McDowell Mountain Music Festival 2016: A weekend of music, charity, and good vibes.
Phoenix is renowned as the diamond of the desert, and the McDowell Mountain Music Festival (MMMF) is the diamond within. Music, setting, people, and atmosphere all combine for the deemed “festival experience,” but when does purpose play a larger role than any above? Sure, we pay for concert and festival tickets. In fact, we willingly pay for TONS of festival and concert tickets- we’re happy to pay for them, we rush to buy them, and we’re delighted once we’ve done so. But have we ever thought of where all that money goes? Sure we have. We’ve put a lot of thought into it, and, frankly, we’d rather watch Gary Clark Jr. rip a blues-guitar solo before we shed any more light on it. But what if that money goes towards something good? A good cause, ah yes, that’s even MORE delightful… But what about a great cause? A cause that supports sick children, homeless families, unwedded mothers, and, moreover, the surrounding community. That, my good friends, is a calling. The same calling the McDowell Mountain Music Festival has answered for 13 consecutive years. And here’s what makes the MMMF more than just a charity event:
The day kicked off bright and early on Friday afternoon; the sun was shining, downtown Phoenix buzzing, and crowds making their way to the open gates. You’re right, Friday night promised an indie pop phenomenon like none other with Beck playing after Animal Collective, but the first acts prepped the main stage with such swag. Yup, all the local and national bands that day knew Beck was about to grace the stage, and they kept their end of the promise with a little extra to take home. Switching from main stage to a miniature, toned-down version for a second stage, patrons tracked through vendor marketplaces and sponsor booths to catch newer and lesser-known second stage acts while grabbing a drink on the way.
The sun sets on Friday, Animal Collective weaves through key change after key change, weird noise after weird noise, and drum beat after drum beat.
“The hell is this?” A festival-goer says to another, “Duuude, I don’t know,” says his buddy, “but it sounds amaaaazing!”
Amazing? Oh yea, real amazing. Weird? You know it! The perfect opener to a killer Beck set? Perfect.
Of all the live greatest hits albums ever created, they stand in the shadow of Beck’s Friday night set. Why, you ask? Because Beck created the best greatest hits set known to mankind, of course. No joke. Kicking off with “Devil’s Haircut” and ending with a drawn-out version of “Where It’s At”, Beck didn’t leave a single major hit out of the catalog (yea, that includes the rocket-ship-to-stardom-of-a-hit “Loser”).
Thoughts racing through one’s mind amidst Beck’s set: Is this a rap concert? But those dance moves. Is he the incarnation of David Bowie? And he solos? Really, they jam to “Billy Jean” just to introduce the drummer? Ahhhh, those dance moves. WHO IS THIS GUY??
It all happened, it was real, and, most importantly, it was truly amazing. It was a greatest hits set, and the greatest of them all. Enough said.
We saw a similar blended mix of performers as in years past. Local acts open the main stage, GRiZ, Bloc Party, and Porter Robinson mesh before Kid Cudi’s closing set. And on everyone’s mind the minds of true Cudi fans, is ‘what will he play?’ New, old, a mix of both? And yes, it was a mix that leaned heavily on the old tracks that we all know as the “True Kid Cudi”. “Pursuit of Happiness”, “Day ‘N’ Nite”, “Soundtrack 2 My Life”- yep, he played ‘em all with a smile on his face to total amaze. Not to say fans and media alike were a bit skeptical as to what Cudi will show up, it’s safe to say Cudi showed up- the man in his entirety. Even the punk Cudi showed up, but not too much, and that made for a fantastic Saturday main stage.
Late night shows on Saturday proved to be funk-tastic with a nice serving of dance. Goldfish, an electro-dance duo from South Africa showed us how they get down in all those European clubs you’ve heard about in Europe but never actually seen. Yeaaa, they’re the real deal as some might say. M!NT and GRiZ added some extra funky dance, and the night closed at around 2 in the morning.
Sunday is jam-day, and jam-day started early with a bang from two local acts, one including the 16 year-old blues-guitar prodigy, Gus Campbell. Did organizers purposely slot Gus the same day as Gary Clark Jr.? It would appear so. But before jumping to conclusions, organizers took us through an array of indie-folk groups that cooled temptations to jump ahead. Kaleo, a band from Iceland, brought down the house with soulful, raspy vocals and finger-picking ragtime guitars accompanied with booming bass and drums. You may not of heard of Kaleo or Bird Dog quite yet (and, rest assured, you will hear of them one day), but the band of scallywags that is The Oh Hellos is one you’ve probably heard of before. The perfect group to bridge indie-folk to the smooth, subtle, and oh so very soulful sounds of Gary Clark Jr.? Check
Gary’s Sunday evening set was oftentimes comparable to Beck’s: hit-centric, lively environment, and not light on showmanship. The sun was setting throughout the entire set, and it was by far the quintessential definition of an Arizona sunset (hint- if you’ve never seen one, it’s highly recommended for mental, emotional, and physical well-being). Backdrop in place, Gary ripped through his most renowned tunes by starting with a slow, bluesy, greasy, and oh-so-dirty version of “Bright Lights”. Weaving from recent numbers around old favorites, Gary was in full form. And the solos, ahhh the solos! My heart yearns while writing this! But the night continued onward, as much as we wanted to hear more, and The Avett Brothers closed out an eventful festival with a pounding and energetic beast of a set.
Sure, some may say The Avett Brothers are on the softer side of bluegrass. But what you don’t know is their newest live arrangement including all your favorites (banjo, acoustic guitar, cello, and bass) with newer and very much improved additions including drums, keys, and a fiddle. Yea, that’s what they call a bluegrass orchestra. And yea, that’s exactly what they were. Boasting and very much promoting a soon-to-be-announced new album (psst, they announced it the following morning), The Avett Brothers were in full campaign mode to wow a crowd with a new look. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen The Avett Brothers, and I’m definitely not saying their old roster was sleepy by any means, but their new band is something you’ve never seen before. If you call yourself an Avett Bros fan, and even if you don’t, go see them. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.
And thus marks the end of a very successful, very exciting, and extremely joyous weekend in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. How a company can get together and create such an ecstatic event that supports local youth charities is beyond comprehension. It’s all about the music when it’s on the stage, it’s all about the community when you are with fellow festival-goers, and it sure feels good and tastes a lot better to drink a beer or mixed drink when you know it goes to a good cause. Bravo!
Written by FestPop Staff Writer
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