Phoenix is truly rich with music festivals these days. Not just the enormous festivals with nationally known headliners and $116 tickets, either — Phoenix has music festivals dedicated to local artists, single-day, South by Southwest-like affairs, festivals for every major drinking holiday of the year, and even festivals that are fun for the whole family.
MIMFest is one of the latter. In its second year, the Musical Instrument Museum basically stuck to the formula it devised for last year's inaugural fest. Dozens of groups from all over the world representing all different kinds of genres and musical traditions played under two tents set up in the museum's parking lot. Luxury buses with leather seats shuttled people to and from the parking lots at Horse Lovers Park, and people of all ages wove throughout the two stages and food trucks all weekend long. The music began early in the day and ended before the sun went down. The vibe was pleasant and laid back, and people of all ages were there enjoying the music.
The lineup was as eclectic as you'd expect from the Musical Instrument Museum. Violinist and loop pedal enthusiast Andrew Bird headlined the second day of the festival, and Latin/hip-hop party band Ozomatli headlined the first day. In between, there were bands as diverse as the Recycled Orchestra, a group of impoverished youths who live on a landfill in Paraguay and play instruments made out of trash, to the Jones Family Singers, a multi-generational gospel-singing extended family from south Texas. When we spoke with MIM Theater music director Lowell Pickett last week, he emphasized that the idea of the festival was to have fun and celebrate music.
"It shows that one of the things that MIM clearly demonstrates if you walk through all the galleries," he said. "Everyone in the world feels the need to make music, whether it’s stone, wood, metal — we all make instruments out of the same materials. The music that comes out differs a little, but the similarity is that we all share this need to make music. And this festival is a celebration of that."
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Well, we learned quite a bit from being at the festival this weekend. Read on to find out more.
Not Every Music Festival Has to Be a Giant Smoke Cloud
Don't get us wrong. We're not advocating smoking bans at festivals. But the cigarette, e-cig, and pot smoke was so thick at a couple of festivals this year (looking at you, McDowell Mountain Music Festival and Monster Mash) that we were practically hawking up tar from our pristine, non-smoker lungs. The musical talent was just as palpable as MIMFest, but the North Phoenix air delightfully lacked any non-smog pollutants. What a relief.
Andrew Bird Is More Talented Than Just About Everyone
The Chicagoan with the looping pedals and violin makes creating a full-band sound using an instrument people associate with the full sound of orchestras look effortless. His songwriting is never predictable and he is a good enough showman that he manages to be an interesting and engaging performer while using loop pedals, a technique that typically makes for visually boring performances. Bird is as impressive a musician as there is.
Music Festivals Don't Have to Be Drug- and Booze-Fueled to Be Fun
MIMFest had tables set up all around the festival grounds for people to sit and relax in the shade and enjoy their beverages or simply watch their freshly face-painted kids run around the festival. Maybe we're getting older, but it was nice to not be surrounded by swarms of college students slurring their words and tripping out of their minds.
Drinks Shouldn't Be $10
Beer at MIMFest cost $6, and glasses of wine were $7. Four Peaks provided its standard selection of beers for the festival — including the seasonal Pumpkin Porter — and they were affordable. So often at music festivals and concerts, you get the feeling that the organizers are trying to extract every single last dollar they can from you, from $3 bottles of water to $11 domestics. Here's to keeping drinks affordable.
MIMFest Has Logistics Down . . . Mostly
Shuttling to the parking lot at Horse Lovers Park (since the MIM lot was used as the festival ground) was smooth and easy. At MIMFest, the tents had a few hundred seats under them and then maybe 20 feet of space between the front row and the stage. That space made an impromptu dance floor and filled up with standing and moving patrons during the more popular acts. It's a great compromise between the energy of an all-standing crowd and the comforts of being able to actually sit down and, you know, listen to the music. The acts staggered between stages so as to minimize downtime. The only downside to this is that people tended not to watch a set all the way through. As one set came to a close, people began to filter out of the tent and make their way to the next one. It's a little disrespectful to the artist on stage, sure, but honestly, it does make for a better experience as a patron, since there was basically no downtime and no overlapping between artists. I'm not sure what the solution is, honestly.