Rock the District

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Local musicians shred and sing for a good cause

Well-known Cave Creek country singer Ryan Sims has spent the last year touring North American radio stations pushing his 2017 EP, “My Side of the Story.”

Long gone are the regular gigs at Copper Blues or various restaurants around the Valley. But when the Cactus Shadows High School graduate returns home, he makes sure it’s for a good cause. 

He, Sims’ mentee Cali Rodi, Chad Freeman and 30 student bands will take the stage Friday, April 12, and Saturday, April 13, at the Carefree Sundial for Rock the District, a fundraiser for the Cave Creek Unified Education Foundation.

Rock the District is the signature fundraising event started by Cactus Shadows High School student Melissa Nelson and hosted by the Cave Creek Unified Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization. 

Since its inception, it has raised more than $200,000 benefiting Cave Creek teachers, students and schools.

Among the alumni students returning to their roots are Tia Penny, the youngest to play in Alice Cooper’s Proof is in the Pudding, and Homestretch, the band who won third place. Also appearing is Promise to Myself, an alumni band whose music has been chosen by Dutch Bros. Coffee to play in its locations across the country.

Rodi performed as a student at the first Rock the District in 2009 and was recently signed by Keith Urban to his publishing company, BOOM.

“I felt so lucky,” says Rodi, who lived in Cave Creek and Nashville before settling in Los Angeles. “I tell everyone how great of a music scene my community had. Rock the District, Chicks with Picks, all the bars like Harold’s and Buffalo Chip, they all let me sing at such a young age.”

Rodi fondly remembers the first Rock the District, when her friends held signs with her name on them. 

“It was such a cool feeling,” she says. “My first performance ever was in the seventh grade at Sonoran Trails Middle School’s talent show. No one knew I even talked because I was really shy in school. The show was my first chance to show the people going to school with us this is what I do, and I want to do this forever.”

Sarah Byrne, who organizes Rock the District with Kesha Cardinal, says the event allows Valley residents to see world-class acts.

“With the alumni, it’s a chance to see how these former students have become up-and-comers in the music industry,” she says. 

“For the students, this will be a chance for friends, family and neighbors to see these teen bands and singers take the stage and show the world what they got.”

Sims and Rodi met at the now-shuttered Cocomo Joe’s in Cave Creek during his open mic night. She was 12; he was 23.

“I showed up with a book full of songs, printed out,” Rodi says. “I went up there with my book to play a few songs. He said he would let me on one condition – and he ripped my book in half. It was my security blanket of looking at the words while I was singing. He said I had to learn the songs.”

As for Sims, Music Row lists his single “Get Away” as No. 44 after 11 weeks on the charts. He splits his time between the Valley and Nashville, where he meets with publishers and record labels.

Sims and Rodi collaborated on a military-inspired song called “Dodging Bullets,” which was picked up by a PGA military outreach program. 

Recently, however, she has been writing songs for Urban’s company BOOM, even though she leans toward pop. 

“Growing up, Keith Urban was my hero,” says Rodi, now 23. “I had posters of him in my room. I love guitar and his style of playing. This is a dream come true. I wanted to be out in L.A. doing pop music. I love country, but it’s just not where my heart is. Keith just sent me an email that said, ‘You go your way; I’ll go your way too!’ It was from Leonard Cohen.

“Keith is pretty much as pop as it gets as far as Nashville goes. I’m lucky we found each other and could relate on that level.”  

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