McDowell Mountain Music Festival (MMMF) has been growing better and bigger ever since its birth in 2004. Their mission states, “The McDowell Mountain Music Festival exists to integrate and support the community, the arts and the underprivileged,” and that is exactly what they’re doing. All the profits are donated to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and a charity called Ear Candy that helps children pursue their musical dreams. Held on the asphalt field of The Compound Grill in Scottsdale, Arizona, fences are put up, grass is installed, and stages are erected. When a Petco, Mattress Firm and a Harkens surrounds you; it’s hard to forget that you’re in a parking lot, but the attempts at hiding it are much appreciated none the less.
This kid-friendly festival was host to a variety of people and music. Most people lounged on their chairs or blankets on the grass and some stood hovered around the Blue Moon bar until the sun went down. Parking was a struggle but after I found my space I made my way up to the gates and was amazed by how easy it was to just walk right on the property. I actually heard an avid follower of Dark Star Orchestra say that they just left the gates open for anyone to come in after a certain point. Not sure if this is completely true or not but it’s a nice assumption.
All the excitement made me hungry, and to my liking one of my most nostalgic childhood joys, crisscross sweet potato fries, came into my life. While strolling through the different vendors I met a glass craftsman named Chris, he was dishing out some awesome glass and he kindly fixed my favorite glass necklace that had broken earlier that week. Thanks to Chris it shall live to see another day! I also exchanged a few words with the kind gentlemen at the cigar box guitar stand, they even showed my friend Matt and I how to make our very own thumb piano!
Endoplasmic kicked off Friday Night. They played until the sunset and laid the mood for the weekend by providing a variety of improvised music, getting the crowd loosened up for a dance party. In the fiery glow of the setting Arizona sun Ozomatli struck their first cymbal. This culturally and musically rounded group says that “they are the voice of their city and they are citizens of the world.” The L.A. band made the crowd look like a Zumba class: the heavy Latin/ hip-hop influence had everyone joyfully moving their feet.
Saturday was a chilly day, but the vibes couldn’t be any warmer. Even though it was my first time seeing Big Head Todd and The Monsters, their set seemed strangely familiar to me. They did a few classic covers including Robert Johnson’s Come on in my Kitchen and a blues rendered version of I’m Sexy and I know It which was thankfully much better than the original. Dark Star Orchestra brought the biggest crowd of the weekend out on the lawn, Dead Heads and dread heads were plenty in sight. They covered many Grateful Dead classics starting out with the much-adored Jack Straw. I was so happy to see everyone smiling and dancing as much as I was and when China Cat Sunflower came on I overheard an old man say it made him “wanna shake, rattle and, roll” which really humored my senses. DSO ever so classically swung into Know You Rider when two giant puppets appeared in the crowd! Some dedicated fan went all out and created about four to five Grateful Dead puppets made out of various items like bed sheets and pool noodles. Completely random, yet totally awesome. Ever so appropriately One More Saturday Night jammed on as the moon rose higher into the sky. DSO finished their set with an encore of the beloved classic Ripple if it wasn’t for my overwhelming excitement of EOTO coming up next it would’ve lulled me right to sleep.
We headed into the compound were EOTO was playing a bit early to try and get a sneak peak of their set up; I was really surprised to see that there was no massive lotus on stage with fractal projections and beautiful patterns growing all around, there was just a small stage, and a ton of wires and equipment, along with a small drum set and a few microphones. What I was seeing did not fulfill my minds expectations as I had always heard of them having a visually stunning show as well as musical performance. I discovered quickly that the only things on stage that mattered were Jason Hann and Michael Travis: EOTO. Their set is entirely improvised and you can tell by how much they vibe off the crowd. I stood only a few feet from these guys as I watched them pour out years of talent, wisdom and absolutely mind scrambling skills. These guys emanated awesomeness. They played nearly everi variance of music and kept everyone on their toes. They teased everyone with a fat and dubby bass line, waited until we got all hot and bothered, and then WHOMP, dropped it. Masters of timing I tell you. Everything was so perfectly balanced. It really is hard to put a show like theirs into words, anyone that has seen them understands this, and to anyone who hasn’t seen them I highly recommend it. I will undoubtedly be looking forward to their performance at Lightning in a Bottle this May.
Overall this little festival was great: they accomplished their goal of bringing the community together to support local art and music, and at the same time provided important services to children in need. I’m certain that in years to come this festival will continuously evolve into an even brighter festival.
Thank you MMF for supporting a great cause and leading by giving back and thanks for making my weekend full of unforgettable music and joy!
Special Thanks to Benjamin Leatherman of the AZ new times for the pictures used in this post!