At the end of day one of McDowell Mountain Music Festival 2015, I questioned the promoters' abilities to pull off a third-straight spectacular festival in the heart of downtown Phoenix. By the end of day two, I realized that they just might know what they are doing, and at the end of day three, I praised them for their brilliance.
Day one was too down-tempo for my taste, and day two was totally eclectic. But day three was like taking the mainstage right off of "The Farm" at Bonnaroo and inserting it into Margaret T. Hance Park.
The Black Bottom Lighters and Spafford opened the main stage at noon and 12:45 p.m., respectively. After two days straight days of festing, in a month in Phoenix that already included a ton of festing, I was late getting through the gates, but at 2:20, I was right on time to catch the end of The Revivalists on the main stage before Sister Lip hit the local stage.
The Lippians got a small crowd over to the local stage with a breezy early-afternoon set. It was baking-hot out in the sun. But the four females looked cool as cucumbers up on one of the biggest stages they have ever played.
Based on how delighted MMMF festival-goers were with Sister Lip's tunes like "Pure Honey," and "The Sex Song" (as well as their cover of Ginuwine's "My Pony" featuring TKLB) and the band's persistent pushing of the festival on social media, I would rank them as favorites for a MMMF Main Stage slot in 2016.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe followed on the mainstage, and while it definitely was no Trombone Shorty, the band was funky in a similar way. The horn blasts in the middle of the afternoon raised the festivals level of engagement, and the matching outfits and half-assed dance moves really made their set a hell of a lot of fun.
Funk is always a big part of any legitimate jam band festival, and KDTU is sort of funk that the jam band fans go crazy over. Even with a set that began at 3:15 p.m., Denson got the MMMF crowd dancing in the sun.
At 4:45, Trampled by Turtles took the main stage for the final afternoon set of MMMF, presenting to the crowd a whole different staple of jam band music festivals in bluegrass. They harmonized extremely well and sounded infinitely better live than they do on their records. It was also at this time I realized that while on Friday and Saturday crowds really fluctuated in and out of the festival, on Sunday the people were just piling in on top of each other.
After Trampled by Turtles, the Haymarket Squares took their turn on the local stage for what was very likely the best-attended local stage set of the entire festival. It looked like the Squares had a crowd nearing 200 people in front of the stage as well as a contingent of nearly 40 milling about the fence on the outside.
All of the downtown Phoenix-based five-piece's songs seemed well received, from the heavily political "Revolt, Resists, Rebel" to the upbeat and fun "Let's Get Fucked Up." They even had the early evening crowd of hippies singing along to "Let's Start a Riot."
The Squares are another act who I would rank as a favorite for locals taking a main stage in 2016 following their Sunday set.
Beats Antique were next on the main stage, and while a lot of bands had played the festival so far they were the first real performers. The music had many of the burners and ravers entranced, while the dancers and light show had the jam band fans excited to catch something other than a singer or someone strumming a guitar.
For their grand finale, Beats employed the only special guest performer of the festival, that being their 10-foot-tall inflatable one-eyed cat. The cat danced and flailed in a similar fashion to many of the human beings out in the crowd, and following their set Captain Squeegee got to test their mettle on the local stage.
Squeegee was fresh home from their ride on the Epic Proportions Tour, which took them to Austin for SXSW among other places, and while their time on tour definitely showed through in how polished they sounded, it didn't show at all in their energy level, however.
Torgersen and Co. stuck tot songs that came mostly off their 2014 release To the Bardos, though they did bust out one funky new jam that I didn't catch the name of, but I did catch the groove.
Widespread Panic came up last on the main stage, and like I've known since my first festival experience festival Sunday's are meant for jam bands. But what I didn't already know was that Phoenix loves WSP.
The vibe was already set for everyone in the festival to have a great time. This is a festival with such a strong communal vibe that a volunteer at the beer tent was willing to lend me a dollar so I could afford one last beer, and mixing that kind of energy with tremendously warm music of WSP made the MMMF finale quite amazing.
In the past two years, all of MMMF's headliners, from The Shins to Umphrey's McGee to The Roots, have seen substantial crowd losses after about 45 minutes to an hour. But Panic seemed to retain the crowd right through the hour-and-a-half mark and on into the two-hour mark. Thousands of chilled out hippies just kept dancing no matter the groove.
By just past 10, Widespread had outlasted me after three days of nonstop music, and I wouldn't really be surprised if as of publication they are still down at Margaret T. Hance Park jamming it out. Either way, I can't wait to see what MMMF puts together for next year.
See the next page for the Critic's Notebook.
Last Night: McDowell Mountain Music Festival Day 3
Overheard in the Crowd: "Man, that guitarist is nastier than the lunch I just puked up," my friend after two songs during Widespread Panic.
Miscellaneous Notebook Dump: Headliner Wishlist for next Year - Pretty Lights, Big Boi, Ratdog. Local mainstage predictions for next year - Playboy Manbaby, Sister Lip, Captain Squeegee, and The Haymarket Squares. All of my favorite acts of MMMF 2015 were locals.
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