McDowell Mountain Music Festival: Seven Local Bands Worth Checking Out

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Judging by the amount of success that local performers at last year's McDowell Mountain Music Festival have seen since their March 2013 engagement at Margaret T. Hance Park, I think it is safe to say that the festival's organizers know how to pick 'em. Just about every local band that played last year moved on to bigger and better things.

KONGOS headlined the local stage on Friday night last year, and has since blasted off into the stratosphere (nudge-nudge Spafford, better use that spot wisely). While the band that opened the main stage last year, Dry River Yacht Club, recently played their first official showcase at SXSW. (Here's looking at you decker.)

The Sedona-based indie rock foursome is making the move from the local stage last year to the main stage this year along with Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special, The Wiley Ones, and the undisputed winners of SXSW, Jared and the Mill. Looking at last year's lineup of Valley bands at MMMF, there really are few who aren't bigger now than they were last March.

This year's crop is looking equally as good. Here are seven "can't miss" local sets at MMMF 2014, which runs from Friday, March 28, to Sunday, March 30, at Margaret T. Hance Park.


Spafford is jammy enough to keep the fans of the Deadhead patrons who inhabit the Sail Inn happy. But also bring a fresh enough sound that they certainly are not replicating the sound of any of traditional jam bands. They are headlining the first night of the festival's local stage. In a spot that last year ended up being one of the most rocking sets of the Fest. Also more than likely one of the last opportunities for an intimate concert with KONGOS. Spafford has been stepping up their live shows as of late, including a packed out new years outing at The Sail. I'm sure the band is hoping that this appearance will be the last piece before hurtling toward KONGOS like success. While they may be unlikely they are still an absolute can't miss local performance at MMMF.

Spafford is scheduled to perform on the local stage at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 28

Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special

If you didn't know already, Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special are much more than a beautiful girl with an alright backing band. They're absolutely the real deal music-wise, and have been racking up big show after big show. The four-piece blues/rock/soul band played their first-ever stadium show in Las Vegas recently while opening for George Thorogood and the Destroyers, headlined a stage at Viva Phoenix Fest, and are now one of only a handful of local acts to grace the MMMF main stage.

With three talented musicians and a front woman who have been taking the Phoenix scene by storm, there is no reason why by this time next year we won't be gushing about Robinson's first official SXSW appearance. But, for now, she's just a definite must-see at the MMMF lineup.

Sara Robinson and the Midnight Special performs on the main stage at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 28

The Hourglass Cats

I'm a big fan of jammy reggae stuff and also a big fan of the rock 'n' roll and punk stuff. With THC, you get the best of both worlds. Their sweet reggae tunes can stand alone with the best of them, with music that can create a distinct summery feeling that almost makes the air feel humid. But their harder, more garage rock-infused tracks are completely mosh worthy. Woth the core of the band -- lead singer Cori Rios, bassist Jason Sessler, and saxophone player Chaz Fertal -- playing together for nearly a year, and the confidence inspired by their recent sponsorship from RAW rolling papers, the band looks strong going into the biggest show they've had to date. Quite frankly there is nothing bad about a Saturday afternoon spent listening to THC.

The Hourglass Cats are scheduled to perform on the local stage at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday March 29


Avery is an indie folk four-piece who really started stuck out in the local scene at the latter end of 2013. With some quality shows under their belt, they are more than ready to take on the MMMF local stage. The Avery EP is an intimate piece of music where lead singer Mariah DeRaet really puts herself into the music and the emotionality shines through. The cello playing of Allison Galbreath as well as the banjo of Safranek accentuates their folk sound. But there is also an unquestionably pop quality to DeRaet's voice. The band is full of four talented individuals, but it is really brought together her superb vocals. There isn't a better way to ease into the festival vibe than by catching Avery in the early evening on Friday.

Avery is scheduled to perform on the local stage at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 29.

Jared and the Mill

Jared and the Mill is making a move from the MMMF locals stage to main stage, and the Tempe based folk outfit is doing it in style. While they were in Austin for SXSW, as you may have heard, the band made headlines by playing a set for a friend who injured the tragic car accident that killed three people. Now after being featured on both Time and People's websites, the band is back in Phoenix and ready to take on the big shows. They obviously impressed at MMMF in 2013 because they were brought back and moved to the bigger stage. But more than that they are also being recognized around Phoenix as a band with one of the biggest draws of any in the scene. They brought out a big crowd to ALMF, they brought out a big crowd to The Mill Ave New Years Block Party. If all goes as usual they will most assuredly see a big crowd bright and early in front of the main stage Saturday morning.

Jared and the Mill is scheduled to perform on the main stage at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 29

Field Tripp

In the studio the self described "ethereal alternative rock" band Field Tripp is just Dan Allmond. The salt and pepper haired southern gentlemen with the North Carolina accent plays all the instruments, sings all the lyrics, he makes all the music. Which is probably why seeing Field Tripp live and in person is infinitely better than hearing their recordings. In person the band consists of Allmond on lead vocals and guitar, as well as Tim Cooper of Snake! Snake! Snakes! on drums , and the man with the sharpest shirts in town Jess Pruitt of The Shivereens on bass.The three talented musicians push each other to bring out the best in Allmond's music, and judging by the recent success of the band, including this gig, they are pushing in the right direction. Field Tripp will be opening the local stage for the entire festival, and there is no doubt they is going to play a set worthy of his time slot.

Field Tripp is scheduled to perform on the local stage at 4 p.m. on Friday, March 28


decker. made such a big impression at MMMF 2013 that the festival decided to invite him back this year, to open the entire show. The band will be kicking off the festivities at Hance Park on Friday for MMMF, and its music mixed with the exciting prospect of viewing the venue area for the first time this year are going to make for a great early afternoon. Getting into the show early and seeing the beautiful green grass in front of the main stage before it becomes matted down by festival goers, for me at least, is one of the better parts of the fest. Plus, decker.'s psychedelic desert folk music should be pretty terrific. Its has the opportunity to set the tone for the entire festival, and I don't expect them to blow that opportunity.

Decker is scheduled to perform on the mainstage at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, March 28

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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