Cathy Rivers has worked with community radio for 10 years. Soon, she will be involved with music in a different format.
In June, Rivers starts her job as the Rialto’s executive director, taking over for Curtis McCrary, who worked at the theater for 16 years.
Along with serving as executive director since 2015, Rivers worked as a program director and DJ for KXCI. Rivers says she’s ready to move on, but she wanted to be sure that KXCI was in a good place.
“It was the perfect time for me to leave KXCI, as the staff and board of directors are really rock-solid right now,” Rivers says. “They are ready to move on without me. We had to learn to go from live broadcasting to remote broadcasting. Once we learned how to pivot like that and keep KXCI doing really well, it made it feel fine to now move on.”
Rivers is passionate about animals, the arts and music, so she wanted her next job to be in one of these sectors. She says the Rialto was a good fit for her background and interests.
“When the opportunity presented itself, it just seemed perfect,” Rivers says.
With her new job, she will help reopen and bring music back to the Rialto stage. She says like her, audiences are ready for live music again.
“I think once we get to a safe place in our community, people are going to be so excited to get out and experience art and music together,” Rivers says.
She says that reopening the Rialto will be a collaborative effort.
“There’s a great team just waiting to get back to the Rialto Theatre. The success of the year before COVID is owed to them, and they’ll come back. I’ll be overseeing all of that, but we will have managers in their departments and talents.”
Right now, the Rialto is focused on “The Rialto Theatre Gallery Project,” an introspective show featuring posters and photos from past events. The show is open to limited-capacity audiences.
As executive director, Rivers will work with the Rialto’s various departments on programs like educational programming, foundational development and local and national grant funding.
“The Rialto had a stellar year before COVID, with great music and great staff supporting the theater. So, now my job will be to round out the foundation,” Rivers says.
She knows there will be financial challenges because of COVID-19, but she is ready to address them.
Arts opportunities were integral to Rivers’ education. She says it is important for youth to form bands, learn to run sound, share ideas and collaborate in other ways.
“I was fortunate enough growing up that I had a lot offered to me in my public school system, which is why my résumé looks the way it does,” Rivers says. “I think the Rialto can offer those opportunities to those young people as well that may not have the ability to get trained. If you don’t a music class, and you pick up a guitar for the first time and decide to play electric guitar, it is much easier now. But then you really lose that community element of being in class with other students.”
Rivers is looking forward to forming relationships with other Downtown organizations and businesses.
“Some of the excitement is getting to know the new neighbors that are in and around the Rialto and will be coming to Downtown and being able to work with them and partner with them,” Rivers says.
"KXCI is a little more of its own island because we fully own our own building. We do our thing. It’s a very different organization. KXCI is radio public. The Rialto will be a lot more in-person public, working with neighbors in the area to help expand and grow Tucson.”
Rivers brings to her new position a wealth of experience in the entertainment industry. For 25 years, Rivers worked in radio, TV and music, doing voiceover work; booking talent for Plush locations in Tucson and St. Louis; releasing two albums and one EP as a singer/songwriter and serving as a day manager for the bands Cracker and the North Mississippi Allstars.
She was one of the original board members for the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson, which was founded by artist friends of hers.
She has also been on boards for the Reveille Men’s Chorus and the Arizona Broadcasters Association.
Hailing from Ohio, Rivers loved theater since she was a youngster. Her parents supported her passion for the arts and took her to the Cleveland Play House to see productions. She did theater throughout high school and then went to college for drama and voice.
Rivers also played guitar and, in high school, performed with a cover band, where she would sing songs by Kiss, Stevie Nicks and Pat Benatar. She doesn’t have much time to perform live, but music will always be important to her.
“Music is always on in the house, and I’m always a part of it, one way or another,” Rivers says.
After moving to Tucson, she had her start in radio. She was told she had a voice for radio and her first opportunity came during a voiceover job for a Fourth Avenue thrift store ad. This led to a job with then-classic rock station 97.5.
“I helped [the production director] every day that I could, and eventually I started getting paid $4.25 an hour to do a couple of days a week,” Rivers says. “And then before I knew it, she was leaving, and I became the production director there. Then, I got my own show. Then, I became music director, and that was it.”
Rivers expects she can use those skills with the Rialto.
“I really feel that moving to the Rialto Theatre is going to allow all of my life experiences to come into play. Being a musician myself, having day managed bands and knowing what it is like to be on the road, knowing the end from a marketing and promotional standpoint, having a theater background, I think everything that has given me every wrinkle on my face is going to come into play with this career,” Rivers says.
Her knowledge of the Rialto is vast. Rivers lived in a studio apartment upstairs at the Rialto in the ’90s, shortly after moving to Tucson, and later married at the theater.
She has attended numerous shows at the theater, seeing artists such as Tom Jones, Snoop Dogg, Los Lobos, Natalia Lafourcade, Brandi Carlile, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Jake Shimabukuro.
“Everything I’ve seen there, I’ve really enjoyed,” Rivers says. “I, like the staff at the Rialto, like a real variety of music. So, I like being surprised, and there have been amazing shows at the Rialto.”
When she lived above the Rialto, it housed people in the arts and music scene.
“When I say studio, don’t think luxury loft. I’m talking really rundown rooms upstairs that didn’t even have commercial kitchens,” Rivers says. “If I remember correctly, we had a bucket sink in our kitchen. Each studio had a bathroom and a halfway kitchen. They were really meant for art/workspaces, not for live/workspaces, but we all lived up there anyway, and the landlord didn’t really pay attention.”
Rivers remembers how one tenant projected movies on the side of a Downtown building, and other renters gathered at their windows to watch on Friday nights.
Since that time, she has felt a close kinship with the Downtown area around the Rialto.
“I think that really sweet era led to my love for that theater and that whole corner of Congress,” Rivers says. “At one point, I also worked at Café Quebec. My living radius was Fourth Avenue, Hotel Congress, the Rialto Theatre and Café Quebec, other than the radio station. That was my community.”