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The McDowell Mountain Music Festival Once Again Made A Super Tasty Arts And Cultural Burrito At Margaret T. Hance Park In Downtown Phoenix

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By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine

March 14, 2016 — In recent years it feels as though the label of “music festival” is thrown around as often as a frisbee at a music festival, which is a lot. The only problem with that is it can be hard to know what music festivals are truly worth a music lovers folding money and which ones are just cobbled together cash grabs. McDowell Mountain Music Festival (M3F), having just celebrated its 13th year at Hance Park in Phoenix, is one of the more popular festivals in Arizona, and it is definitely no cash grab.

Firstly, it should be noted that all of the proceeds from M3F go to benefit charities such as Phoenix Children’s Hospital, so it is sort of by definition not a cash grab. Even the bartenders working the festival over the weekend made it clear that whatever made it into their tip jars would be going to benefit this year's charities as well, and by the looks of the jars by the end of the night, drunk music fans love charity. Either that or they hate having leftover cash.

On a worldwide scale, The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is widely viewed as the cream of the crop in terms of music festivals. So, using that as a basis for comparison it is pretty safe to say that M3F has done a fine job of living up to its billing as “Arizona’s musical and cultural destination.” Any of the weekend's headliners like Beck, Kid Cudi and The Avett Brothers would all be welcome headliners (and have been) for such larger festivals, so it would be hard to argue that the festival organizers can’t draw top-notch talent.

Now, as for how the talent delivers on the promise of their name, that is a completely different thing altogether. Even though it is largely out of the hands of anyone planning the festival, it is a make or break sort of thing. We are talking about a music festival, after all. There is little to no cause for concern though, as anyone in attendance at M3F would very likely tell you that solid performances were in such abundance that it became more of a problem of convenience when having to choose how to spend one's time. The struggle was real for many, but that is really a good thing given the situation.

From Beck, who headlined Friday night and probably drew the largest crowd the entire weekend, who made everyone who wasn't there feel like a “Loser,” to Gary Clark Jr. who helped put a nice bow on things Sunday night before The Avett Brothers took the stage, when he showed a whole crowd full of 20-somethings that his boots were most definitely made for shredding on a Gibson SG, and not so much for walking, there were very few mumblings of discontentment from anyone in attendance.

M3F was a lot more than just big names though, as all three stages showcased a healthy sampling of local talent throughout the entire weekend ranging from Phoenix favorite Fairy Bones to gypsy punks The Haymarket Squares and a little of everything in between. It is very common for a concert of any size to have a local act or two warm up the crowd, but the way in which local flavor is blended into the arts and culture burrito that is McDowell Mountain Music Festival makes the event even more inclusive. Attendees seemed to really respond to it.

Another thing that M3F definitely got right was the second stage. All too often at large events that are billed as music festivals, the second stage is just some poorly cobbled together, slightly elevated mess that only resembles a stage and sounds even less like one. However, many people would probably tell you they had some of their better moments of the weekend at the second stage. For example, there was a very intimate moment when St. Lucia frontman Jean-Philip Grobler jumped into the crowd during “Love Somebody” in order to demonstrate why he loved his new wireless microphone, and possibly to provide a master class in making girls (and some guys) swoon. Mind you, this was less than 30 minutes prior to Kid Kudi’s set on the main stage and it was a very full and very engaged crowd. They were not simply killing time while waiting for the bigger and better thing to happen.


That is not to say that Kudi did not have a great set, because judging by the size and response of the crowd Saturday night, he absolutely did. It didn’t seem to matter that Viva Phoenix was happening at the same exact time. The fact that both festivals were taking place at the same time was definitely a scheduling oversight on someone's part, but ultimately the two massive beasts seemed to stay out of one another's way just enough for it not to be problematic. Though, many patrons voiced outward conflict about wanting to be in two places at once.


Certain festivals will require attendees to purchase a pass that grants them access to every day of the event, and others will allow for single day tickets to be sold. M3F falls into the latter category. The only issue with this strategy in some cases is that each day of the festival will feel very disconnected from the others in terms of lineup and overall feel. One day might be a Norwegian metal heads dream and the next geared more toward roots influenced folk rock. Not to say one can’t enjoy both, but the odds aren’t excellent that full-event ticketholders are going to love every second of every day if it is that disjointed.

M3F definitely had a fairly definitive vibe for each day, with Friday being more of a well rounded alternative take, Saturday more of a hip hop and DJ’s with laptops kind of day and Sunday featured a lot more modern indie folk and woodwind instruments. However, the artists were either selected by design or by happy accident in a scintillating manner. The result was an event slightly disjointed but not jarring or downright frustrating.

There are two very crucial parts of a music festival that must be taken care of in order for it to be successful. One is obviously the music which, as the evidence would seem to dictate, was well taken care of. Then there is the matter of the festival itself. Food, water, bathrooms, shade, merch booths, seating and booze accommodations all play a role in how good or bad an event like M3F can be. The best music festival in the world could be ruined by a beer shortage or a lack of vegan meal options. Again, fortunately for M3F, none of these seemed to be a real issue.

Port-A-Potties were aplenty, an alcoholic beverage was never terribly far away, shade was plentiful, vendors were abundant and there was plenty of food to choose from. Granted, the food was not exactly what one would call cheap, but that is to be expected at an event such as this and there were very affordable options, as well as exotic ones such as deep fried shark. An event of this size is never going to manage perfection, but it helps to not have a tremendous oversight. One truly helpful thing that M3F managed was to make sure people had access to free water, as opposed to something like Vans Warped Tour where it is a $4 to $5 per bottle type of deal in the middle of summer.

There may be bigger festivals in the country, or even in the state of Arizona for that matter. There may be things for people to nit pick and M3F is certainly not perfect. However, it is a true to form music festival that exists only because the people at hand seem to truly love music and do their best to bring a solid lineup to Arizona year after year.

Better yet, the organizers do it not to line their pockets, but to benefit those who need it by entertaining fellow music lovers.

The only real question is will Kendrick Lamar be free next year?
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