McDowell Mountain Music Festival 2016 – Day Three

Another perfect day at the 2016 McDowell Mountain Music Festival (M3F).  With the temperature remaining below 80°, Sunday felt like family day at M3F with kids, parents and grandparents a plenty, Sunday was musically a family friendly day as well.

Day Three Observations

  • F41A7993 - Gary Clark Jr 031316I love the band Kaleo.  How a 25-year-old kid (yes, I’m old enough to refer to a 25-year-old as a kid) from a small town outside Reykjavik, Iceland can sound like he’s from the heart of Mississippi is simply beyond me, but lead singer Jökull (JJ) Júlíusson pulls it off seamlessly.  Kaleo signed with Atlantic Records in 2015 and moved to Austin, Texas, where they’ve worked with British producer Mike Crossey (Arctic Monkeys, Jake Bugg) to make a blues and American roots record.  Go figure. Kaleo’s 2015 SXSW appearance garnered critical praise from sources as diverse as Esquire Magazine and NPR.  If you missed their early afternoon performance at M3F go find them on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music or whatever streaming source you prefer.  And then make sure that you see them when they come back to town.
  • The audience response to the Avett Brothers was amazing.  It’s crazy that some fans can rock out while other fans can slow dance to the exact same song.  It’s amazing that different fans can simultaneously respond to the same doing so differently and it be so incredibly personal to each of them.
  • While jam bands didn’t have as prominent a role at M3F 2016 is they did in prior years, Sunday artists Huckleberry, Bird Dogs, The Oh Hellos and The Haymarket Squares carried the tradition forward to some degree even if not as pronounced as artists from prior years.
  • It was a nice collection of both local, national and international artists.  Artists like Bloc Party from England, Goldfish from South Africa and Kaleo from Iceland gave M3F a nice international feel while there was still plenty of time slots for local artists like The Haymarket Squares, Harper & The Moths and Fairy Bones.
  • While there were a number of very good food trucks and vendors at M3F, my favorite was Falafelicious from Flagstaff, AZ who served what could easily be the best falafel that I’ve had in at least 20 years.  It’s almost worth the drive to Flag just to track them down for another one (and come August when its 115° in the Valley, it’ll definitely make a great excuse to head to the high country).
  • It was nice that acts on the Main Stage and the Second Stage never overlapped.  It allowed attendees to really see every single act if they choose to and not have to decide between a Main Stage artist and a Second Stage artist (although it would have been nice if the Second Stage could have been seen from the main viewing area for the Main Stage so the smaller acts on the Second Stage could have received that much more exposure).
  • M3F organizers did a wonderful job of grouping the acts over the weekend so that each day felt self-contained and flowed from artist-to-artist, yet there was also a nice flow and consistency from day-to-day.  The collection of artists at M3F was almost like a really well-curated museum exhibit with works being related but not being duplicative.  Leaving M3F on Sunday evening, it was easy to say, “yeah, that lineup made complete sense.”  Kudos to M3F for the artists they booked for 2016.

Music

Icelandic rock and blues band Kaleo kicked off my day musically.  I fell in love with their music when they opened for Family of the Year at the Crescent Ballroom on November 24, 2015 (review here).  Kaleo was a great way to start off my day, but it would have been nice to see them grouped a little closer to Gary Clark Jr. as that would have made a nice double-header.

Local artists Ruca from Cave Creek took the Second Stage after Kaleo’s set.  Harkening back a bit to the jam band vibe of prior festivals, Ruca delivered a crowd-pleasing set that helped set the tone for a relaxed Sunday afternoon in the park.

Huckleberry took the Second Stage next (apologies to LA-based Bird Dog for missing their Main Stage set) and continued the laid-back vibe and tone started by Ruca.

Austin, TX-based The Oh Hellos took the Main Stage next and continued the relaxed, laid-back harmonies and vibe started by Ruca and Huckleberry.  While siblings Tyler and Maggie Heath are the heart and soul of the band, they’ve surrounded themselves with a group of fun, entertaining group of musicians including Zack Wiggs on the (hard-rock?) banjo and Joshua Heinlein on electric guitar.

Firekid (Dillon Hodges) could have been the most fun set of the afternoon.  An Alabama native, Hodges won the National Guitar Championship in 2007 at age 17.  Now 26, Hodges has an easy rapport with the audience and seemed to simply enjoy the opportunity to be on stage at M3F.  From Phoenix Hodges moves on to Austin for an appearance at SXSW.

Guitar virtuoso Gary Clark Jr. could easily have been a headliner on his own.  Coming off a 2015 tour in support of the Foo Fighters, Clark was last in Phoenix on September 25, 2015 (review here).  Clark won a Grammy in 2013 for Best Traditional R&B Performance for Please Come Home.  Clark delivered a blistering set that showcased his amazing command of the electric guitar.  While a bit of a diversion from The Oh Hellos before him and The Avett Brothers after him, Clark’s set was very well received by festival goers.

Local band The Haymarket Squares filled-out a quick 30 minute set on the Second Stage between Gary Clark Jr. and The Avett Brothers – just long enough for the production crew to change over the Main Stage from Clark to The Avett Brothers.  For those that wandered over to the Second Stage for their set, The Haymarket Squares shifted the vibe from Clark’s driving blues guitar back to the folk/jam band ethos that dominated Sunday afternoon.

The Avett Brothers headlined Sunday evening and delivered a spirited set that was the draw for many attending the festival’s Sunday session.  As mentioned above, it’s amazing how differently people interpreted and responded to The Avett Brothers music.  For those that know and enjoy The Avett Brothers, it’s clear that their music is deeply personal and meaningful to them in a way that you don’t see with many artists.  The Avett Brothers’  fans connect with their music in a profound and sincere way.  And The Avett Brothers didn’t disappoint – delivering a 22 song set that included many of the band’s most popular tracks.

All photos © Greg Cohen 2016

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