Features July 10, 2023

The Mysterious Magic of 311

by Kyle Eustice

As 311 was driving from Omaha to Los Angeles with dreams of making it in the music business, they made a pit stop at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado. Standing in front of the historic venue, Nick Hexum, S.A. Martinez, Aaron “P-Nut” Wills, Chad Sexton and Tim Mahoney vowed to play there one day. More than 30 years later, not only have they performed at Red Rocks multiple times, they’ve also sold it out, a testament to the loyalty of the group’s diehard fanbase. On July 1, 311 took take the Red Rocks stage once again, this time joined by Arrested Development, J Boog and Matisyahu. 

Big Dreams. Bigger Stages.

“It’s an amazing venue,” Martinez tells BandWagon. “There are only a handful of those, but Red Rocks is a destination. It always makes for an event type of atmosphere. People fly in for that show because it’s so unique and so cool. It’s always been a part of the band’s lore. We said, ‘One day, we’re gonna play here.’ I had been to Red Rocks to see Neil Young in ’89. I remember driving that long stretch late at night and everyone was asleep. It was the first time I was driving to Colorado. I’ll never forget it.”

Martinez, who joined 311 in 1992, has played thousands of shows all over the world and released 13 studio albums with the group. Never did he imagine growing up in South Omaha he’d have the opportunity to share stages with the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, No Doubt, Green Day, Cypress Hill and Korn or set sail on the annual 311 cruise. As fate would have it, Arrested Development joined 311 on the cruise this year. Helmed by Todd “Speech” Thomas, the Afrocentric hip-hop group captivated Martinez in the early 1990s with songs such as “Tennessee” and “Mr. Wendel.”

311 x Arrested Development

“When we first moved out to California,’Tennessee’ was huge,” he remembers. “That was a very early memory. I remember going into one club on the strip, that song was playing and people were fucking going off. We crossed paths with them once in Japan, but I don’t think we really interacted with them. But they were just on the 311 cruise we did in March, so the camps kind of got to interact a bit and some of the wives spoke. I caught one of their sets on the boat and it was great. It’s just a testament to a great band making great music and staying true to their mission and to themselves.” 

It felt like a natural step to ask Arrested Development to join the Red Rocks bill, so they “made it happen.” In addition to playing shows again—which were put on hold in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic brought the concert industry to its proverbial knees—311 is just beginning to tinker with new music. Their latest album, Voyager, was released in 2019 and peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard 200. It was their first album not to debut in the Top 10, and Martinez wants to make sure the next project is their best. Otherwise, he says, “What’s the point?”

311: The Religion

“We’ve kind of dipped back into that recently, but it’s been a little bit of here, a little bit of there just because of the logistics of where everyone’s located these days,” he explains. “With Chad being in Arizona, he has to line it up to where he can come out for a chunk of time. We’ve really only had two sessions, and they’ve only been like maybe four to five days each, you know. We’re still in a very embryonic stage, but there’s been some demos kind of flushed, were flushed to a degree beforehand. So we had something to work with. After Red Rocks, we will go back at some point within that week or two and get back to doing that.” 

311 fans should be elated by the prospect of a new album. Much like Phish or the Grateful Dead disciples, 311 fans are fiercely loyal. In fact, it’s more like a community of family than anything else. But it still baffles Martinez. He’s not quite sure how or why 311 has become almost a religion to people. 

“I think it’s just the relationships that have been born in that bubble are just so impactful and meaningful to the fans,” he suggests. “One fan told me she went to a show just because she wanted to be within the confines of the community for an uplift. The base is tight knit in many ways, so I think that’s a big part of it. I also think it’s a bit of a mystery to me, but it’s incredible that something has been stitched together, held itself and continues to expand. We’re still gaining new fans. It’s a cool thing, but there’s something special about the community itself of 311 fans and how they hold one another up. I think that’s really the magic ingredient, but it’s still kind of mysterious.” 

Through Thick & Thin

Martinez is acutely aware of the Grateful Dead comparisons. “We’ve heard that comparison for years,” he says. The band’s longevity is on par with the Grateful Dead’s, too. Jerry Garcia fronted the band from 1965 until his death in 1995. 311 just crossed the 30-year mark since their debut album, 1993’s Music. While the Dead has carried on with John Mayer as Dead & Co., it will never be the same. As for 311, they’ve weathered all types of storms, but never called it quits—and a big part of it is due to their fans.

“It’s pretty incredible,” he says. “To have that continuity with a segment of your fans who are just with you through thick and thin is invaluable.” 

311 plays Red Rocks Amphitheater on July 1 with Arrested Development, Matisyahu and J Boog. Find more information on the Red Rocks website.