My Recap of the 2013 McDowell Mountain Music Festival


This past Saturday and Sunday, I made my way to the latest installment of my favorite local festival, the 10th annual McDowell Mountain Music Festival, this year taking place for the first time at Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix.

To set the scene, the park sits on top of Interstate 10 just north of downtown proper (the aptly named Deck Park Tunnel runs right under it). It’s a nice expanse of green in the midst of the concrete jungle. On the outskirts of the park were a few vacant lots, a fair share of hard-on-their- luck street folks, but that’s standard for any big city in the old USA I guess. But the venue itself was great. Once again, the organizers did an amazing job of transforming a space into a three day getaway oasis – great food, plenty of facilities, vendors, the main stage, the local band stage, and a VIP section. Each year, walking into MMMF gives me that “ahhh” feeling as we gear up for another great live music experience.

Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards
Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards

I missed the opening Friday this year (sad about missing the Shins, but I’d seen Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros a few times before). Bu on Saturday, I grabbed the wife and two daughters and headed downtown mid-afternoon just in time for the Heartless Bastards. I’ve been checking them out over the past few months here and there, especially their new album, Arrow. Saturday’s 90 minute set cemented my admiration for the band, especially lead singer/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom. Her strong, lower register singing voice sounded great on tunes like “Only For You”, Junior Kimbrough’s “Done Got Old”, and especially “Parted Ways”, my favorite song of the band’s (right now). It was the perfect start to the day: quality roots/Americana sounds under sunny blue skies.

The weather for the festival? As the MMMF gang mentioned in their Facebook feed, it was chamber of commerce-style weather: high 70’s and sunny both days we were there. Although my family and I will admit to freezing our asses off Friday night. Wimps, I know (I grew up in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but you wouldn’t know it after 20 years in the desert).

Deer Tick
Deer Tick

So next up at 5pm Saturday was Providence, RI’s Deer Tick. Disclaimer: I’m a HUGE fan of the band, so not only did I catch their festival set (also 90 minutes – a bonus for any festival), but I also walked over to the Crescent Ballroom for their late night gig, which kicked off around 11:30pm (I’m still a little weary, and it’s Wednesday).

Characterized by primary singer & songwriter John McCauley’s raspy, wickedly awesome voice, Deer Tick plays gritty, rootsy, countrified rock n’ roll. During Saturday’s sets, they drew heavily from all four of their studio albums and an EP, played five new songs (from a forthcoming album produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos – yes, I love it when my favorite bands come together) and sprinkled some great covers in. They played 45 songs over the two shows, with only four repeats between their afternoon and late night sets. I was definitely reminded of how great Born On Flag Day is (their second studio album) – “Easy”, “Little White Lies”, “Smith Hill”, and “Houston, TX” were all played, and had me rushing back to the album after the gigs.

Deer Tick's John McCauley and Dennis Ryan
Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Dennis Ryan

Guitarist Ian O’Neil also impresses me more and more each time I see Deer Tick play. His Divine Providence tunes – “Walkin Out The Door” and “Now It’s Your Turn” – are always great live. This time around, he sang an insane new rocker, “The Dream Is In The Ditch”, and a cover of a Michael Hurley song, “Be Kind To Me” (another new one for me). Ian gets wild, jumps around, has a killer voice for rock n’ roll, and complements McCauley perfectly up there.

Deer Tick

Other covers of the night included “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” (the Pogues), “12 Bar Blues (NRBQ), “Sleepwalk” (Santo & Johnny, which is one of my all-time favorite instrumentals), “La Bamba” (Richie Valens), “Summertime Blues” (Eddie Cochran), and “Passing Through” (Leonard Cohen), which served as an ideal intro to Ian’s “Now It’s Your Turn.”

At the late night Crescent Ballroom gig, the band also brought up Vanessa Carlton to sing “In Our Time”, a great country-style duet between John and Vanessa.

I could go on and on about this band, so let me just wrap up this part by saying that Deer Tick really defined the weekend for me, similar to how they defined my Newport Folk Festival weekend a couple years back when I caught their late night gigs at the Newport Blues Café. I just love these guys [for the Set Lists of both shows, check out for the day set and the late night set]…

Anyway, back to the festival grounds early Saturday evening. I had go check into the hotel after Deer Tick’s set, so I missed about half of SoCal reggae band Iration’s set. I caught the second half, which was pleasant enough I guess. Certainly, nothing stood out and made me want to find out what I was hearing. No knock on the band, they’ve got a cool thing going, but it just didn’t connect with me.

And then came Saturday’s headliner, The Roots. I’ll admit to not being overly familiar with their material. My most significant connection to the band is through Questlove, who shares my lifelong abnormal obsession over the music of Prince. I’m also not much of a hip-hop head post-early 90’s. But I did grow up with the old school of hip-hop, seeing Run-DMC, Public Enemy, Doug E. Fresh, LL Cool J and others back in their early heyday. So I was stoked to hear rapper Black Thought give a shout out to the Beastie Boys’ MCA when he hit the stage, and immediately launch into a high-energy version of “Paul Revere” (my favorite Beasties tune). Questlove took the mic for MCA’s parts, and it was just magic. My 6-year-old daughter was even in the crowd gettin down with me.

I didn’t catch the full set unfortunately, so I missed some highlights like “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and Led Zeppelin cover, but I did catch a good hour, and it was just cool seeing the MMMF crowd exposed to some quality musicianship by a top notch band that can do it all – from hip-hop to rock to soul…right across the musical spectrum.

Dr. Dog
Dr. Dog

On Sunday, I got there just in time for Philly band Dr. Dog’s 2:30 set – one of those bands I’ve been chompin’ at the bit to see. They delivered everything I wanted and more. There’s a whole lot going on in their music, so they’re a hard band to define. I’ll go with something like “psychedelic indie-folk.” The band’s two primary singers blew me away – Toby Leaman’s strong stage presence and Scott McMicken’s unique voice, which had me thinking of Bob Dylan and the Felice Brothers at times.

The band had their core guitars, bass, and drums, but a large part of their sound consisted of a synthesizer and what I think was a drum machine/DJ rig that added all sorts of wonderfully strange beats, bangs and sounds to tunes like “Lonesome”, How Long Must I Wait”, “Do The Trick”, “That Old Black Hole”, and “Heart It Races” (originally done by Architecture in Helsinki, an Australian band). I mean, this is what I love about music – how one band can lead you to another. Architecture in Helsinki?? Who knew? Not me. Great set (another 90 minutes!), and I can’t wait to see Dr. Dog again.

Les Claypool & Bryan Kehoe – Duo De Twang

Next up was former Primus and Oysterhead bass-whiz and all around weirdo (and I mean that in a good way) Les Claypool and his Duo de Twang. The other member of the duo is Bryan Kehoe, a looong bearded, cowboy hat wearin’ good old boy from a Bay Area band called M.I.R.V. – and a solid picker on his dobro.

I absolutely loved this set, as Les and Bryan slapped and picked through tunes from the Primus catalog (“Wynonna’s Big Brown Beaver”, “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver”), and some interesting cover choices, including “Bridge Came Tumbling Down” by the recently departed Canadian legend Stompin’ Tom Connors, and Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans” – both crowd favorites, especially the latter, where Les somehow got the crowd to sing along to “We fired our guns and the British kept a’comin / There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago / We fired once more and they began to runnin’ on / Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Les and Bryan’s in between song stage banter was highly entertaining too, I could have listened to them all day. Count Duo de Twang as another act I’d see again in a heartbeat.

Yonder Mountain String Band
Yonder Mountain String Band

That brings us to my final set of the festival, Nederland, Colorado’s Yonder Mountain String Band. It had been some 13 years since I last saw them at the 2000 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. YMSB are a progressive bluegrass jamband, and have gathered legions of fans over their 15 year run. I’ll admit that my attention span was starting to wane into YMSB’s set, as the lack of rest and hot sun began to take its toll. I know. I can’t rally like I used to, folks. Not to mention my friends who love Sunday’s headliner, Umphrey’s McGee, are gonna slap me upside my virtual head for missing their set.

One thing is clear: the men and women behind the McDowell Mountain Music Festival should be recognized for putting on another high quality multi-day festival – no easy feat at all.

In my seven consecutive years of attending the festival, this was the third venue, and the first time in downtown Phoenix. Although we all miss the original venue, Scottsdale’s massive Westworld complex, this year felt sort of like a return to form after two scaled down years at now-defunct Compound Grill.

For one, they offered camping again (not sure how that worked out in the vacant lot adjacent to the venue – I’d be interested to know); they brought back the VIP section, with a large wooden platform looming over the side of the stage that allowed the VIP folks to watch the bands up close); there were tons of great food selections this year (we weren’t limited to the Compund Grill’s menu like the last few years). My go to spot was the Green Truck on the Go, where I opted for the Mother Trucker Vega Burger both days; and for a craft beer lover like me, I was excited to see Bend, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery as the official beer sponsor of this year’s festival. Inversion IPA, Mirror Pond Pale Ale… I was a happy boy.

Best of all, every cent of the festival, as always, went to charity – this year, it was Ear Candy, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and UMOM New Day Centers.

It was also a good opportunity to spend some time in downtown Phoenix. For someone who lives in one of the suburbs (about 30 minutes out), my normal excursions into Phoenix consist of the occasional concert or sports event (Diamondbacks or Suns). Post show or game, the city has always seemed like a ghost town, lacking heart and soul. So, not only was it awesome of MMMF to bring their event into downtown Phoenix to infuse a little of that vitality and soul (and money) into the core of the city, but it was cool too as a local resident to grab a hotel room, jump on the light rail train, and explore a little. Other than the late night bum brawl on the train (there was blood), I saw another side of the city: people walking around at midnight, bars and restaurants jumping with business… People. Energy. Life. It was refreshing.

So hats off to another great McDowell Mountain Music Festival – my favorite festival in my home state of 20 years. Here’s to many more…

2013 McDowell Mountain Music Festival brings the Roots, the Shins, and lots more to Downtown Phoenix

2013 MMMF logoArizona’s own McDowell Mountain Music Festival marks its 10 year anniversary in just a couple of months (March 22-24) with a stellar lineup – arguably the strongest lineup in its decade long run.

I’ve made it very clear over the years that MMMF is hands-down my favorite music event in old AZ. I’ve attended every one of them since 2007, when I watched in awe as Aaron Neville and his brothers belted out “Tell It Like It Is.”

From its earlier years at Scottsdale’s spacious Westworld complex (2004-2009) to the intimate sod-laid parking lot outside of the (now defunct) Compound Grill in north Phoenix/Scottsdale (2010-2012), the all-for-charity festival has brought in the likes of Los Lobos, Gov’t Mule, the Flaming Lips, Matisyahu, Blues Traveler, Galactic, and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros – as well as a regular rotation of local artists like What Laura Says, Tramps & Thieves, and Endoplasmic.

2013 brings another new venue for MMMF – Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix (aka “Deck Park” because of it’s locale over the Interstate 10 tunnel). It’s clearly a shift for the festival, moving from the far outskirts of the Phoenix metro area to smack dab in the middle of an urban center. This won’t be welcome news to those that enjoyed camping out under the stars during its first several years at Westworld, and were hoping for a return there. But any hesitation to attend should be squashed with this year’s announced lineup…

The Shins
The Roots
Umphrey’s McGee
Les Claypool’s Due de Twang
Deer Tick
Heartless Bastards
Dr. Dog
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
Yonder Mountain String Band
and more…

Me? I’m most excited to catch the Shins for the first time, to see the Roots a second time, and to see Rhode Island’s crazy bastards, Deer Tick, for a fifth time. The afterhours Deer Tick party on Saturday at the nearby Crescent Ballroom should be a wild time too.

I’m also really looking forward to Sunday’s closer, Umphrey’s McGee – a prog-rock/jamband that has been making big waves in the jam scene for years.

There’s a little something for everyone, isn’t there? Sunday’s lineup is a jamband fan’s wet dream. Saturday is gritty and soulful. Friday leans to the Indie side. All in all, a killer lineup if you ask me.

So tickets just went on sale January 1st. 3-day passes are going for $120.

See you there on Friday, March 22nd, yeah?

Here’s the full lineup…

FRIDAY, MARCH 22, 2013

6:00 Balkan Beat Box
7:30 Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
9:30 The Shins

11:30  ORGONE


12:00 LOCAL
1:00 LOCAL
3:00 Heartless Bastards
5:00 Deer Tick
7:00  Iration
9:00   The Roots

11:30   Deer Tick

SUNDAY, MARCH 24, 2013:

11:30 LOCAL
12:30 JGB BAND
2:00 Dr. Dog
4:00 Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang
6:00 Yonder Mountain String Band
8:00 Umphrey’s McGee


Official Site for the McDowell Mountain Music Festival


Recap: 2011’s McDowell Mountain Music Festival

The weather was ideal, there was a beer truck tapped with New Belgium Brewery’s Beers (among others), and the artists delivered. Yes, ’twas such a good time at the 2011 McDowell Mountain Music Festival, that I think that, over a week later, I’ve finally fully recovered. Of the three days of music on the main stage, I missed only one band – Friday’s opener Paper Snowmen. Sorry Paper Snowmen, I’ll make it up to you somehow.

Day One

After settling in at the hotel late Friday afternoon, meeting up with my buddy Trevor, and cracking a couple beers in the room, we caught the free 24×7 shuttle to the parking lot of the Compound Grill – transformed for the weekend into a grassy, musical nirvana. The vibe – as expected – was low key, laid back, and live and let live. Just the way I like it.

I rolled in just in time to hear Martin Sexton‘s opening guitar plucks. Now, last year, I saw him backed by a full band at a regular gig inside the Compound, and Nils friggin’ Lofgren (E Streeter and Crazy Horser) popped on stage for the last hour. So, there was a mighty lofty precedent set. It was a cool set though. Was I blown away? No. But Martin was playing the 6:30 to 8:30 slot on opening night, so there were conflicts. Meeting up with friends, grabbing some food (tacos were $1 a piece opening night, compared to $3 a piece the rest of the weekend), and making my maiden voyages to the aforementioned Beer Trailer of Goodness. Now beer lovers, take note – tapped on the truck and available all weekend long were: Fat Tire, Ranger IPA, Mothership Wit, and Blue Moon! Heaven, I tell you! Yet there were still people ordering Coors Light – Golden Colorado’s natural pee water. I’ll never understand that.

Martin Sexton
Martin Sexton

JJ Grey and Mofro were up next to close out Friday evening on the main stage. Good, down home southern fried blues rock. The highlight for me was when JJ channeled his inner Otis Redding, and belted out a song called “That’s How a Woman Wants To Be Loved By a Man”. The Stax sound filled the venue, and the people were happy. This was, for me, the highlight of Friday. Admittedly, I found parts of the set a little generic at times. Mofro are veterans of the festival scene, and know how to lay down a set, but some of the lyrics and hooks occasionally leveled out a little too much for my taste. I wasn’t as wowed as when I saw them last year at the ACL Music Festival. Still, though, overall satisfaction damn high in the setting of the MMMF. JJ is a great frontman and a beast on the harmonica.

JJ Grey
JJ Grey
JJ Grey and Mofro
ladies in the front

JJ and the band wrapped up the set, and it was time to head inside the Compound for the late show with jam/electronic wizards Particle. The keyboards on stage right captured my attention from the start (much like they do on the albums I’ve heard). Cool, electro/techno-inspired sounds and fills while the rest of the band drove into jamband happyland. It was all instrumental (at the least the first set was) and included, one must not forget, a cover of Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F”, aka the theme from Beverly Hills Cop.

At set break, I succumbed to Friday-night-after-a-long-work-week exhaustion, and it was back to the hotel.

Day Two

After a decent slumber at the Sleep Inn ($52 per night!), it was time to drive back to the southeast valley and gather my wife and my two music loving girls (they have no choice, poor things) for Saturday and Sunday’s festivities.

We made it back to the venue about halfway through Saturday’s opener, Phoenix’s own Kinch. I’d heard great things about these guys, and the handful of songs I saw did not disappoint. Balls out guitar-driven indie rock. Really creative, good hooks, and an energetic bunch of guys. They’re playing a handful of dates as Jimmy Eat World’s opener, and some others on their own. I recommend ’em if they stop through your town (


Next up was my favorite local band, What Laura Says. Psychedelic, retro, imaginative… I’ve used all these adjectives before, but they stick. I truly dig these guys. They played a smattering of tunes from both of their studio albums, Bloom Cheek and What Laura Says Thinks and Feels (their debut): “Training”, “Keep Running Shoes Special”, “Couldn’t Lose Myself If I Tried”, among others. Their third record, Talk, comes out May 24th. If you’re in Phoenix, you can hit the album release bash on May 20th at the Icehouse in downtown Phoenix.

What Laura Says
What Laura Says

Former Meters bass-man George Porter was up next on the main stage with his band Runnin’ Pardners. It was time for tha funk – New Orleans style. We got the Allen Toussaint-written “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” and Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes”… of interest here is that both of these tunes showed up on Robert Palmer’s 1974 debut album, and who backed him up on the record? The Meters. Interesting… speaking of the Meters, the show was not without its Meters tunes – most notable was “Liver Splash”.

George Porter
Runnin' Pardners guitarist Brint Anderson
Runnin' Pardners sax player Khris Royal

George Porter took a small break, then pulled double duty as the bass player for 7 Walkers (, also featuring Louisiana’s Papa Mali, multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard and former Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. They have a swampy, loose feel, which showed itself in “New Orleans Crawl” and their theme song “7 Walkers”. But for me, they hit their stride with a collective assault of tunes by the good ol’ Grateful Dead: a slow burning “He’s Gone” inevitably conjured up images of the late great Jerry Garcia. Papa Mali looks sort of like a backwoods bayou cousin of Jerry, doesn’t he? George Porter took lead vocals on “Sugaree”; then Papa brought us home with “New Speedway Boogie” and the always welcome “Turn On Your Lovelight”. I will always have a soft spot for those Dead tunes. I was lucky enough to catch ’em 10 times toward the end (in ’94 and ’95), and hearing the songs in a nice setting like MMMF just put me in a great place.

Papa Mali of 7 Walkers
Bill Kreutzmann
Matt Hubbard of 7 Walkers

Then it was SOJA (Soldier’s Of Jah Army), a reggae group from Washington, D.C. SOJA was one of the bands I was completely unfamiliar with coming into the festival. After watching these white rastas rock the festival crowd, I was converted. Singer/guitarist Jacob Hemphill and bassist Bobby Lee (the birthday boy) were energetic and inspired, leading the band through their catalog of good time and socially conscious tunes. A small horn section (sax and trumpet) and drums and percussion added just the right flavor.

Jacob Hemphill of SOJA
Jacob Hemphill of SOJA
Rafael Rodriguez and Bobby Lee (SOJA)

Headlining the main stage Saturday night was Australian one-man wonder Xavier Rudd. Like Martin Sexton the night before, I had seen Xavier once before backed by a band (at the Marquee Theater in Tempe), but at MMMF, he came solo – if you can really call it solo, the way he worked his rig of percussion, stompers, didgeridoos, guitars, and bits & pieces. It was unreal at points. The coolest for me was when he’d launch into these trance-like club beat chants, using his mouth on the didge and pounding out these sick rhythms on the assortment of drums. Xavier transformed that place. The sounds he unleashed coupled with the trippy lighting had me questioning where I was exactly in the time/space continuum. If you see a Xavier Rudd show announced in your town, GO.

Xavier Rudd
Xavier Rudd

It was time to head into the Compound once again for the late show – the Otis Taylor Band taking the stage this time. Otis has a cool thing going – part blues, part folk… Down and dirty, raw.. notable in the band was female fiddle player Anne Harris and a straight ahead rock guitarist Jon Paul Johnson. Both of them infused some unique elements into Otis’ raw sound and lead banjo playing. Fun show during that first set. Yeah yeah, once again, the day caught up and I headed to bed.

Day Three

On Sunday, after a nice breakfast at First Watch, a breakfast joint recommended by my photog-man Owen Brown, we set up shop at the festival before the first band hit the stage – that first band being Orgone.

Hadn’t heard of Orgone before the lineup announcement, but, like SOJA, they impressed the hell out of me with their funky rhythm guitar & horn driven L.A. sound. It was instrumental soul & funk, straight out of the 70’s (I found similarities with Brooklyn’s Budos Band). But they also brought out an L.A. soul singer, introduced as Aphrodite, though Google won’t help me find any info on her (checked “Afrodite” too). She sang a few tunes, including a cool version of “Funky Nassau”. These guys set the tone for the day for me. It’s a shame some folks missed them, their funky 70’s vibe was a great backdrop to a sunny early afternoon – and they finished with Funkadelic’s “Cosmic Slop”, for cryin’ out loud.

Orgone - photo by Pete Icke
Guitarist Sergio Rios (Orgone) - photo by Pete Icke
Drummer Sean O'Shea (Orgone) - photo by Pete Icke

Next up was Brooklyn’s Rubblebucket, a hard to categorize band. Singer Kalmia Traver sounded at times like Bjork, other times like the singer from Swing Out Sister (during a song called or including the words”I Don’t Cry”). Oh come on, you remember Swing Out Sister. “Break Out”, anyone? Okay, I’m a little older. But there was definitely an 80’s vibe to their sound. There was also an afrobeat element, with trumpet, trombone, Traver on the baritone sax, and even a traditional African guitar.

Kalmia Traver (Rubblebucket)
Kalmia Traver (Rubblebucket)

Anyone who saw Rubblebucket undoubtedly was entertained also by the Sedona Hippie. Now, there must be a story behind this gent, and I’m sure he’s well known up in Red Rock Country – but this was THE happiest hippie you have ever laid eyes on. Clad only in tie-dyed long underwear, homeboy skipped around the venue for all of Rubblebucket’s set. He hugged people, he lifted people and spun them around, he had a few serious sessions of ring around the rosie… I mean, the dude was HAPPY, and was not messing around. No shame in his game – bulge be damned… Props to the Happy Hippie.

The Happy Hippie
More Happy Hippie

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears! I’ve been enjoying this Austin retro power-soul band for a couple of years, and was looking forward to my first live show. Joe Lewis sounds like a seasoned pro – I was surprised to see he was just a kid in his 20’s. It was great to experience Lewis’ loud soulful pipes, the full on blast of the horn section (the Hard Proof Honeybear Horns), and the backing rhythm licks of Josh Duhamel-doppleganger Zach Ernst on guitar. They hit the crowd hard with new tunes like “Scandalous”, “Booty City”, and older ones like – you got it – “Bitch I Love You”.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
The Hard Proof Honeybear Horns and guitarist Zach Ernst
Black Joe Lewis

So then it was time for my second Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros show in as many weekends. I caught Alex Ebert and his merry commune the week before at the Railroad Revival Tour in Tempe (along with Old Crow Medicine Show and Mumford & Sons). I was especially excited about this gig because my kids were along, and like a lot of kids, they love “Home” and “Janglin” – and they adore Jade Castrinos, Alex’s co-singer in the band. I took the girls over side stage before showtime, tracked Jade down, and asked for a photo with my girls…

Jade and my Girls (photo by Pete Icke)

Cool right? They were stoked. So then we waited. And waited. Not sure if Alex was exhibiting diva-like behavior, but the set finally got rolling over an hour past its scheduled start. But all was forgiven when they kicked off the show with “Janglin”, and, one daughter in each arm, we stood front and center and sung along, all three of us. They were thrilled, and I was thrilled seeing them thrilled.

Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
Jade Castrinos

Nora Kirkpatrick

A few tunes went by, and, for reasons those outside of the Magnetic Zeros Circle may never know, Jade left the stage and never came back. For their biggest hit, “Home”, Alex brought up a few audience members to sing Jade’s parts. It was entertaining and all, and must have been exciting for the chosen ones, but it was disappointing not to have Jade on stage trading lines with Alex. All in all though, Alex and the Zeros pulled off a great closing set. As the crowd thinned out, Alex joined the crowd in front of the stage and had everyone sit down with him as he sang the final tune. It was a pleasant, mellow ending to another great weekend at MMMF.

Highlights for Me:

  • Orgone, What Laura Says, Xavier Rudd, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
  • Blue Moon, Mothership Wit, Ranger IPA on tap (and not running out all weekend!)
  • Air conditioned trailer rest rooms. Didn’t have to squirt in a port-o-potty all weekend!
  • The swiss turkey burgers were tasty, especially with those warm plantains.
  • The Happy Hippie. See above.

Some Observations:

  • This is one of the most kid-friendly events around, but the kiddos need food & beverage options. Vitamin Water, regular water, and soda got old real fast. An ice-cold lemonade stand would have made a killing. How ’bout a sno-cone stand? Popcorn and popsicles? French fries and chicken strips? (Props to that Ice Cream van though!) We have to keep those kids happy…
  • Water Sprayer Guy – Year after year you deliver, spraying the hot festival goers with a cool mist. Hats off to you, water sprayer guy…
Water Sprayer Guy
Water Sprayer Guy - photo by Pete Icke
  • Yes, we all still miss Westworld, and hopefully in the future, the festival will return there. But I can’t stress enough how great a job the organizers do in transforming an upscale Scottsdale strip mall parking lot into a music lover’s paradise.
  • It seemed like a good sized crowd, with lots of good people supporting a great festival and two great charities. Here’s hoping MMMF keeps growing in popularity here in the Phoenix area. Those of us who attend do our best to spread the word, but let’s be real – you mention MMMF to co-workers and acquaintances, and only a few have heard of it. It’s up to all of us to keep promoting it, and hopefully the talent budget next year is even greater. Pull in a couple big names, interspersed with some of the lesser known acts, and it’s bound for bigger & better things.

Thanks again, MMMF! And everyone, mark your calendars for next year, the dates have already been announced: April 20-22, 2012.

Onward and upward!

Credits: All photos by Owen Brown Photography unless otherwise noted.

10 Reasons To Discover the McDowell Mountain Music Festival This Weekend

This Friday, the McDowell Mountain Music Festival will kick off for its 8th straight year. The all-for-charity event has hosted the likes of Los Lobos, the Neville Brothers, the Flaming Lips, and the Black Crowes over the years. For the second year in a row now, the festival will take place adjacent to north Scottsdale’s Compound Grill (right near the loop 101 and Scottsdale Rd.). The organizers do a fantastic job of transforming the parking lot into an intimate, park-like setting (with real, glorious grass). Vendors, food and drink, friendly folk, and plenty of room to shake it to the diverse list of artists that grace its stages.

This year, headliners include Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros (“Home” and “Janglin” anyone?), JJ Grey & Mofro (killer southern blues rock), Xavier Rudd (worldly rock n’ folk from down under), Black Joe Lewis (vintage, good time R&B/soul from Austin) and super-late night sets from blues/folkman Otis Taylor and jamtronica outfit Particle (looking particularly forward to this). There’s LOTS more, check the lineup.

Here are 10 solid reasons to check out the MMMF this weekend…

10. I’ll be there. Need more? You do? Fine, read on.

9. Weekend warriors unite! Okay, I’m not getting any younger. The grays creep into the hairs (that are still there), and with a family now in tow, it’s harder for me to justify taking off out of town for days at a time to see live music and go to festivals. For me (and my family), the MMMF has turned into an annual vacation, where we spend a weekend to escape it all, kick back and enjoy the music – right here in ol’ Phoenix, AZ.

8. The Compound Grill – this great restaurant and music venue is only a couple years old now, and is really coming into its own as one of the top music venues in town. Along with the Rhythm Room, the Compound is my favorite place to take in live music. All throughout the festival, duck inside for a break from the sun, because Creamy Radio will be showcasing some of our town’s best local bands on its indoor Creamy Radio Stage. You can also have a seat and order a snack or meal from the Compound’s tasty menu.

7. It’s all for charity. All proceeds go to two homegrown Arizona charities: Ear Candy and Phoenix Day. Two great reasons to separate yourself from a few of your hard-earned bucks.

6. Laid. Back. There are many reasons the MMMF is my favorite local festival, but one of the biggest is the chill, laid back vibe in the air. No posturing, no douchebaggery… just smiling faces, young and old. Good people watching? Oh, hell yes.

5. Kid Friendly. Do you have kids under 11? So do I. Two of ’em. Does the word free get you all tingly inside like it does for me? Well, kids under 11 years old can walk right through those gates without paying a cent. Kids are free. My girls have been with me the last few years, and always have a blast. Last year, kids were going crazy for the sprinkler and the hula hoops.

4. Making musical memories. Trust me, you’ll come away with some really great moments to hang on to. Over the years for me, some of my favorite moments have included taking in the Grace Potter experience (three times, including this killer version of “Pain In My Heart“) ; seeing my kids’ faces as they watched our first Flaming Lips show (giant balloons, a small platoon of Teletubbies, Wayne Coyne crowd-surfing in his giant plastic bubble…entertainment for all ages). But biggest for me? Standing 10 feet from Aaron Neville as he sang “Tell It Like It Is” with his brothers…

3. The Weather – It’s that time of year where we have to get out and enjoy the outdoors before Satan comes knocking again for his summer stay in the Valley. And we’re lucking out, because the forecast for this weekend is sunny in the 80’s… glorious!

2. Discovery – Forget Pandora, come discover music the old fashioned way – experience it LIVE. So shut down that computer for a day or two (you know it needs a rest), and head out to MMMF for some new music discovery. Personally, I’ve seen a handful of these acts live already, but I’m a newbie when it comes to seeing Black Joe Lewis, Particle, SOJA, and Orgone. And I’m excited to check out Kinch, a local indie rock band that is making big waves nationwide. They kick off Saturday at noon on the main stage.

1. Support Live Music, Support a Local Festival – It’s a win-win situation, really. You see amazing live musicians like Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, What Laura Says, JJ Grey & Mofro, 7 Walkers, and Martin Sexton, and you’re supporting not only their lifestyle (and thank God for live touring acts), but you’re also supporting a great local music festival – the best in town, as far as I’m concerned.

So people of Phoenix. People of Arizona. People of the Southwest… Grab your sunscreen, bring your blankets, your camping chairs.. come join a great group of people this weekend for the 2011 MMMF.  See ya there…

Buy Tickets

Recaps from past years:

2011 McDowell Mountain Music Festival – Lineup Announcement

Amidst all the negative press and energy due to this past weekend’s tragedy in Tucson, it was refreshing to come across a very nice lineup announcement today from the Phoenix-area McDowell Mountain Music Festival, taking place in late April / early May.

Last year came the news that the venue would change from the green, expansive Westworld complex to a parking lot adjacent to north Scottsdale’s Compound Grill. While the idea took some getting used to initially, the resulting lot festival was intimate and a whole lotta fun. There was green sod on the blacktop, plenty of good beers on tap, tasty food to mow down on – and of course, some great music.

So it really came as no surprise today to see that the festival will return to the Compound Grill lot for a second straight year. But as you can gather from last year’s recap, I’ve NO problem with that.

And check out this year’s lineup – strong like bull!: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, George Porter Jr. and his band Runnin’ Pardners, Xavier Rudd, JJ Grey & Mofro, Martin Sexton, Particle, Otis Taylor, and 7 Walkers (feat. Papa Mali and the Dead’s Bill Kreutzman).

I’ve seen most of the acts before – ESMZ, Xavier, Mofro, Sexton, and 7 Walkers – and all are very strong live. I can’t wait to see Black Joe Lewis & his Honeybears for the first time, as well as bluesman Otis Taylor, and the legendary George Porter Jr. (who slung the bass for the freakin’ METERS!).

Light up or leave me alone, people, this is gonna be a good one!

Check out MMMF’s Facebook page here.
Their site will be updated soon with all the new details.

Dates this year are: Friday, April 29th through Sunday, May 1st.

Here’s the full lineup:

Fri, April 29th –
5pm to 6pm The Paper Snowmen
6:30pm to 8pm Martin Sexton
8:30pm to 10:30pm JJ Grey and Mofro
Friday Late Night: 11:00pm – 1:30am – Particle (inside Compound)

Sat, April 30th –
12:00pm to 12:45pm Kinch
1:15pm to 2pm What Laura Says
2:30pm to 4:00pm George Porter Jr. and Runnin’ Pardners
4:30pm to 6pm 7 Walkers
6:30pm to 8pm Soja
8:30pm to 10:30pm Xavier Rudd
Saturday Late Night : 11:00pm – 1:30am Otis Taylor Band (inside Compound)

Sun, May 1st –
12pm to 1:30pm Orgone
2pm to 3:30pm Rubblebucket
4pm to 5:30pm Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
6pm to 8:30pm Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Recap: Martin Sexton (and Nils Lofgren) at the Compound Grill

All photographs courtesy of OWB Photography. Click for larger images.

You may not come across many people in your daily life who are familiar with the music of Martin Sexton – much less seen him perform live. But anyone I’ve encountered who has seen his live act – people I know personally, online, etc. – has nothing but rave reviews for the guy.

Now I know why.

Martin Sexton, backed by the talented Ryan Montbleau Band (who also opened the show with an impressive 45 minute set), rolled into town last night for one of the opening gigs of his tour in support of a new album – Sugarcoating.

It was a 90 minute dose of a little of everything: roots, rock, gospel, blues, soul… and to sweeten the pot even further, who shows up to sit in for the entire second half of the show? E Streeter and local resident Nils Lofgren, that’s who! Being someone who worships at the altar of E Street – I was pretty excited.

I had spotted Nils right before the show started – wearing a jacket, t-shirt, jeans, and sporting a “I Could be Illegal” button on his lapel. He was sitting at a table not six feet away from me. And when he walked by, I had to do it: “Excuse me. Are you Nils Lofgren?” In a cool and calculated fashion (like it was the 20,000th time he’d heard this question), he extended his hand and replied “Yeah man, how are ya.”

So it was pretty cool taking in the first part of Martin’s show with Nils and his gang sitting right by me.

The first part of Martin’s set focused largely on new tunes from Sugarcoating. “Found”, the album opener, featured a beautifully sung “America the Beautiful” intro. “Sugarcoating” morphed into the first verse of “Amazing Grace.”

It’s these types of moments where Sexton stands out from the rest. His lower register singing voice is unique as is, but when he lets loose with his higher register voice – often stepping away from the microphone to really let loose – it’s hard not get goosebumps and lose yourself in the moment. And when the music includes moving standards like “America” and “Amazing”, it’s a great showcase for Martin’s supreme vocals.

“Diner” was the first Martin Sexton song I ever heard, the song that made me seek out more of his stuff. So I was happy to hear it as the second song of the night.

After a string of new tunes, the crowd really came alive during “Angeline” – from his 2000 Wonder Bar album – singing along during the fun chorus.

For “Glory Bound”, the band left the stage, leaving Martin to sing with his plugged in acoustic. It was before “Glory Bound” that Nils Lofgren stood up, walked past us and made his way through a door sidestage. When the band came out after “Glory Bound”, out came Nils with them – launching into a slow, bluesy “There Go I”. Nils launched into one of his signature solos, toying with the effects pedals and poking at the fret board…it was a sight to see – especially in the intimate confines of the Compound.

I thought Nils would sit in for one song and call it a night. But he never left the stage. He was there for the rest of the show. He joined Martin and the band for the Texas blues boogie of “Ice Cream Man”; the reggae rhythm of “My Faith Is Gone”; a short blast of Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker”; the beautiful “Always Got Away” (a favorite of mine from the new record); the playful feel of “Failure.”

The encore started with the slower, gospel-tinged “Black Sheep”. Then, it was really time for church.

Martin: “Hallelujah!” Crowd: “Hallelujah!!” Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

It was joy & inspiration all around as Martin and the band dove into “Turn On Your Lovelight”, intermingled with “This Little Light of Mine”, and whipped the sold out crowd into a spirited frenzy. It felt like a revival, and as Martin, Nils and the band left the stage, it was hard to come down and call it a night.

But as the saying goes, leave ’em wanting more. And that they did.



Set List

Martin Sexton
The Compound Grill
Scottsdale, AZ

May 5th, 2010

Love Keep Us Together
America the Beautiful > Found
Boom Sh-Boom
Livin the Life
Sugarcoating > Amazing Grace
Stick Around
Glory Bound
There Go I **
Failure **
Heartbreaker (instrumental)**
My Faith is Gone **
Always Got Away **
Station Man **
Real Man **
Ice Cream Man **


Black Sheep **
Turn On Your Lovelight / This Little Light of Mine **

[** with Nils Lofgren]

Recap: 2010’s McDowell Mountain Music Festival

I’ll admit, my first feeling was of disappointment when I found out a few months back that the 7th McDowell Mountain Music Festival was scaling down – from the spacious polo field of Scottsdale’s Westworld to the parking lot adjacent to the Compound Grill. But my feelings quickly changed to ones of thankfulness and support toward a genuinely good group of people who were determined not to fold it up and call it quits in these tough economic times.

After spending most of Saturday and all of Sunday at the festival, it was clear to me that not only had the festival organizers pulled it off, but they had created a very special and intimate experience for everyone involved. By scaling down the event and bringing everyone and everything closer together, it actually helped enhance the experience. I couldn’t help but feel a stronger sense of community than years past. By the end of the weekend, there were familiar and friendly faces everywhere I looked. And of course, the cozy atmosphere also brought us all closer to the great music.

There was no hot black asphalt to be found within the festival. Fresh green sod had been laid end to end, side to side. The food tent featured a delicious and unique menu provided by the adjoining Compound Grill – delicious turkey burgers, Korean BBQ tacos (teeny-tiny, but delicious), chicken & rice bowls, burritos, and churros with Prickly Pear Jam (a favorite of both my daughters). The beer tent featured about a dozen microbrews – New Belgium brews, Abita, Flying Dog, and others. There were vendors and crafts for the kids…

A Taste of What Laura Says’ forthcoming album: ‘Bloom Cheek’

My favorite local band by far is Tempe’s What Laura Says. Their debut record, Thinks And Feels, was one of my 2008 highlights – and their live show is just as impressive. Organic, psychedelic, folky/retro rock n’ roll; beautiful Beatles/Beach Boys-influenced melodies; and just all-around good vibes.

So I’m really stoked to see that this year will bring a brand new album entitled Bloom Cheek (on Terpikshore). A few days ago, they posted some sneak peeks at the new record. Take a listen to the minute and a half clips below. A great sign of things to come…

“On The Fence” | Great groove!

“Keep Running Shoes Special” | I saw them do this live, and it smokes.

“Tape It Spoke” | Brings out the folksy “Fleet Fox-y” side of the boys…

Two Times One Night: Los Lobos at the Compound Grill

Los Lobos delivered as expected last night at the Compound Grill in Scottsdale. The wife was a great sport, and powered through two full shows with me – an 8pm dinner show and a 11pm late show. Friends Jen and Brian also rocked out all night along with us.

The Compound Grill is a brand new venue, having been open only a few months now, and it was built with live music (and good food) in mind. So the atmosphere was just fantastic – a small club feel, friendly and attentive staff, and a great sound system.  The early show was sold out with the max capacity of 200 people, so it felt like the coolest private party I’d ever been to.  Eating dinner, putting back a pint or two, with Los Lobos as the house band.

After the first show, most of the folks cleared out, leaving those of us who were in it for the two shows. I was expecting it to fill up again, but the late crowd ended up being probably 80-100 people tops.  This only elevated that private party feel. Guitarist Cesar Rojas set the celebratory atmosphere from the very beginning – toasting “Salud!” with a glass of red wine. He toasted “Salud” throughout the night, right up through the last tune of the night as the clock ticked past 1am (“Bertha”).

The highlights were many. The cover tunes included a blistering 1-2 punch of Neil Young’s “Down by the River” into Jimi’s “Are You Experienced?” in the first show (jaw dropping solos by David Hidalgo, Cesar, and Louie Perez); a great cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “300 Pounds of Joy”; Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy”; another Jimi cover, “Red House” near the end of the late show; and of course their popular take on the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha”.

Another cool moment: slow dancing with my wife at the foot of the stage, as Lobos played a 50’s doo-wop ballad, “Daddy’s Home”. Dancing slow with the lady, and looking up to see Los Lobos playing five feet away? Priceless.

Of course, Los Lobos has a rich catalog to draw from – and the night featured old and new (full set list below) – including great versions of “Kiko”, “Evangeline”, “I Got Loaded”, and the always raucous “La Bamba”/”Good Lovin'” combo, which whipped the dance floor into a frenzy, and Hidalgo inviting a few young ladies to dance on the stage.

I always get instantly nostalgic after a great live music experience – so tonight feels a little bittersweet. The feeling I get while watching Los Lobos live is one I’d like to carry around with me every day of my life. If you’re one of the many who haven’t seen Los Lobos live, please put it on your bucket list and find out what this feeling is all about…


Cesar threw a few CD’s into the crowd last night. My wife grabbed a hold of one – their latest CD, Los Lobos Goes Disney. We listened today, and the album is a blast. It also contains a slow, beautiful tune called “Not in Nottingham” (from Robin Hood).  Check it out…


Buy the MP3 of Not In Nottingham

Check out the whole album:

February 20th, 2010
The Compound Grill, Scottsdale, AZ

8pm Show

La Pistola y El Corazon
Saint Behind the Glass
I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)
One Time One Night
Happy Birthday – electric
Chuco’s Cumbia
Dream in Blue
Down By The River (Neil Young) >
Are You Experienced? (Jimi Hendrix) >
Kiko and the Lavender Moon
Let’s Say Goodnight
Ay Te Dejo en San Antonio
Soy Mexico Americano
Volver, Volver
Road to Gila Bend
Don’t Worry Baby

Mas y Mas

11pm Show

La La La La La (Blendells)
Luz De Mi Vida
Whiskey Trail
Why Do You Do?
Wicked Rain
The Neighborhood >
300 Pounds of Joy (Howlin’ Wolf)
Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic)
That Train Don’t Stop Here
Daddy’s Home (Shep & the Limelites)
Red House (Jimi Hendrix)
I Got Loaded
La Bamba > Good Lovin’ > La Bamba (Ritchie Valens)

Bertha (Grateful Dead)

Los Lobos – Live & Late Night this Saturday in Scottsdale

This is already the perfect time of year here in the Phoenix area – sunny, 75 degrees, and Spring Training about to kick into high gear – but when I got the news earlier this week that Los @#@! Lobos will be in town this Saturday, I about spun around and did the splits James Brown style – and that is not an easy feat.

This Saturday nightLos Lobos will play not one, but two shows at one of the valley’s newer live music venues: The Compound Grill in north Scottsdale. They’re slated for a 8:00 show and a late night, down n’ dirty 11:00 show.

Look, if you’re in Arizona, and especially if you’ve never seen Los Lobos – a national treasure of a band – you need to make your way to the Compound Grill on Saturday night. Do yourself and your friends a favor, and experience a quintessential American band: roots, Tex-Mex, 50’s rock & roll, Latin, Americana, rhythm & blues… there are few things as satisfying as the live Los Lobos experience.

I know this is the ultimate fluff piece, but seriously people, look to the sidebar, Los Lobos are permanently enshrined in the Ickmusic Hall of Fame!

Long Live Los Lobos! And see you Saturday night!

Buy tickets from the Compound Grill Web Site.