Phoenix ‘Live from the Artists Den’ – At Anderson High!

French rockers during ACL Fest 2013: ‘Find us a high school’

If you thought it was hard keeping secrets when the primary mode of communication in your high school was passing notes, imagine what it’s like in the iPhone age. Last month, 2,000-plus students at Anderson High managed the impossible: keeping a secret show at their school by one of the biggest bands in the world off Twitter.

As part of PBS’ Live from the Artists Den, which transforms non-traditional spaces into temporary venues, French pop stars Phoenix swooped into the Anderson gymnasium in between weekends of ACL Fest. A week before the performance, students were told that anyone with a perfect attendance record for September would be eligible to attend a concert of a not-yet-named group.

Now, if that had been my high school in Huntsville, it probably would’ve been Kooter Robinson performing a standalone DJ set of Top 40 country songs. Lucky for Anderson, the band had a soft spot for younger crowds.

“There’s a story behind each of these pairings,” says Artists Den founder and CEO Mark Lieberman. “We were originally going to film them in Paris because we thought there would be a lot of meaning in filming them in their hometown.

“Then, when we started to brainstorm their Artists Den, they said, ‘Look, the thing that’s most meaningful to us right now is that we play mostly 21 plus venues. We started playing music as high schoolers, and we want to go and play for the students at a high school.’”

So Lieberman’s team followed Phoenix’s explicit direction: “Find us a high school.” After considering several locations, he told the band that Anderson was a clear choice.

“The school just had this incredible passion for the arts and music – right up to the headmaster,” enthuses Lieberman. “They knew the program. They knew how special this could be.”

That passion might have been tested when Artists Den shut down half the school for 24 hours to build a stage and bring in the same light rig Phoenix uses for stadium shows, taking over the gymnasium used for basketball and volleyball games. This was on top of corralling gabby teens not to let word of the secret show slip out before the day of filming.

“Had [Anderson] not been excited about it, it would’ve been almost impossible to do this show,” adds Lieberman. “They put in Herculean efforts to make this happen.”

The band wasn’t revealed until that day, even though a soundcheck may have prematurely given away Phoenix’s identity. Lines started to form outside the building in an atmosphere that Lieberman describes as “buzzing.” With a mega-watt light show and cheerleaders dotting the front row, Phoenix wowed the 1,000 attendees.

“It’s hard to do something cool in Austin that hasn’t been done before,” acknowledges the CEO. “We really got excited about the trip because of the alchemy in putting a band like Phoenix in front of an audience of high schoolers who were excited about it.

“It was a very special concert at a very special place,” Lieberman says.

Live from the Artists Den, launching its seventh season on PBS, celebrates its 50th episode early next year. The Phoenix episode airs in early February, but here’s a teaser in the meantime.

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Phoenix, Live from the Artists Den, Anderson High School, Mark Lieberman, Kooter Robinson

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