Best Music Festival 2022 | M3F | Nightlife | Phoenix
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The phrase "good vibes" is frightfully overused these days. But there's really no other way to describe the atmosphere at the annual M3F Festival (originally known as the McDowell Mountain Music Festival). Held in downtown Phoenix, the festival lineup skews heavy toward EDM, up-and-coming acts, jam bands, and indie artists (names on the 2022 bill included Spafford, Kaytranada, Leon Bridges, and Blu DeTiger). Besides the music, attendees enjoy art cars brought in by local event company Walter Productions, a vendor village selling festival necessities and other goods, and a food fair with a good cross-section of choices. (The Indonesian satay tent was a hit this year). Over two days, we saw nothing but smiles, dancing, and people having a good time. Add in the fact that all proceeds from M3F benefit local charities, and it's undeniable that vibes coming from the festival are, indeed, immaculate.

The talent found in the Phoenix music scene can be found on stages every single night in every corner of the Valley. But for a truly impressive display of creativity, make plans to attend next year's iteration of Phoenix Rock Lottery. Put on by local promoter Stephen Chilton's Pskyo Steve Presents, Rock Lottery starts early on the morning of the show, when about two dozen local musicians gather to be randomly placed in five groups. Each group is then responsible for choosing a band name, and throughout the day, writing three original tunes and preparing a cover song. Later that night, each group shows off the results of their hard work at a concert whose proceeds benefit a local charity (typically Rosie's House, which works to provide music education opportunities for disadvantaged children youth). We love seeing what some of the city's most talented musicians are able to put together in a matter of hours.

You can find her on the radio on weekday mornings, interviewing local musicians and playing their latest songs on independent radio station KWSS. You'll also spot her frequenting venues such as Crescent Ballroom and The Rebel Lounge, giving in-person support and encouragement to the acts she sends out on the airwaves. Wherever she is, odds are good that Dani Cutler is talking up the Phoenix music scene. She's been a DJ on KWSS for 15 years, meaning she's a got a deeper institutional knowledge of local music history than most (and by the way, that's a volunteer gig — between her morning show and the Dani's Diner afternoon program, she donates nearly two dozen hours of her time each week). When members of the Phoenix scene talk about its major contributors, Cutler's name comes up quickly. And now that KWSS has added another spot on the dial (it began broadcasting on 99.5 FM in September in addition to its original 93.9 address), we're able to tune in and hear what she has to say over a greater swath of the Valley.

When local businessman David Cameron bought the old Char's Has the Blues in 2020, he easily could've demolished the aging R&B joint, replacing it with another concept altogether. He didn't, and the venue's legion of fans was grateful. Over the next 15 months, the 2,245-square-foot property, which dates back to 1944, was given a renovated interior, an updated name, and a new lease on life. Its infrastructure was gutted and replaced. An old nook became a roomy VIP area. And new lighting, decor elements, seating, and a 10-by-13-foot stage were added. Even with the changes, Cameron preserved as much of the old Char's Has the Blues as possible from its 35-year run as an R&B, soul, and funk haven. Its signature parquet dance floor was left largely untouched, and many of the same musicians that played the spot over the years — including vocalist Larry Bailey and funk ensemble Kenny Brown and Bam Bam Trio — returned to the lineup once Chars LIVE reopened in February. They're also added new artists into the mix, such as soul singer Alexis Janae and local turntablist Tricky T. "We're innovating things slightly into a different kind of overall musical experience and still stay true to its roots," Cameron told Phoenix New Times.

The Lost Leaf

At the beginning of February, Eric and Lauren Dahl, the former owners of The Lost Leaf, made an announcement: The beloved bar and music venue would be shutting its doors in just six weeks. The pandemic — plus a rent hike — had left the couple with few choices but to let go of their longtime business. The news was a shock to the arts community. The Lost Leaf, which lives in a charming abode on Fifth Street in Roosevelt Row, is a longtime staple in the arts scene — hosting a neverending lineup of free shows, selling local brews, and giving funk bands and experimental DJs an audience and a stage. The reaction was swift. At one February show, a DJ led the crowd in a chant of "Save the Leaf." The slogan was graffitied and hashtagged for weeks — until, at last, in a truly cinematic save, local developer David Cameron announced he would buy the venue and keep its doors open. So far, The Lost Leaf has retained its familiar, quirky character, and a consistent slate of stellar artists.

We're way past the time when something like MTV is still valid. Without sounding too crotchety, the internet has taken over as the vessel for musical exploration. But curation is still a good thing, and even if it isn't as marketable on a global/national level, it's nice to have someone show you good music. In this case, it's Sam Means (of Hello Merch and The Format fame) who, with a team of collaborators, has created Wastoids. It's a one-stop local media conglomerate, doling out performance videos and podcasts from local and regional acts. So, whether you're looking for rap (like MC Magic), hardcore punk, or psych-jazz — not to mention visual arts — Wastoids delivers it in a delightfully DIY capacity. It's like stumbling on some music video program circa 1987 — if all the production was top-notch and the VJs knew their stuff like Greil Marcus. It's places like Wastoids that both promote and reflect the culture of the Valley, and demonstrate just how much great art happens in the city if you just pay attention. And, on the plus side, they're always on, direct from some extra kooky corner of the World Wide Web.

Jennifer Goldberg

In the constantly evolving metro Phoenix nightlife scene, there's something comforting about walking into a bar that never changes. For as long as we've been bar-legal, Casey Moore's has been a go-to hangout. We love the building, a house built for the Moeur family in 1910 that's purported to be haunted (we're still waiting to see a ghost, though). We love the expansive patio area with its table and bar seating, twinkle lights, and shade trees. And we love the menu; the food side is stocked with tried-and-true dishes including the eponymous oysters and our favorite, the cajun cream linguine with chicken, while the drink side has everything we need for a raucous night with friends. Casey's has the unique ability to be familiar and comforting without succumbing to monotony. To that end, we hope it always stays the same.

Tirion Boan

If you're interested in agave spirits, why not go to a self-described "back-alley mezcal bar"? The two-story concept from David Tyda starts with a ground-floor cantina where a staircase descends into a dark, upscale cocktail parlor where everything is rooted in agave. The downstairs menu is one of the most comprehensive crash courses in agave in the Valley: It delves into the differences, histories, and descriptions of each agave spirit available at the bar. The cocktails and mezcal selections are top-notch and use high-quality and exciting ingredients. Favorites include the clarified HorChaiChata, Elote Moda with Mezcal Vago Elote and ancestral corn whiskey, and Rosemary's Ofrenda. New bars in downtown Phoenix seem to pop up constantly, but we hope Barcoa's unique concept helps it stick around for a long time to come.

Tirion Morris

When Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin of Tacos Chiwas and Rene Andrade of Bacanora teamed up to open Espiritu Cocktails + Comida on Mesa's Main Street, they wanted cocktails to show off their Mexican heritage — and they wanted Adrian Galindo heading it up. "He's that guy," says Hernandez, referring to Galindo's rare ability to be chemist, psychiatrist, best friend, and showman all at once, a master at making intoxicating drinks in an intoxicating way. Galindo, who helped run Ghost Ranch and Bacanora's drinking programs, got into bartending because he loves to be the center of attention, but he's much more than a spotlight-seeker. Sit at the bar, and Galindo can wax poetic about the finer points of mezcal or geek out on the terroir of raicilla, all while lighting things on fire — sugar cubes are a fave — and dripping blood-red bitters down a clay skull mug. It's a full sensory experience. Stay till last call for his Chante Power Hour. It's worth it.

There's usually something fun going on at Boondocks in Tempe. It could be trivia night, rowdy ASU fans packing the place after a game, live tunes by local musicians, or a UFC fight on pay-per-view. But even on the slowest of evenings, we always feel welcome and content. While its sister location in Old Town Scottsdale is more of a party bar, the Tempe outpost is typically more mellow, the kind of place you hit up for lunch or to catch up with an old friend over a couple of beers. Show up regularly, and it won't take long for the bartenders and waitstaff to start recognizing you. You'll get familiar with the menu, which offers top-notch bar food like garlic fries and a lineup of creative burgers. And you'll start thinking of Boondocks Tempe as your go-to bar, a place where the staff and regulars may not know your name, but they'll smile when they see your face.

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