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A McDowell Mountain

Music Festival Wishlist

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The Headliners Have Been Announced For The Next MMMF, But Even More Important Will Be The Picks That Will Bring Phoenix Metro Flair — The Local Stage Acts


By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

Dec. 28, 2013 — There are 11 slots on the McDowell Mountain Music Festival local stage, and seeing as how the main stage slots have been filled they are the last spots open at the festival. With so many tremendous local bands to choose from, filling them cannot be easy, so I’ve decided to provide a little help.

I have no idea who the organizers may be considering, so this is 100-percent pure personal hopes and dreams for the McDowell Mountain local stage.

First and foremost, downtown’s own The Haymarket Squares seemingly must be on the local stage. In the past year, the all-strings four-piece became a five-piece by adding drummer Aaron Hjalmarson. The result was that their bold tunes became even buffer. Besides, the Squares’ practice space is walking distance from the venue. They’ve played, rocked, and probably packed every venue within a stone’s throw (and probably a light-rail ride) away, and their music is great.

Having bands like The Yonder Mountain String Band on the main stage and Jared and the MIll on the local stage last year just screams to me that this is a Haymarket Squares kind of festival. Add in Dwight Yoakam’s appearance this year, and the Squares’ brand of fun, punkish, bluegrassy, countryish punk-grass seems to be a shoo-in for the upcoming festival.

Besides who doesn’t love dancing and singing along to “Let’s Get Fucked Up?”

In my eyes, another shoo-in band should be the blues/rock four-piece with the spirit of jazz — Sister Lip. Ariel Monet, Cassidy Hilgers, Jenny Rebecca, and Cheri French seem to be willing to play any show, anywhere, and regardless of where they end up playing, they give their all. They rocked the state fair in between school choirs, they were one of the highlights of Apache Lake Music Festival’s indoor and acoustic stages, they are preparing to play a traveling authors’ book tour in March, and they have the fan following to show for it all.

On the day before Christmas, Sister Lip packed their residency at Long Wongs even though they are seven months into that running gig. With a following like that, attention must be paid to them by the biggest events in town. The only thing missing from their pedigree, which includes an international tour, multiple festival appearances, and the admiration of some of the Valley’s biggest bands, is that elusive first album.

But not having an album should not preclude these rockin’ young ladies from taking their rightful spot on the festival lineup.

The Black Bottom Lighters also feel like a no-brainer for McDowell Mountain Music Festival. BBL has been steadily growing over the past two years, and even found themselves on the invite list for a major multi-genre festival in Jacksonville, Fla., as well as Scottsdale’s True Music Festival, and a slot at the upcoming March 15 reggae fest at Tempe Beach Park with Rebelution.

With reggae chops like that, putting them on the local stage on the same day as Slightly Stoopid seems imminent.

Another band that truly feels like a must is last year’s local stage closer, Future Loves Past. Apparently their highlight set on the Last Exit Local stage last year was not enough for a 2014 main stage invite. Nevertheless, a band that performs that well and experiences this much growth in the course of a year definitely deserves to be in on the biggest show of the year.

Phoenix AfroBeat Orchestra would also be a fun band to join the local stage lineup at MMMF. As MMMF clearly takes influence from Bonnaroo and other jam festivals, and Afro Beat has been such a big part of jam festivals, the band would bring a fun eclectic sound to the fest that no other local band really could. Getting all 14 of those musicians can sometimes pose a challenge, though.

In the same vein as PAO, Wooden Indian seems like a band that should probably receive heavy consideration for a local stage slot at MMMF. Though they may not be a traditional Grateful Dead-style jam band, they have certainly honed their own sound — hybrid experimental, progressive, and psychedelic. Also, their hopes of releasing an album right around March might mesh well with a big show.

On the subject of album releases, Captain Squeegee had a pretty big and well-received release recently. The atomic jazz fusion act with the notoriously mad (in the crazy, good way) lead singer/trumpeter Danny Torgersen are exactly the sort of high energy band that MMMF should be looking for to fill their local stage.

Their label mate, Fairy Bones, is another local act that seems primed to be a part of a show like this. The progressive synth-pop four piece has been refining their sound all year and in late November released The Fairy Bones EP, one of the most universally well-received local albums of 2013. It seems like everyone can dig on Fairy Bones’ very-danceable tunes, and so obviously they should be offered to a wider audience.

The Hourglass Cats are another reggae-style act that seems to have paid a lot of local-music dues and deserve a chance on the bigger stage. Their CD release party in May was a complete success, and the emergence of Jason Sessler as their permanent bass player along with saxophone player Chaz Fertal and their electric frontman Cori Rios has lead to a much more mature sound for the desert-reggae dynamos.

Tempe-based full-band hip hop act The Stakes would be another great pick for McDowell Mountain after the festival embraced hip-hop by having The Roots headline last year. Following up this year by having Zalamar Zee Dubb and his crew pay the local stage would be a classy move, and a move in the vein of broadening MMMF’s musical horizons.

The last band, which I saved for last because of my personal connection to them (I help them with public relations), is Small Leaks Sink Ships. Despite this connection — and only wearing my journalist's hat — the Tempe-based math-rock quintet has paid their dues and deserve the biggest shows. They will be promoting a new album, which is certainly one of the most heavily-anticipated local albums of the upcoming year. And, besides the Warped Tour nearly six years ago, they are always neglected when festival season comes around.

Last year’s local stage reached out to Flagstaff with reggae group The Wiley One. This year The Wiley One will perform on the main stage. So in keeping with making this an Arizona festival and not just a Phoenix festival folk band The Invincible Grins would fit like a glove on the local stage. The Verde Valley-based seven piece has not played the Valley of the Sun much. But their sound is a fun and vibrant celebration of the very culture in which MMMF is rooted — the jammy, folk culture of years long past.

So that is my opinion and I am sure there are many people and many bands who might disagree. It is not exactly easy to select only 11 bands in the Phoenix metro.

Soon, the MMMF folks will do it, and we’ll see how our picks match up.

Jeff Moses a senior contributor at Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at
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