The Best and Worst of the 2023 M3F Music Festival in Phoenix

Channel Tres performs at M3F on Saturday, March 4, 2023.
Channel Tres performs at M3F on Saturday, March 4, 2023. Jim Louvau

It was another weekend of music festival awesomeness in Phoenix, this time downtown at Margaret T. Hance Park for M3F, a locally run, nonprofit event. Here's our take on the best and the worst of the two-day festival.

Best: Tight Set Times

It’s entirely possible to both condemn a fest for some real logistical snafus (as with late starts) but then also applaud them for trying to make up for it elsewhere. Like when the promoters were really committed to (generally) keeping the sets to their respective 30- and 60-minute runtimes. Veronica Everheart started promptly at 2 p.m. on Friday, even as folks were still entering the festival grounds. Meanwhile, the band Neal Francis had some technical issues — and then only got to play some 15-ish minutes of their actual set. That kind of commitment doesn’t just address the other little hiccups that popped up over the weekend, but it kept the focus firmly on the music itself, and that’s sort of why we were all there in the first place. That, and some firm deadlines actually seemed to make the most of each set, fully motivating artists to generate the largest bang for our collective bucks. Chris Coplan

Worst: Opening Late

Let’s all agree that hiccups and delays are a natural part of the festival experience. Until they actually happen and all your mature pre-planning and preparedness goes right out the window. Because a 30-minute delay with the gates opening on day one wasn’t ultimately a bad thing in the grand scheme of things — except that it absolutely colored a lot of your early experiences at a moment when it takes some festivals real time to obtain some momentum. It’s even more annoying when the issue behind this delay — apparently a fire marshal was running late with their final walkthrough — seems vital but nonetheless makes you question why it wasn’t addressed literally before the doors were opening and a crowd had formed. These events are a complicated, multifaceted web of logistics, like some great moving behemoth, and it takes one little misstep for a cascade of issues to commence. If your first step’s a trip, you’re bound for a larger stumble. CC

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The crowd at M3F wore some truly wild getups.
Jim Louvau

Best: The Attire

Maybe this is due to the whiplash of covering Innings Fest the weekend prior — where so many people rocked baseball jerseys — but M3F was a good-looking affair. A younger crowd, who leaned heavily into the club scene, meant an array of pretty stylish festivalgoers. Whether it was the folks rocking actual capes, lots of vintage bell bottoms and sundresses, a few slick, old-school leather jackets, and even the girl with the light-up fur vest, it was like something from a Hollywood imagining of your average music fest. And that kind of thing may be ultimately pointless, but it does sort of make the proceedings feel all the more important, as if we all came with our A game to make the most out of our weekend together. Plus, there’s a certain kind of joy and frivolity to everyone playing “dress up” — it’s what makes these events exude a sense of magic that also makes them so engaging and accessible in the first place. CC

Worst: People’s 'Accessories'

I don’t mean the bucket hats, the furry boots, and/or crop tops galore — those were fine enough. It was the people who decided to bring in hula hoops (or, in one woman’s case, six of them), flags, bubbles, and those twirly sticks that don’t merit a Google — those accessories genuinely merit banishment at every festival from here to eternity. Because those people need to hear that they’re not really fostering a good time, or even adding to the collective experience; they’re selfish, self-involved weirdos who can’t stand to think someone else is getting attention. The rest of us want to dance and drink and laugh with our friends — you want to show everyone why your five years of interpretive dance lessons were a worthy use of both time and money. If you want to put on a show, practice real hard and book your own venue. Then most of us can decide if we want to watch you reenact an Arthur Murray routine with your neon-colored fans. CC

Best: Dining Options Galore

Without naming any names, some fests offer up the same mix of Island Noodles and bricks of fries/onion rings every time. And fine though they may be, we all really want some choices, especially if we’re going to fork over $15 to $20 for a single item. This year’s festivities included mashed potato tater tots (!), Freak Brothers Pizza, several kinds of barbecue, the tried-and-true Island Noodles, and even genuine AMC popcorn. That’s on top of a pretty solid collection of beers and cocktails as well as other boozy treats. And if all that wasn’t enough still, there were a few different bars and food courts dispersed throughout the park itself, meaning lines weren’t nearly a time-sucking ordeal (but sometimes they totally were). There were lots of decisions to be made that weekend, and food and beverages proving a tad more streamlined and readily available meant you could put your energies elsewhere — like deciding which rad cape to purchase. CC

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Peach Pit perform at M3F on Saturday, March 4, 2023.
Jim Louvau

Worst: No Re-Entry

Forgot something in your car? Tough luck at M3F, which didn’t allow re-entry for any festival attendees. I understand re-entry restrictions at a show with single-scan digital barcodes, but if you’re offering a wristband, offer re-entry, too. The lack of re-entry at M3F discouraged attendees from showing up early in the day for the undercard, as few have the stamina for 11 uninterrupted hours of live music, let alone the phone battery ($20 for a portable phone charger inside festival walls, by the way). With its placement in the heart of downtown, adjacent to First Friday, re-entry would have allowed out-of-town festival attendees to engage with local shops and restaurants. But M3F kept its walls sealed, which kept me frustrated. Gannon Hanevold

Best: Design Choices

If you went to M3F for the Instagram pictures, you were in the right place. M3F had probably the sleekest color scheme and design of any Valley festival this past year. The 2-day GA wristbands were purple, orange, and yellow, accurately emulating the colors of a Phoenix sunset. The festival logo was appropriately minimalist, while still maintaining its individuality. And, best of all, a hollowed-out version of that logo, covered in buckets of colorful flowers, awaited fans upon entry. No matter the time of day, there seemed to be a line forming to get a picture with it. For a festival appealing to a younger, dance music-centric audience, they made all the right moves. The signposts with daily stage lineups were a nice touch, as well, and made it easy for attendees to plot out their next move throughout the day. Coupled with the soft, green grass, M3F was one of the prettier festivals I’ve been to. GH

Worst: Scalpers

Scalpers are, generally speaking, another unsavory part of the larger festival experience. (Right up there with sunburns and full-body fatigue.) But the appearance of a few on Saturday afternoon really stood out as especially egregious given what M3F stands for at its core. This event has always been about giving back to the community and its many deserving causes, and to have someone trying to make a profit from that just feels maddeningly disingenuous — even bordering on the nefarious. Can’t there be one thing that isn’t about profit? What about something that’s all but untouchable by the otherwise unsavory machine that is modern music fests? Sure, it’s not the fault of M3F per se, but it does still highlight the limitations of this “model” of responsible arts promotions and even its inherent level of sustainability within the community. CC

Best: Stinkweeds Records

The folks at the Stinkweeds Records pop-up shop told me this was their first time selling at a big local festival. I’m hoping this is the first of many. They had free Stinkweeds stickers and a wide array of record choices — from Arctic Monkeys to Prince, Phoebe Bridgers to Kenny Beats (I left with the latter’s LOUIE). It’s always a good idea to support local music shops, and Stinkweeds is certifiably one of the Valley’s best. While other retail pop-ups at M3F were aesthetically loud, Stinkweeds was a safe haven for its simplicity — as a music fan, there’s just something calming about record browsing with live music echoing in the distance. The best part? If you bought a record early in the day, the shop offered to hold onto it for the rest of the day, taking down a phone number for evening pickup. No bent LPs at M3F. GH

Worst: Where Are the Women?

Let’s talk numbers. By my count, only six out of the 33 acts on the M3F bill were female-fronted — that’s just over 18 percent of the lineup — and headliner Maggie Rogers was the only woman with a schedule placement after 7 p.m. For reference, Innings Festival and ZONA Fest were closer to 30 and 40 percent, respectively, in terms of their proportion of non-male performers. This homogeneity at M3F reflects wider music industry issues, of course (take a look at Album of the Year Grammy nominations for women in the last decade). But at a festival driven by good-natured charity and led by genres that draw an inherently diverse demographic, I expected a greater effort to platform women. GH

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Bon Entendeur perform at M3F on Saturday, March 4, 2023.
Jim Louvau

Best: The Layout

My colleague Gannon already nailed it in regards to the fest’s top-notch design choices. But it’s also worth noting that, from a logistical standpoint, the layout was pretty good, too. Even with taking up roughly half of Margaret T. Hance Park, the fest felt wide open without requiring a two-mile trek to cover the grounds. The stages themselves were staggered enough that, even when acts played simultaneously, the bleeding of noise was kept to a minimum. There were other savvy choices, too, like how the VIP areas didn’t eat up too much valuable real estate; a food court between stages to act as a buffer; and proper use of the rear area for both vendors and food (and a place to briefly get away from the hustle and bustle). Not every fest to emanate from Hance has been as savvy — ZONA from December 2022, for instance, had some issues, and they even got to place a stage under the Central Avenue “bridge.” It’s just another one of those things that makes things easier on fans, and one more thing they don’t have to think about when going through the days. Forget beer; streamlined operations are the true fuel for a good time. CC

Worst: Not Enough Locals

When a fest like Innings comes to town, it makes perfect sense why their organizer (C3 Presents) relies more heavily on booking bigger and/or national acts. But M3F is a homegrown affair, and they didn’t have nearly enough local artists represented on the stages. Sure, acts like Veronica Everheart and Slug Bug! got to play the “headlining” Vista stage, but even those were to open the two respective days. The rest of the lineup, then, was filled with acts from Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Paris, and parts of Australia. (Friday’s St. Terrible was once based in the Valley, but relocated to Idaho some time ago.) If the promoters were so concerned with representing local arts and culture, they could’ve done more than a few token gestures to the many solid artists that call Phoenix home. Especially when you consider that we’ve got a pretty solid roster of electronic/experimental acts that would’ve been perfect for this lineup. This event is so much about the optics, and certain decisions could’ve been made to enhance that perception for both for the fest itself and our culturally rich city. CC
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