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Perhaps The Best Music Festival In The Phoenix Metro, McDowell Mountain Music Festival Has More Competition Than Ever In 2014, But Organizers Remain Unfazed As They Prepare Their Twelfth Annual Jam Band Fest  

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By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 20, 2014 — McDowell Mountain Music Festival has consistently grown over their dozen years of existence from a small twangy jamfest out at the Compound to the nearly national-level festival that now takes place at downtown Phoenix’s Margaret T. Hance Park. In the last two years, the festival welcomed in headliners The Roots, The Shins, Umphrey’s McGee, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, The Disco Biscuits, and STS9, and are planning on more of the same in 2015.

Part of the reason behind the festival’s growth are the satellite events they have begun around the Phoenix metro, including last month’s Yardstock Music Festival in Phoenix at Montebello Avenue and Seventh Street, featuring last year’s local-stage standouts The Hourglass Cats, and Black Bottom Lighters. Also performing was Carvin Jones, Gus Campbell, and Bryan Hawkesworth and Sidney Collins.

Also coming up will be the official McDowell Mountain Music Festival lineup announcement at Copper Blues, 50 W. Jefferson St., which will feature a performance by The Senators and The Haymarket Squares on Dec. 13. Snake! Snake! Snake! Snakes! at The Rogue Bar, 423 W. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, on Jan. 7, and Manic Panic, and The Floozies at Last Exit Live, 717 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, on Feb. 3.

“The city of Phoenix really needs sustenance and it needs arts and culture. I've lived here my entire life and Phoenix has zero presence on the national music scene,” said MMMF Public Relations Director Nate Largay. “Salt River Fields was a serious contender when we were in the process of relocating, but then we seriously thought about downtown as a place that really needed it.”

The festival didn’t just shift locations when it moved from the sticks into the heart of downtown Phoenix, they also changed months. When the fest was out in the periphery of the Phoenix metro, it took place in April, but upon its move to Hance Park they began doing it in March, and have now settled on the last weekend of March as fest time. They obviously picked a good time of year because one year after their first Fest in March Viva Phoenix sprouted up in the first week of March. Now, in their third year in hosting their fest in late winter / early spring Viva has moved dates to be the second week of March, Pot of Gold Music Festival sprung up that same weekend at Tempe Beach Park, and even True Music Festival has decided to forgo a 2014 offering to have their second go round in February at Hance Park.

But McDowell is unfazed by all these festivals moving in on their turf, “if True Music Festival is in February then I definitely do not see them as a threat to our draw. I didn’t get to go last year but judging by the lineup it was pretty different than the experience we are trying to create,” said Largay.

As for his feelings on Pot of Gold coming up just two weeks before McDowell, “I wouldn't want to turn it into a competition. But I think they (Luckyman Shows) does want it to be a competition,” he said. But adding that he feels that MMMF is “completely different from what LaPenna (Tom LaPenna) is trying to do.:

“Tom (LaPenna) is a smart guy but he is a also a dummy. Because lets be real the guy has built an empire, he owns the biggest venue in Salt Lake City, and  you’ll never be able to beat Tom. But Pot of Gold Music Festival doesn’t bring the feel and the vibe of a festival. Is it really a true festival feeling? It’s more of a big show. I’ve been going to his shows for a long time, it undeniable that the guy knows music and has good connections. But we try to bring the festival experience to people who don’t know it,” said Largay.”We want to bring acts that really rounds out a day of music. We want to give a three day festival that every day is different but when people buy presale tickets  they buy three day tickets because everything is cohesive.”

Largay was much less candid when asked about the upcoming festivals headliners saying only, “they’re good, they’re not completely done yet though. The lineup will be released in December.” But also hinting “We’ve been thinking about going more  into rap.” So without further ado here is my predictions / wishes for the MMMF mainstage in 2014.

Pretty Lights - Pretty Lights newest album A Color Map of the Sun is an absolute masterpiece and worked on heavily by members of Lettuce who rocked McDowell Mountain last year. Gramatik also played a set at MMMF 2014 and he is part of Pretty Light Music. Pretty is an electronic jam band all to himself, and his light show is head and shoulders above anyone else currently making music on the planet Earth. His hip-hop and funk heavy samples would provide the rap music leanings that Largay said MMMF may be looking for. He has played at, and headlined just about every other festival in the country, and would be the perfect artist for MMMF to book to bring the fest to the proverbial next level. Plus, Pretty Lights hasn’t come through Phoenix since Sept. 2012, what better time to bring him back?

Explosions in the Sky - Explosions in the Sky are festival veterans with a lot of cache behind their name. They are a little more mainstream friendly than other post rock acts like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, another band that would kill at MMMF, but have not been to Phoenix since opening for Nine Inch Nails last year. EITS are definitely a headliner worthy band and their atmospheric sounds are definitely the sort of thing that jam band fans should have fun getting lost in. Their sound is absolutely monstrous and adds a certain amount of epicness to just about anything. This is a band that can make doing the dishes feel life changing, adding them to MMMF would be a universe shifting experience.

Beats Antique - Balkan Beat Box played a tremendous set at MMMF 2013 on Friday evening before Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s went on, they had a huge crowd of festival attendees up and dancing. Last year did not have a single band with a sound close to theirs, so lets bring back some worldly dance tunes with Beats Antique in 2015. They’re sets are long and entrancing, and though some of the instruments may be different than the traditional jam bands, the idea is the same. To create an infectious groove and then layer cool sounds over it to get the people up and dancing. They would make for a great mainstage band at any point in the day. Their music would lend itself nicely to hot mid day set, or a cool evening closing one.

Gogol Bordello - Not often does one consider punk for a jam band festival, but these Bonnaroo veterans happen to be very unique punks. The very worldly sounds of Gypsy Punks Gogol Bordello would be quite a shift away from just about every other national level band that MMMF has ever brought in, except perhaps Balkan Beat Box, but it would be right in line with a certain local headliner who has played McDowell on more than one occasion, the Dry River Yacht Club. Eugene Hutz is an absolute madman of a lead singer and with his seven cohorts is known to get the party going, if you will. At the ten year anniversary of Bonnaroo they let Hutz host “The Other Tent” for an entire day, and I say MMMF should do the same. Let the eccentric Hutz carry the show into oddball land all day, and then “start wearing purple” in the evening.

Big Boi- Having OutKast come through MMMF might be asking a little bit much of this regional festival, but having one half of the influential rap duo come through and headline seems completely possible. Big Boi’s latest two solo album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors and Sir Lucious Left Foot … The Son Of Chico Dusty offer a heavy dose of funk, and they happen to be terrific. Big Boi’s  completely dance worthy style of hip-hop would fit right in at McDowell, and if he brought the live band with him would really make for a stand out performance that McDowell has only really seen in The Roots in the past. If expansion into hip-hop is something McDowell Mountain Music Festival is interested in Sir Lucious Left Foot would be a great way to keep that post Roots ball rolling.

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