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The Best and Worst of M3F 2018

Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra hype the crowd in the early afternoon.
Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra hype the crowd in the early afternoon.
Kelsee Becker

Another year, another M3F at Margaret T. Hance Park. Formerly known as McDowell Mountain Music Festival, the event brought a mix of jam bands, indie rock favorites, and EDM all-stars to downtown Phoenix for three days of live music.

Alongside local acts like Daisy, Jerusafunk, and Romen Buffalo and The Loyal Order, touring groups like Washed Out and Big Gigantic brought the noise in the heart of downtown Phoenix.

Here's a look at the best and worst of of M3F 2018.

Best Weather
After a week of gray skies and chilly nights in Phoenix, it was perfect springtime weather for M3F. The sky was clear and blue as a sapphire. On Saturday, a faint breeze blew in throughout the day, making things even better. The only downside? Not much in the way of shade structures to offer us relief from the sun. It wasn't hot out, but that sucker shone down bright and hard throughout most of the festival. God help the goths in attendance.

Worst Friday
Parking for the fest was a challenge throughout the weekend, but it was particularly maddening on Friday.
For the love of God, people, don't schedule a goddamn music festival in the middle of First Friday in downtown Phoenix. Finding a parking spot during a normal First Friday is bad enough.

Best Use of Onomatopeia
There are many, many reasons to love Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra. The way lead singer Camille Sledge turns the band's name PAO into a percussive blast of POW-POW-POWs onstage is one of them. Most of the local bands at M3F like Jerusafunk and Wyves brought their A-game, but no one brought it as hard and as decisively as PAO. Playing in the middle of the afternoon to a small crowd, the grooves they were digging into onstage were so undeniable that there wasn't a single person standing still on that lawn. They raised the energy so high for the day that no act following them — save a touring headliner — could hope to keep it going.

Worst Cover
Magic City Hippies had the unenviable task of following PAO onstage. While the band was enthusiastic and quick to kick out the jams, the music they played was an uninspired mix of white boy funk and indie rock. They sounded like someone trying to digitally download the soul of the Red Hot Chili Peppers who pulled the plug after 10 percent finished uploading and said "fuck it, this will do." They tried to win the crowd back towards the end of the set with a cover of Amine's spare jam "Caroline" that was just embarrassing. You ever hear a white guy try to sound black while singing karaoke or repeating a stand-up routine they just watched on Netflix? It was exactly like that.

Many fans embrace spring with sunflower accessories.
Many fans embrace spring with sunflower accessories.
Kelsee Becker

Best Festival Totem Pole
While the crowds at M3F weren't as huge as the ones at Lost Lake, festival-savvy squads still showed up with totem poles so they could find each other if they got separated. The best (and weirdest) of them had what looked like an inflatable baby doll wearing a cape with a penis jutting out of it. Kind of odd, but hey, you do you, Stiffy Baby Squad.

Best Wrestler Lookalike
Shout out to the shirtless dude wearing American flag tights who looked like WWE superstar Dolph Ziggler. On second thought, that may actually have been Dolph Ziggler.

Best Bad Actor Lookalike
Shout outs are also in order for the gentleman decked out in purple who was a deadringer for The Room auteur Tommy Wiseau. It ain't easy looking like the lovechild of Fabio and Skeletor.

Best Pat-Downs
Metal detectors, pat-downs, and bag checks are a pain in the ass. Props to the security team at M3F. The lines to get in flowed quick and smooth this year.

A fan is captivated by GRiZ at M3F.
A fan is captivated by GRiZ at M3F.
Kelsee Becker

Best Transitions
Things pretty much ran on time this weekend. There was very little lag time between stages. As soon as something wound down at Rattlesnake, the Saguaro or Coyote stage would pick things up. There would be occasional moments of sonic bleed-through, like when the electronic warbling and jamming of the Russ Liquid Test could still be heard through the first couple of songs in Father John Misty's set.

Worst Rockist Scheduling
Your views on how the bands were scheduled for this year's M3F will vary, depending on whether you fall into the rockist or poptimist camp. The poptimists and EDM lovers won out this year, with DJs and big EDM groups nabbing the nighttime slots. Some of the bigger indie and rock groups like FJM, Washed Out, and Cut Copy were scheduled between 5 and 7 in the evening. While it was fun to watch them play as the sun set in the background, it was also disappointing to see smaller-than-average festival crowds watching those sets. It seems the majority of M3F's attendees came out in full force as night rolled over the park and electronic music took over. Even dance-happy crossover groups like Cut Copy didn't draw the kind of crowd they deserved.

Best Australian Dance Machines
Speaking of Cut Copy, their Friday set was a welcome reminder of how good they are at fusing nervy rock sounds with house and dance music. Their set leaned heavily on In Ghost Colours, a record that sounds as fresh and lively as it did when it dropped in 2008. Wearing a crisp white shirt, singer Dan Whitford danced and twitched onstage while a pattern of blue lights flashed behind the band. The Friday evening crowd was modest, but they couldn't resist dancing along to "Hearts On Fire" and "Lights + Music."

Worst Jam Band
All of them. All of the jam bands. Forever and always.

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Father John Misty puts on a stunning performance as the sun sets on day two.
Father John Misty puts on a stunning performance as the sun sets on day two.
Kelsee Becker

Worst Geometry
How do you call six rows of seated people drumming a drum circle? That shit is not round. It's more like an I Ching hexagram.

Best People-Watching Game
Bored at a festival? Play "Father John Misty or Random Disdainful Beardo?" You will not run out of eligible subjects.

Best in Show
If you ever have the chance to see Josh Tillman live, take it. The artist known as Father John Misty is one of the greatest rock performers out there right now. Effortlessly witty and composed, his tossed-off stage banter is worth the price of admission. Playing a set that was dense with choice cuts from Fear Fun, Pure Comedy, and I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman's music was a refreshing change of pace. His folkier sound and the harsher, more cynical side of his lyrics were a welcome break from the it's-all-good vibe that's a hallmark of this jam band-loving charity festival. Aside from Camille Sledge, no other performer seized the spotlight the way FJM did. It's amazing to think Tillman started out as a drummer. The man was born to play at the front of the stage.

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