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Critics Wrongly Lament

2014 MMMF Lineup

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Image of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite new album.

One Year After McDowell Mountain Music Festival Blew The Lid Off Of Margaret T. Hance Park, The Festival Prepares For Round Two In Downtown Phoenix By Releasing A Lineup That Is Solid, Balanced And Not Based On Name Recognition Alone


By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

Dec. 18, 2013 — Could it be more than a coincidence that Phoenix’s home grown Bonnaroo, McDowell Mountain Music Festival, released its lineup three days after the Phoenix metro witnessed the birth of its very own Coachella?

Probably, but the coincidence serves to remind how far the region’s festival representation has come in a few years.

It is highly doubtful that the two events are related. But regardless of whether MMMF was influenced by the maiden voyage of True Music Festival, the groans that have popped up throughout the Phoenix metro concerning the lineup is unwarranted.

While some in the Phoenix music community are dissatisfied with the 2014 roster, their dissatisfaction seems to be based on an aberration of last year’s triumph. In 2013, the line-up featured headliners The Roots, The Shins, and Umphrey’s McGee and the mid-card featured Les Claypool, Yonder Mountain String Band, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros and a few other high profile acts. It was a one-year explosion of big name talent.

In 2012, the festival had Ozomatli, Galactic, Anders Osborne, Trevor Hall, and the Dark Star Orchestra among the acts that acted as their main draw. But that was when the fest was still held in the parking lot of The Compound restaurant. Perhaps the 2013 boom in talent was a direct result of the festival’s move Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix.

But quite honestly, the line up for 2014 is not looking all that bad for a mid-level jam band festival. First and foremost there are three amazing headliners playing from March 28 through March 30 in Sound Tribe Sector 9, The Disco Biscuits, and Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite.

STS9 are a five piece instrumental post-rock group that besides being capable of five-hour, late-night sets at Bonnaroo, have also headlined festivals such as Summer Camp Music Festival, and All Good Music Festival, as well as making appearances at approximately two dozen others. Their groovy electronic sound is only rivaled by their out of this world laser show. Both of which rank up there with 2013 headliner Umphrey's McGee.

Pennsylvania's The Disco Biscuits are a four-piece jam outfit that puts on such a good show that they started their own festival, Camp Bisco. Held since 1999, Camp Bisco has become a premier jam and electronic festival, and for their 2013 outing they were able to attract Bassnectar, Umphrey's McGee, and Passion Pit among other national-level talent. The Disco Biscuits headlined, of course.

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite are an awesome pairing, too. Harper is more famous for the younger audience but they should know about Charlie Musselwhite, a multi instrumentalist known for his blues harmonica. Even though their combined names  lack the mass appeal of The Roots, The Shins, and Umphrey's McGee, their musical pedigree is right on par with that of any festival headliner. Harper is a jam-band festival regular, while Musselwhite is a member of the Blues Hall of Fame. The pair’s 2013 album Get Up was even played in the White House for Barry and Shelly.

As for the rest of the lineup, Friday’s mid card looks downright amazing with Pretty Lights protege Gramatik, jam band Lettuce, and locals Sara Robinson and The Midnight Special and decker. All will be playing the mainstage. The local stage lineup has yet to be announced, but day one has a great mix of national and local level talent.
Saturday's midcard might actually be even bigger than Friday’s with festival vets Slightly Stoopid taking the stage just before The Disco Biscuits. Just for comparison, last year Iration played that same spot. The last time Iration came through Phoenix they played the Marquee Theater while Slightly Stoopid played Mesa Amphitheater.

Also appearing Saturday will be a reunited Dispatch. For some perspective on them, they once headlined the largest independent concert ever when 166,000 people came from all over the world to Boston to catch Dispatch’s farewell show. Luckily for us int he Phoenix metro, it was not a permanent farewell.

The last two national acts on Saturday’s slate are Allen Stone and Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers. Stone played 2013’s Bonnaroo Music Festival, and Bluhm has guest performed with Chris Robinson, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Warren Haynes among others. If they are good enough for those jam band experts they are good enough for McDowell Mountain Music Festival. Jared and The Mill will be the only local on the main stage on Saturday.

On the midcard for Sunday, MMMF has recruited country singer Dwight Yoakam. While Yoakam’s music may not be the hip new thing he is still a Bonnaroo veteran who Johnny Cash once called his favorite country singer. He was also good in Sling Blade. Also playing Sunday will be jam-band festival veteran, G. Love.

Donna The Buffalo is another jam-style band that employs a variety of sounds to come up with something very pleasant. They are also founders of the Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival of Music and dance which has attracted notable headliners such as Michael Franti and Spearhead, Los Lobos, The Avett Brothers, Toots and the Maytals, and 10,000 Maniacs among many others.

The last national act the West Water Outlaws are just a straight forward rock and roll act, and joining them on the main stage will be Flagstaff based The Wiley One who played last years local stage.

McDowell Mountain Music Festival website -

So perhaps McDowell Mountain Music Festival does not have a lineup full of band with hits that are currently charting, but that is because it is not an event that is supposed to fulfill that role. Last year was an explosion of mainstream talent that welcomd the festival into downtown Phoenix, but even last year’s line up had its share of jam-band staples like the JGB Band, or The Heartless Bastards. But this year has definitely taken it back to MMMF’s jammy roots.

MMMF is still king.

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