fifth year performing at Bisbee’s unique music festival. They are one of over 100 bands who will be scattered throughout old Bisbee this weekend, roving from bar to street to restaurant, and bringing the town to life with a melange of music.
“It’s every genre you can imagine, from experimental folk-fusion to traditional Latin to art-dance music to reggae-funk,” said festival founder Anamieke Quinn, owner of Sidepony Music in Phoenix. “Almost every artist that is booked will perform multiple times throughout the weekend in different places, so you might see an artist at the Screaming Banshee around lunchtime and they’ll play in the Stock Exchange around happy hour.”
Quinn first got the idea for the festival after performing in Bisbee with her own band.
“So that’s something that’s unique about our event. In most cases, artists perform several times throughout the weekend. And it makes it more fun.”
What began as Quinn and her friends playing in Bisbee a few weekends a year quickly turned into an all-out festival, which now gives up-and-coming, independent artists a chance to show their stuff while spending the weekend in one of the Southwest’s most historic, artistic towns.
The Bibsee-based Exbats — named after a British term used for rescue chickens — aren’t so up-and-coming nowadays, however. The duo, who have played together since the now 19-year-old Inez was in fourth grade, are signed with Burger Records, and frequently perform in Tucson and Phoenix, as well as other parts of the country.
Not all family bands would survive nearly a decade, but for the Exbats, playing together has always been fun and natural, said Inez.
“My dad picked me up from a slumber party, and in the back of the car was a drum set, and he told me we would be in a band together — to which I protested for about a month,” said Inez, the duo’s lead vocalist and drummer.
She is currently studying art at Cochise College.
“He finally told me that every kid has to learn an instrument, and you can learn how to play either piano or play the drums for me, and I chose to play the drums for him. But I definitely grew to love it, and now it’s one of my favorite parts of my day, and my life.”
Her father agrees.
“There is a chemistry on stage between the two of us that we both recognize — it’s really fun,” he said.
He plays guitar and co-writes many of the songs, which he said are inspired by the Monkees and the Ramones.
“It’s really unique, it’s really fun. We even fight on stage sometimes, and those are the best shows. In Bisbee, we fight onstage a lot!”
The Exbats will be playing one show only this weekend at The Bisbee Grande at 10.30 p.m. on Friday. If you can’t make Friday’s show, never fear: The Sidepony Music Festival will offer plenty of chances to hear other unique bands from as far away as Juarez and Montreal, all for free.
“Going forward, no matter what, the festival will always be free, and it will always feature original music and bands performing many times,” said Quinn. “It will feature up-and-coming, independent artists who aren’t necessarily world-famous yet. We’re super proud of Arizona music; we’re also really excited to include people and artists from far and beyond.”
No matter how Sidepony grows in the future, for the Exbats, the festival will always be the place where they found their home.
“Right from the very beginning, we knew we’d found an audience here,” said Kenny McLain. “And it’s really important. If nobody hears you, what’s the point?”
What: Sidepony Express Music Festival
Where: Various locations throughout Old Bisbee
When: 10 a.m. to midnight, Friday to Sunday
More info: sideponyexpressmusicfestival.com/