McDowell Mountain Music Festival: The Good, the Bad and the Groovy

29 Mar
Passion Pit performs at the 2015 McDowell Mountain Music Festival Friday night. Photo by Esther C. Groves.

Passion Pit performs at the 2015 McDowell Mountain Music Festival Friday night. Photo by Esther C. Groves.

As a general rule, I don’t like large music festivals. I don’t like standing in long lines for everything from admission to drinks to the nasty outhouses; I don’t like waiting out crappy bands I could care less about wedged in-between bands on the bill that I do want to see; I don’t like trying to wade through swarms of dancing, drunken people; and I don’t like being stuck standing directly under the sun for any extended period of time (“extended” being longer than like, two minutes).

At the same time, festivals provide a way to see multiple bands (sometimes from disparate genres), meet interesting people, try new foods, and enjoy the (hopefully nice) weather.

The McDowell Mountain Music Festival (held this year March 27-29) occupies what I call the “Goldilocks Zone” for music festivals. It’s not too hot, not too crowded, not too expensive, and has just the right amount and balance of music acts. I last attended the festival in 2005, when it was held at WestWorld of Scottsdale. The event has grown substantially since then: It’s much larger, taking place over three days, and it’s moved from Scottsdale to Hance Park, in the heart of downtown Phoenix, right next to the library. I love the location.

Playboy Manbaby rocks the local stage at MMMF.

Playboy Manbaby rocks the local stage at MMMF.

In addition to the main stage, MMMF has added a local stage in recent years. This year’s performers included some buzzworthy bands I didn’t get a chance to see — like The Senators — and other standouts I did manage to catch (the infectious, in-your-face grooves of Snake! Snake! Snakes!, and the saxophone- and maraca-infused punk rock of Playboy Manbaby).

This year’s headlining acts were Portugal. The Man, and Passion Pit on Friday; Phantogram and Thievery Corporation on Saturday; and Beats Antique and Widespread Panic on Sunday. I watched some of Portugal. The Man’s set from the “Poser Stage,” an elevated platform off to the side of the stage in the VIP area, before heading down to the grass to see Passion Pit. Portugal. The Man played their quirky brand of feathery-voiced rock and had the capacity crowd bobbing and swaying, but Passion Pit really ignited the audience. To be honest, their electro-dance beats were solid and some of the synth progressions sounded cool, but I wasn’t as impressed with them as it seemed everybody else was. Or maybe I just wasn’t as inebriated as everybody else was. When Arizona Republic music critic Ed Masley wrote on Facebook, “Every so often, there’s a band that makes me feel like I’m the only person there who hasn’t just taken the world’s most powerful drug,” I figured he was referring to Passion Pit. That’s pretty much how I felt.

View of the stage during Portugal. The Man's set from the backstage

View of the stage during Portugal. The Man’s set from the backstage “Poser Stage.”

Sarah Barthel of Phantogram at MMMF Saturday night.

Sarah Barthel of Phantogram at MMMF Saturday night.

I was excited to New York-based electro-rock duo Phantogram on Saturday. I’ve been listening to their album Eyelid Movies a lot for the past few weeks (though I’m not a fan of the album title). The duo delivered a dance-rock odyssey of funky, lurching bass lines; knee-cracking beats; spacey harmonies; hip-hop inflections and groovy guitar solos. It was an hour of awesome.We didn’t stay to see Thievery Corporation. But friends who did gave favorable feedback on the DJ collective.

On the way out Saturday, I ran into a guy dressed as a banana, and a guy in a silver lame cowboy suit (see photo at the bottom of this post). They were like festival genies, granting wishes of fun (props to the photo bomb bro behind us, too). When Dorothy Parker said, “People are more fun than anyone,” she could only have been talking about walking bananas and shiny cowboys. The festival continues today (Sunday), but I will probably take this day to recover. That’s what happens when I have too much fun at a festival in my old age. *wink*

Overall, MMMF was a blast this year. The festival distinguishes itself with smooth-flowing entry and exit; reasonably priced, quality drinks ($6-$7 for Deschutes draft beers; $8 margaritas made with premium silver tequila); a state fair’s worth of food vendors and trucks, serving everything from crêpes and cheese steaks to vegan jambalaya (yes, that’s what they said) to a menagerie of deep-fried things on sticks. I can’t wait to come back next year for the bacon lemonade. And to maybe meet another banana.

More photos from the 2015 McDowell Mountain Music Festival:

phantogram2

Me in-between a banana man and a shiny cowboy at MMMF.

Me in-between a banana man and a shiny cowboy at MMMF.

One of many food stands at MMMF.

One of many food stands at MMMF.

Passion Pit at MMMF. Photo by Esther C. Groves.

Passion Pit at MMMF. Photo by Esther C. Groves.

phantogram duo

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