McDowell Mountain Music Festival returned for its 13th year, of course 13 tends to bring some semblance of magik as a number, unless you suffer from triskaidekaphobia. Having gone to the last several MMMF's I knew what I was in for.
The park, the people, the food, and ultimately lounging in a field basking in the cacophony of rhythms that I'd rather rest too, than groove with.
This year was something completely different; there really is no other way to say it than, McDowell stepped up their game, and in a big way. Each day had careful attention from festival organizers, crafting a unique blend of styles and genres in hopes of fulfilling the desires of as many as possible. With larger international festivals this can be an approach which builds numerous set conflicts, within the lovely home of Margret T Hence Park in Phoenix the small fest has learned to use their size and limitations to their advantage.
Customarily traveling to a festival is often associated with long rides, or long flights to far off lands. Sleeping in beds and on couches that are foreign to say the least, and come custom with their own distinct funk. In the last several years Phoenix has become an epicenter for musical excursions, hell even our waterparks get in on the fun with their EDM nights. Finally, living on the surface of the sun has begun to pay off, and with it comes a sense of luxury and comfort I have never fully known in these situations. With in and out access permitted at this year’s MMMF and a comfy home not to far from the park, this was a personal match made in heaven.
Arriving just in time to see the end of Slow Magic, it was incredible to think of (insert name) masked in the Phoenix sun sending the small handful of crazed fans into a frenzy. Unfortunately Slow Magic’s sound is more suited for a nighttime setting, or at the very least a darkened club; as this was an early afternoon set, mixed with it being the first day, and a warm one at that, and its no wonder there was only a small handful of fans daring enough to get out and dance. Fortunately Robert DeLong’s street team seemed to lighten spirits by running around and painting everyone up.
Robert Delong is equal parts chaotic producer and ecologist. His electronic rhythms are crafted with the use of refurbished and reconfigured video game controllers; spanning from what looked like an old Atari joystick to the more modern Wii Remote. Of course this both a testament to his theatrics as well as creating some Frankenstein functionality, he still manages to bounce around between his traditional instruments, looping together a full sound that could trick anyone into believing there’s an actual ensemble behind him. Much like his predecessors and touring mates, Slow Magic, Mr. DeLong is better suited for the darker environments. His high intensity sets are diminished by the power of the sun above, but this didn’t seem to detour him one bit, as he bounced around the stage in a manner that would potentially give Mr. Greg Gillis of Girl Talk a run for his money...on second thought that’s impossible Mr. Gillis is unmatched, but Robert definitely knows how to mix and dance all at once.
STRFKR battled through the complications and manage to provide a solid show. They had trouble committing to the performance, often letting the downfalls of their sound difficulties get the better of them; ultimately they let go of the anxiety and began to let loose, proving that doing the best you can is the most you can ever ask of yourself and providing a much appreciated transition from “oh shit,” to <insert Matthew Mcconaughey voice,> “alright, alright, alllllriiighhht”. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4bg4Q63kJQ)
Portugal. The Man: Who the hell are these guys? No seriously, I’ve been watching Portugal. The Man for years, and been listening to them for much longer and I still was in a state of perpetual shock by their new power and personas on stage. They have reached a completely new level of performance, and not an advanced level from where their sound has been rooted, but an entirely new level, new sound, and with it a new force to be reckoned with.
And then there was one… Passion Pit. As performers at the fest they were great, as a headliner they were outperformed by Portugal. The Man. With that being said, this is the fourth time I’ve seen Passion Pit, and it was one of their strongest performances to date. They were succinct and on point, however it appeared that most were still reeling from Portugal. The Man. Fortunately Passion Pit can be enjoyed lying on the soft grass almost as much as they can be bobbing around a tightly compact group of teens waiting for that one song they knew they loved a few years ago.
After a dance fueled day one it became it quick realization that it didn’t matter whether or not it was March, (or rather early April,) Phoenix has began to climb in temperature, and with its climb, any and all desire to dance in the sun flies quickly out the window, and retreating to any semblance of shade becomes priority numero uno.
Real Estate’s neo-pyschadelia blended surfer rock lent a strong soundtrack to the sunny day, helping create a picturesque scene perfect for a day of rock in the park. Ironically Real Estate heralds Rochester New York as home, an area burdened with dark and cold months; maybe during their creative formation they had faint dreams of sunny desert days, kind of a “grass is always greener” approach…then again I’m likely reading too much into it.
I remember the first time I saw Troy, “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, when he guessed starred on the short lived Aaron Sorkin drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It was evident he was a musician and not an actor, and after hearing him perform such a soulful medley in honor of his fellow musician in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I became fixated on finding more. I’ve never been overly drawn to solo brass instruments, nor the big band sound, but there’s something much more evocative that rings through the blasts. A passion that encompasses the essence of the music and translates in a way that we, the uninitiated, can interpret. Though his set rested in between the lofty rock of Real Estate, and the heavy handed trip-hop of Phantogram, he seemed like a perfect choice for the setting Saturday sun.
What is there left to say about Phantogram? Perhaps only, beautiful beyond words; yet somehow they continue to reach new heights in their performances. Each opportunity is another fortuitous gift to see these artists at the height of their abilities, and of course at some point that will shift, I pray it’s no time soon, and if the past two years have been any indication it doesn’t look like it will be. Phantogram has proven that they’re definitely at the point of their careers where they could/should be closing down festivals, but if they have to warm the crowd up for anyone, a band at Thievery Corporation’s caliber is arguably some of the best out there.
After nearly a decade of missing Thievery Corporation, traveling all over the country and even at times the world in an attempt to resolve this conflict, I was able to catch them a mile from my front door of all place—it’s great how it works out like that sometimes. The anticipation and the excitement that had been building all those years seemed validated by the end of the night. There are few bands that I have had the privilege of seeing that can bring together such a diverse and eclectic collection of artists. Massive Attack is the first and strongest one that comes to mind, and throughout Thievery’s performance this continued to present itself to me…What Massive Attack is to Trip-Hop, Thievery Corp is to Downtempo/Modern Jazz. There’s an analogy you won’t see on any standardized test. Having performed on some of the world’s largest stages, and in some of the most beautiful locations it was humbling to watch them perform with such excitement and energy—sure it may have something to do with it being founding Thievery Corp member, Rob Garza’s birthday. I’m going to continue believing that’s how they perform regardless of the stage or day.
By the last day the heat from the first two days had finally taken its toll. Trying to muster up the strength to make it to festival became next to impossible. If I were camping, and devoid of any other outlet aside from going to the festival of course I would’ve been there early to scope out a spot in the shade. This time around I could choose to play the VIP game and stroll in conveniently in time to catch the acts I really wanted to see. Since pretty much all the acts I wanted to see were in the first two days it made avoiding the sun an easier task. Alas this meant forgoing Karl Dennison’s Tiny Universe, a sad fact indeed but ultimately it was a choice made in my own best interest, and one I’m not going to be ashamed of.
Having seen Beats Antique before I knew the craziness that accompanied their sets, and as such it was the best excuse to finally high-tail it out for one last show. I enjoy Beats Antique live a thousand times over their recorded material—not that it isn’t enjoyable, but its power does not translate through the speakers for me. It must have something to do with the belly dancers.
As Beats Antique came to a close so did my time at McDowell Mountain Music Festival 2015. Of course Widespread Panic was set to close the fest but alas I had to whisk away to the Crescent Ballroom for some of my all-time favorite Canucks: Stars. Personally there’s no way better to top off a weekend of music, and you can read more on that experience in the review of Stars’ show at the Crescent!
Thoughts for change:
In the height of the summer, there's been numerous festivals I've had the honor of attending where several volunteers for the festival had the job of taking squirt guns and water spraying device throughout the fest to keep the crowd cooled off. In Phoenix this should be a standard with people stationed throughout the city, but especially at an all day festival.
Nylon shade covers: Kids in Phoenix parks have them to play under, how hard would it be for the adults? I'm sure it'd cut down on all those pseudo-tents that were brought out on the last two days.
Ultimately McDowell Music Festival 2015 ended up feeling like a legitimate festival, and not a small weekend function. It still reigns supreme in Arizona as THE festival to make it out to. It has slowly morphed into a destination festival, if it continues on the trajectory it’s currently on there’s no telling where it may. Needless to say I’m very excited to continue watching and hopefully participate in its continued growth; if there’s any festival in the valley that has a chance at competing on a national level it’s undoubtedly McDowell Mountain, but with this years advent of additional festivals there’ll certainly be more competition in the years to come.d what’s Coming Soon in Wixellaneous in Support. Feel free to tell us what you think and give us feedback in the Wix Forum. If you’d like to benefit from a professional designer’s touch, head to the Wix Arena and connect with one of our Wix Pro designers. Or if you need more help you can simply type your questions into the Support Forum and get instant answers. To keep up to date with everything Wix, including tips and things we think are cool, just head to the Wix Blog!