Saturday at McDowell Mountain Music Festival 2011

McDowell Mountain Music Festival, Day Two
The Compound Grill
Saturday, April 30, 2011

The idea of a music festival in a parking lot is a little disconcerting. Sure, Warped Tour can pull it off, but they have a main stage and grassy areas, and most importantly, they don't share a parking lot with a shopping center.

McDowell Mountain Music Festival
takes place in The Compound Grill parking lot, where it's been hosted for the past two years. What's normally a slab of asphalt is transformed into a sod-covered lawn, with tables, beers for sale and a large shaded area.

It's safe to say attendees enjoy more creature comforts than the average festival-goer at MMMV, including indoor bathrooms and the ability to bring in two liters of water. The festival coordinators extend the generosity to the community, too: 100% of profits will be donated to Phoenix Day Family & Learning Center and Ear Candy.

Xavier Rudd, Australian multi-instrumentalist folkie closed out Saturday evening. He is truly a one-man band, there aren't any guitarists or back up singers hiding backstage. Rudd's massive rig includes drums, chimes, didgeridoos, ankle bells, a stomp box, and a guitar. He plays many instruments simultaneously, a feat he says comes naturally. In an interview with fellow UOTS writer Lenni Rosenblum, Rudd said, "All of my limbs are involved, and as long as I open up and get loose, it all should come out the way I want."

Rudd's lyrics and stage banter were centered on environmentalism and hippies. He said it was his first time playing at The Compound Grill, although he did stop by the Mattress Firm next door. "It's nice to see hippies take over this shopping center. Hippies should conquer the fucking world! Maybe then we'd have some peace."

Mergence played an energetic bluesy set on Creamy Radio stage, which occupies The Compound's standard performance area. All of the songs were from their most recent album, Those Vibrant Young People are Dead, which the crowd knew and loved. Fans mouthed the lyrics while being in a constant state of motion, ranging from a couple slow dancing to others swaying back and forth.

Upon learning that the band had a longer set than scheduled, frontman Adam Bruce decided to play "At the Salt", the six and a half minute epic he described as "a nice, long mood song."

Soldiers of Jah Army (SOJA) took the stage and announced that they came from the D.C. area and don't have birth certificates, a bit of topical humor for sure. Their songwriting concerns root stories from an American perspective and political statements. Musically, they're a hybrid of classic reggae and contemporaries like Sublime or Pepper, mixing mellow and poppy harmonies. Their live performance emphasized the latter, as the band constantly bounced around on stage.

SOJA was preceded by final drum circle of the day. AZ Rhythm Connection's Frank Thompson encouraged fans to grab percussion instruments and join in on the fun, which could be heard all the way back to the main stage.

Locals Banana Gun warmed up the Creamy Radio stage with blues-rock lead by alt-country vocals. Their set started out mellow, then evolved to ska-influenced rock reminiscent of early No Doubt. Dreadlocked guitarist/vocalist Kevin Lloyd serves as Banana Gun's own Gwen Stefani.

"I've saved a lot of money over the years, it's for when you want to look awful and you're on a budget," he said.

Moments after Banana Gun wrapped up their set, 7 Walkers took the main stage, driven by Bill Kreutzmann. If the name doesn't sound familiar, you're probably not a dead head. Kreutzmann is the former drummer of the Grateful Dead who formed 7 Walkers, which he describes as a "swampadelic" band. This jam band rocked out for an hour and a half with George Porter Jr., who played earlier Saturday.

Porter is a bassist who's been in the music industry for over four decades. George Porter Jr. And Runnin' Pardners play traditional New Orleans music, which combines elements of blues, funk, and jazz.

Porter thanked the crowd and remarked, "It's good to see y'all here and not at jazz fest!" He had a strong fanbase, including screaming fans and someone holding up a sign that read "NOLA or Bust."

The day started off with some local representation from Kinch and What Laura Says, who ended their set with singer/guitarist James Mulhern describing what the festival is all about, "Thanks for supporting live music, It's a big deal in case you didn't know yet."

Last Night: McDowell Mountain Music Festival, Day Two, at The Compound Grill

The Crowd: Diverse, lots of families, old hippies, young hippies, and hula hooping/bubble blowing kids.

Overheard in the Crowd: "He's too young to be breaking beer bottles, man!" - Dad to kid that missed the recycle bin and broke a bottle.

Personal Bias: The local line up is what originally drew me to the festival, but Xavier Rudd and SOJA were pleasant surprises.

Random Notebook Dump: These girls are screaming for Xavier Rudd like he's a Backstreet Boy.

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Melissa Fossum
Contact: Melissa Fossum