McDowell Mountain Music Festival

McDowell Mountain Music's First Day Delivers a Festival, Not-So-Great Music

McDowell Mountain Music Festival has consistently been my favorite musical event of the year since I first went in 2013. Of all the metro Phoenix-based festivals, it feels the most like a legitimate national level festival -- and, really, with this year's lineup, it just about is one.

MMMF really packed in the dirt-lot camping this year, and the vendor options were just stellar. I completely understand that with a music festival, the music should be the number one priority. But if all you've got is great music, then you are hosting a concert and not a festival.

The good folks over at Westpac just seem to know how to create the right atmosphere for regular Phoenicians to let go of their inhibitions and go into full-on festival mode right in the middle of downtown.

The people of Phoenix really let their freak flags fly for MMMF this year, complete with festival costumes, light-up hula hoops, face paint, the whole nine yards. Not for nothing, the amount of street light poking through the trees also adds a certain amount of magic to the night sky, and that's coming from someone who didn't take anything stronger than Deschutes River Ale on Friday.

But a familiar festival experience does not a festival make -- the music also is paramount to a proper festival experience, and McDowell didn't hit its best groove on day one of this year. The Hourglass Cats were a strong and fun local opener who drew about 50 people for their 2 p.m. set. But following them came a lot of down-tempo electronic music.

Slow Magic was an oddball act, performing the entirety of his hour-long set in 90-degree heat in a mask, since that's what he does. It's just a guy in a mask drumming over a backing track, but a good 400 people seemed to really dig it.

DJentrification took the local stage and played a super-funky mix featuring all sorts of worldly sounds, including previous MMMF performer Balkan Beat Box.

After Djents was another down-tempo offbeat electronic act, Robert Delong. His set was loop- and bass-heavy and he got a large cross-section of burners and ravers going on the dance floor.

STRFKR carried the same feel but was far poppier than any of the bands before them. They played two recognizable hits, but after three or four songs, their music seemed to become far more of an ambient sound piece to set the mood for the communal feel of the festival than the core entertainment.

The duo of Snake! Snake! Snakes! and Portugal. The Man presided over the next hour and 45 minutes of the show. They are a one-two punch that really goes well together, which is why the past three times Portugal, The Man has come through Phoenix, TresSnakes has opened for them.

Snakes is just some great rock 'n' roll. Distorted vocals, loud guitars, angst-heavy lyrics -- they were an amazing prelude to Portugal.

Portugal. The Man's set had to be the most powerful of the evening. I don't understand the name, but I totally understand the appeal.

The light show was top-notch, and after an afternoon full of fluff, an evening that began with heavy guitars was wholly welcome.

Passion Pit closed out the night, and I can take them or leave them. They played all of their hits and ended on a planned encore, but nothing they played was grabby -- it was just there. I could be nuts, because a hell of a lot of people seemed to think Passion Pit was amazing, but I just didn't see it.

I may not have loved all the music, but a lot of people did, and that's the ebb and flow of a festival. Day one may not have been my day, but day two was a whole different story.

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Jeff Moses
Contact: Jeff Moses