10 Must-See Bands At McDowell Mountain Music Festival

Phantogram is one of many great acts at McDowell Mountain Music Festival this weekend.
Phantogram is one of many great acts at McDowell Mountain Music Festival this weekend.
Melissa Fossum

Long before the Valley of the Sun was boasting multiple major music events, as seems to be the rage these days, McDowell Mountain Music Festival stood alone as the premier metro Phoenix outdoor music festival. And arguably, the Valley's homegrown Bonnaroo is still the best music festival in town.

Before their big move to Margaret T. Hance Park, MMMF was already attracting top-tier jam band headliners like The Flaming Lips, Keller Williams, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, and Ozomatli. But since making the jump to downtown Phoenix the festival has kicked itself into high gear bringing in monster acts like the Roots, the Shins, Umphrey's McGee, Disco Biscuits, and STS9 among many others.

The 2015 festival boasts possibly the best lineup in the festival's history. Here are 10 acts you absolutely can't miss at this year's festival.

Widespread Panic - Sunday, March 29

Easily, Panic is the biggest band on the bill. This is a bonafide Bonnaroo headliner. Widespread is easily one of the biggest jam bands in the world today, and after a super unconventional Sunday headliner last year in Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite a legendary Southern jam band is exactly what the doctor ordered. While the festival has expanded its musical scope in recent years, the decision to book Widespread Panic makes it clear that organizers are steadfast in their commitment to keep McDowell a jam band festival at heart.

Phantogram - Saturday, March 28 It's not every year that MMMF goes after immensely popular pop acts in their prime, but that's exactly what they reeled in with Phantogram. The electro-rock duo has been making the big time national festival rounds over the past four years with appearances at Bonnaroo, Coachella, FireFly, and Austin City Limits as well as many other big time festivals. But this is going to be their first engagement at McDowell Mountain Music Festival. They will not be closing down the festivities on Saturday night, but they are still every bit as much a headliner as Widespread Panic, Thievery Corporation, and Passion Pit.

Thievery Corporation - Saturday, March 28 With MMMF being the "Party for the People" and having itself attached to UMOM and the Phoenix Children's Hospital they go out of their way to book at least some socially conscious artists every year. This year their most socially conscious performer is Thievery Corporation. The worldly Washington D.C.-based DJ collective has gone a long way to push progressive politics through their celebrity; oh, and they put together some of the illest mixes on earth. Thievery Corporation always makes the right sounds to get the jam bands fans going. There is no telling when Thievery Corp will be riding back through Phoenix again, so getting to their 9:30 p.m. slot on MMMF is an absolute must.  

Break Science - Saturday, March 28 Since learning of the existence of Phoenix's little mini-Bonnaroo I have been dreaming of the day they would invite the greatest DJ on the planet, Pretty Lights, to come headline. That day has not come yet but Pretty Lights Music protege Gramatik was invited in 2014 and for 2015 the PLM label is sending in Break Science. Like their label head, Derek Vincent Smith, Break Science is like the equivalent of an electronic jam band. They are also known to have a super high energy show which is due in no small part to the out of this world drumming of Adam Deitch of Lettuce. Together with Borahm Lee the New York based electro funk duo are putting their own stamp on the EDM racket and after tearing it up at many of the major festivals they are coming into MMMF hot for their 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon set.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue - Saturday, March 28 Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, is enters the jam band world via New Orleans jazz. At the age of 29 he is younger than many of his contemporaries on the jam band circuit but he is still quite well respected as a trombone player, trumpeter, and as a bandleader. He has recorded with Lenny Kravitz, Dr. John, and Eric Clapton just to name drop a little and has been accepted by not just the mainstream festivals. But also, almost more importantly, by traditional jam band festivals like All Good and Summer Camp. Andrews' is also another act with social conscience focusing many of his humanitarian efforts in his home town.

Beats Antique - Sunday, March 29 Right before Widespread Panic shuts down the festival on Sunday, Beats Antique is going to enter it with their worldly electronic tones. They take the stage at 6:30 p.m. and besides bringing some of the best dancing music of the three day experience they are also the only act that includes choreographed dance and performance art. Like Trombone Shorty, Beats is another act that is bridging the gaps between the old school jam band fans and the more modern groove-based acts. Beats Antiques usually long and rhythmic sets are always known to attract everyone from hardcore deadheads to new age hippies.

Passion Pit - Friday, March 27 Like Phantogram, Passion Pit is falls more toward the pop and indie sound than the traditional jam band sound, but that definitely doesn't make them a bad pick for MMMF. They are going to be closing down the show on opening night with a headlining set starting at 9:30 p.m. Friday. The band has been on a steady upturn since releasing their third album, Kindred, just over a year ago which is most evident by their stepping up from headlining The Marquee Theatre last time they came to town, and now performing at one of Phoenix's biggest and best music events.  

Trampled By Turtles - Sunday, March 29 4:45 p.m. Sunday afternoon is probably the absolute perfect time for an all strings quintet with pitch-perfect vocal harmonies like Trampled By Turtles. The traditional jam fest favorites are somewhat similar to local faves The Haymarket Squares, though significantly less political. Their dulcet bluegrass tones are just the right kind of thing for a warm afternoon where sitting on a blanket with a craft beer is as much of an option as getting up and dancing. They've even got the approval of their local counterparts, as Haymarket Squares mandolin and keys player Mark Sunman has been ubering all over the Valley bumping Trampled By Turtles tunes.

Portugal. The Man - Friday, March 27 Portugal. The Man is taking time off from working on their up and coming Mike D.-produced album to rock out a T. Hance Park on Friday evening at 7:45 p.m. The Portland, Oregon-based rock band isn't really a jam band, but they are definitely one of the top indie rock bands currently touring. Their inclusion in Friday nights lineup along with locals Snake! Snake! Snakes, who have opened for Portugal three times in the past, really makes Friday feel like the indie rock day of the MMMF 2015.

The Hourglass Cats - Friday, March 27 Speaking of the indie rock feel on Friday, The Hourglass cats will be opening the main stage and the entire festival at 2 p.m. Friday afternoon. THC may be most well known as a reggae band but they definitely are not a one trick pony, and as of late they have leaned far more toward the garage / indie rock sound than any irie tones. THC rocked the local stage last year and there is no reason to believe they are going to do anything different in 2015, even with a set time that many festival patrons will still be at work during. But they do have the latest afternoon set of any 2015 local on the mainstage and they will no doubt make the best of it.

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