2010 McDowell Mountain Music Festival: Lineup Announced (and some changes)

4/20 Update: Win 2 tickets to see Steve Kimock & Crazy Engine on Saturday night.

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Since 2004, the McDowell Mountain Music Festival in Scottsdale has been a yearly spring highlight in my desert home, treating music lovers to the likes of Ratdog, the Wailers, Gov’t Mule, the Neville Brothers, Los Lobos, Blues Traveler, and last year – none other than the Flaming Lips. The setting spectacular: north Scottsdale’s WestWorld –  a large complex offering camping, RV parking, and an immense field of green grass. Plenty of room to take in the music, or break away for a walk around the grounds to check out the vendors, drum circle, kids area, and most importantly, the beer tents.

Well – the festival is back this year, their 2010 lineup announced today. In fact, they’ve even expanded to 3 days. The venue, however, has changed. Instead of Westworld this year, attendees will need to make their way to the northeast corner of 68th St. and Mayo Blvd. This year, an outdoor stage will be erected in the parking lot next to the Compound Grill – a new restaurant and live music venue owned and operated by the same folks who run the festival.

The decision to change venues was based on financial constraints. From the MMMF’s Facebook page:

Our mission has always been to give 100% of the profit back to charity. That mission combined with the current economic situation and a reduction in sponsor contributions has prompted us to change the venue….The founders have prided themselves in donating over $500,000 to family-based charities, never taking a dime for this effort. When last year’s donation came to only $12,000, it was necessary to change strategies.

No one can knock the organizers for working within their means. The economy sucks, and I’m grateful that the festival is even surviving (another local festival – the more mainstream Tempe Music Festival – called it quits this year). But I can’t sugarcoat it – I can’t help but be disappointed at the loss of Westworld as a venue. Westworld offered an ambiance and a loose, laid back charm that a north Scottsdale parking lot will not come close to matching. Last year, for my third year at the festival, I rented a RV and brought the family. We had a great time, and the kids were looking forward to another RV adventure this year.

But – venue disappointment aside – local music festivals need to be supported through good times and bad, and I’ll be there again to support the charities and see some live music. Hopefully enough dough is raised this year to bring the festival back to Westworld in 2011.

So let’s take a look at the lineup…

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals - photo by Adrien Broom

There aren’t any acts this year that make me jump up and do the happy dance – but it’s good to see that Grace Potter & the Nocturnals will be returning for a third time, closing the festival on Sunday evening. She never disappoints live. And Trombone Shorty? Good call. Any genuine New Orleans flavor is always welcome – especially in snooty north Snottsdale (I kid my Scottsdalian neighbors). Robert Randolph & the Family Band of course are great live. And I’ve heard good things about Toubab Krewe and Ryan Shaw.

I know nothing of Super Chikan, Ruthie Foster or John Brown’s Body – but it’s fun to explore new stuff. Super Chikan looks cool at a glance.

This year also introduces MMMF’s first “After Hours” shows on Friday and Saturday night – which require a separate ticket for each night. Assembly of Dust is Friday night. I was pretty lukewarm on them when I saw them at last year’s MMMF. But Saturday night, it’s Steve Kimock & Crazy Engine – playing from 11pm to 2am. I’ll be tired – but I’m gonna catch Steve for sure. Steve’s guitar playing is supposed to be pretty bad-ass live. Looking forward to it.

So while the initial emotion for a lot of live music lovers who have attended MMMF in the past is one of disappointment, it’s as important as ever to support the festival and its mission: “to support the community, the arts and the underprivileged.” For what it’s worth, Ickmusic stands behind the McDowell Mountain Music Festival, and hopes it continues on – and thrives – for years to come.

Lord knows we need a good festival out here in the desert.

McDowell Mountain Music Festival
2010 Lineup
Tickets

Friday, April 23
5 PM – 6 PM — Ruthie Foster
6:30 PM – 8 PM — Toubab Krewe
8:30 PM – 10:30 PM — John Brown’s Body
**AFTER HOURS SHOW (Separate Ticket)
11 PM – 2:00 AM — Assembly of Dust

Saturday, April 24
12:30 PM – 1 PM — Local Band TBA
2 PM – 3 PM — Local Band TBA
3:30 PM – 4 PM — Local Band TBA
5 PM – 6 PM… — Ryan Shaw
6:30 PM – 8 PM — Super Chikan
8:30 PM – 10:30– Robert Randolph & The Family Band
**AFTER HOURS SHOW (Separate Ticket)
11 PM – 2:00 AM — Steve Kimmock & Crazy Engine [Win a pair of tickets]

Sunday, April 25
Noon – 1:30 PM — Local Band TBA
2 PM – 3:30 PM — Local Band TBA
4 PM – 5:30 PM — Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave.
6 PM – 7:30 PM Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Review: The Gaslight Anthem at Martini Ranch, Scottsdale

For the second time in just 6 months, the Phoenix area was treated last night to the bare-bones rapid-fire majesty that is the Gaslight Anthem. The guys have been touring their asses off in 2009, with two swings around the US, and a successful European festival season highlighted by a couple of guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen on “The ’59 Sound” (at Glastonbury and Hard Rock Calling). Their work ethic is paying off, it seems. The buzz continues to build, and I felt a noticeable difference in the vibe between last night’s show at Scottsdale’s Martini Ranch, and April’s show at Tempe’s Clubhouse. The atmosphere felt more electric last night – the crowd was alive, vibrant, singing along, pumping their fists; and the venue is more colorful and inviting than the dungeon-like Clubhouse. It was my first show there, and any reluctance I had about venturing into the belly of the beast that is Scottsdale was quickly put to rest.

My brother and I (6’3″ and 6’4″) respectively, got a good position stage right – much to the disappointment of those behind us. Sorry folks, we staked our claim. Move along, nothing to see here.

The set was standard fare for the Gaslight Anthem. That’s no knock on them – it’s just that with two full albums and an EP to draw from – you have a good idea which songs are coming. But there’s nothing standard about their performance. The charisma and charm of front man Brian Fallon leads the charge…

They played all but one song off of their 2008 breakthrough The ’59 Sound (no “Meet Me By The River’s Edge” their most direct tribute to the Boss), and they drew a handful from their debut Sink or Swim, and their EP Senor and the Queen. I’m most familiar with The ’59 Sound, and what was astounding to me was how familiar the crowd was with their older material. I love the fact that there’s a fan base like this locally – lingering under the radar – and emerging for great live experiences like this.

Sound-wise, my only gripe is that Fallon’s mic could have been louder and more crisp – the vocals weren’t too clear at times. Then again, we were in front of the bass amp, so Alex Levine’s bass lines were washing over us pretty intensely.

The highlights for me came in the form of “The ’59 Sound”, which really turned me on to the band when they performed it on Letterman early this year; the “Stand By Me” intro into “I’da Called You Woody, Joe”, which is Fallon’s ode to Joe Strummer and the Clash; I love the driving force of “The Patient Ferris Wheel”; and one of Gaslight’s few ballads, “Here’s Lookin’ At You, Kid”. I know it’s hard to pull off live, but I wish Fallon would sing it in the lower register like he does on the album – it’s such a bittersweet tune.

Gaslight’s set clocked in just short of 90 minutes, and as they wrapped it up with “We’re Getting A Divorce, You Keep The Dinner” , the final chant resonated with me: “It’s all right, man / I’m only bleeding, man. / Stay hungry, stay free, And do the best you can.” It sums up what I love about the band, and the artists they draw inspiration from – Strummer & Springsteen in particular – that in this imperfect and often unjust world in which we live, the important thing is not to let it get you down. Stay positive, care for those around you, and “stay hungry, stay free, and do the best you can.”

The Gaslight Anthem continue their hectic touring schedule. If you’re in North America, odds are they’ll be in your neighborhood by the end of the year. Check out the tour dates here. Check out a great band on an upward trajectory. There are great things to come from these guys.

Quick Notes:

  • It was great meeting two friends from my Twitter existence: Drew (@azecho) and Dave (@dfactor). I met Drew when a 300 lb drunk was shoving himself through the crowd, and pushed Drew right into me. That guy cannot be feeling great today.
  • I would have posted some pics, but they didn’t turn out post-worthy at all. The only decent one was of the hot Gaslight roadie.
  • I didn’t mention the opening acts, Gaslight’s tour mates the Loved Ones and Death by Murder. It was my first exposure to either band. I’d have gone more into their sets, but I’m not familiar at all with them, so I’ll spare you. Enjoyable stuff, though.

Set List – 9/15/2009
Martini Ranch
Scottsdale, AZ

High Lonesome
Casanova, Baby!
Old White Lincoln
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
The ’59 Sound
We Came To Dance
Film Noir
Miles Davis & The Cool
The Patient Ferris Wheel
Stand by Me intro >
I’da Called You Woody, Joe
Angry Johnny And The Radio >
If I Had a Boat [Lyle Lovett]
Great Expectations
Here’s Lookin’ At You, Kid
The Backseat

Encore

Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts
Wherefore Are Thou, Elvis?
Senor and the Queen
We’re Getting A Divorce, You Keep The Dinner

Incoming: Gaslight Anthem, Citizen Cope

My next two shows are in the books…

The Gaslight Anthem – September 15th – Martini Ranch, Scottsdale | I’m not crazy about the venue – right in the heart of Old Town Snottsdale – but for Brian Fallon and the boys of Gaslight Anthem, I will endure the surrounding douchery. They’re fresh off a summer festival season highlighted by a couple of guest appearances by fellow Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen, and hallelujah, they’re back in Arizona for their second appearance in 6 months. Bless you boys.

The Gaslight AnthemBoomboxes and Dictionaries (mp3)  |  Official Site | Tour Dates

Citizen Cope – September 25th – Marquee Theater, Tempe | About as laid back of a stage presence as you’ll find, Citizen Cope brings the cool with a really unique mix of earthy soul & roots music. I really enjoyed my first Cope show in the same venue a year and a half ago. Part of  what made it great was the presence of sexy soul songstress Alice Smith. I think she’s still tagging along with Cope – here’s hoping she’s part of it again.

Citizen CopeHurricane Waters (mp3) | Official Site | Tour Dates

Funk Explosion: Dumpstaphunk at the Rhythm Room

It was about 30 seconds into Dumpstaphunk’s set last night that I realized how starved I was for the Funk. No joke. I literally felt it wash over me like an ocean wave, seep into me, cleanse me, f-u-n-k me. That opening instrumental tune – the rapid fire bass lines of Tony Hall, while he stood over Ivan Neville on the Hammond B3, staring eye to eye – completely locked in from square one. While the chicken scratch guitar of Ivan’s son Ian, and the sounds of the funky drummer, Raymond Weber, piled on in the background. A symphony of funk right from the get-go.

I’m trying to think of the last time I was so funked up. It may have been in the late 90’s in Las Vegas, when Prince took over Club Utopia for one of his aftershows – a funk n’ soul laden jam session that lasted well into the morning hours.

It was a similar feeling last night – watching (and feeling) a talented group of musicians jam and have fun – taking the crowd along with them on a funk-tastic voyage. It was refreshing to pack into the Rhythm Room – a small box shaped club in Phoenix (and my favorite venue in town) – with a diverse group of like minded people. Young, old, black, white – you name it. All there to feel the funk.

From originals like “Meanwhile”, “Put It In The Dumpsta”, and their ode to flatulence on the road, “Gas Man” – to a tight n’ killer viersion of James Brown’s “Super Bad” and the show finale, Sly’s “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf” – the boys of Dumpstaphunk did not let up. They packed it all into a 90 minute plus set. The old saying goes, “Leave ’em wanting more”, and they certainly did that. I wasn’t ready to go.

As I lingered around afterwards, still in a daze from the experience, chatting it up with my Twitter buds @kfoxaz and @johnnyuno, there was Ivan Neville standing right next to us. It was cool to tell Ivan how I was a fan of his and his old man (Aaron $!@ Neville!!). I tell you, I never walk out of that Rhythm Room disappointed. Last night – for the first time in too long – the funk – the Dumpstaphunk – came to the hot Arizona desert. In August. And man, did they quench my thirst.

Dumpstaphunk’s Official Site | MySpace

Be sure to check their tour dates. If you’re on the West Coast, they’ll be coming your way in the next week or two.

Here’s a recent show from Archive.org – Dumpstaphunk at the All Good Music Festival in West Virginia last month. It includes that hella-funky opening jam.

Hey, by the way, ever seen such a cool, tricked out Bug? Saw this in the parking lot last night.

Summer of Sound Saturday Night on Mill Ave

If you’re with me here in the Valley of the Sun, and you like good tunes, join me & m’ lady Saturday night at the Mill Cue Club on Mill Avenue in Tempe. The New Times Summer of Sound series kicks off, with Americana as the theme of the evening, featuring local bands Tractor Pull Divas, Matthew Reveles, the Cartwheels, the Sugar Thieves, and L.A. band the BellRays. Entry is only $5.

Live music on Mill Avenue. Feels like 1995!

Tractor Pull Divas

It’s time to spread the word about some quality music in my neck of the woods here in Arizona.  I don’t do it enough..

Tractor Pull Divas hail from Chandler, one of Phoenix’s ‘burbs just southeast of the city. They’ve got a nice rootsy sound with a good, clear vocalist reminiscent of Roger McGuinn and  Tom Petty. They’re keeping it pretty incognito online. They have a MySpace page, but nowhere do I see any mention of their names and backgrounds.

But I do know they have an EP that they released last year: Love Songs for (Insert Your Name Here), and I recommend dropping the $5. You can never go wrong supporting an unsigned band, can ya?

Hear: It’s Not Going To Kill Me (mp3)

Buy their EP, Love Songs for (Insert Your Name Here) on CD Baby or on Tractor Pull Divas - Love Songs for (Insert Your Name Here)

Visit: http://www.myspace.com/tractorpulldivasmusic

Recap: McDowell Mountain Music Festival

(or why I came home with a gnome)

Early Friday afternoon, a rented CruiseAmerica 25′ recreational vehicle rolled into the WestWorld complex in Scottsdale, Arizona. In the back, my two little girls, ages 3 and 5. In the passenger seat, my wife. And rollin’ gangsta-style in the driver’s seat? Suge Knight!! WTF?! Heh, kidding of course. ‘Twas me. The RV:  that’s how we rolled this weekend for the McDowell Mountain Music Festival. We cruised into the RV area, hooked up our casa on wheels to power and water, and it was time for my favorite local festival….

McDowell Mountain Music Festival kicks off Friday

What: McDowell Mountain Music Festival
Where: Westworld – north Scottsdale, AZ
When: Friday, April 24th & Saturday, April 25th

This is a weekend I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. My favorite local festival, the McDowell Mountain Music Festival, kicks off tomorrow. Over the next two days, north Scottsdale’s WestWorld grounds will transform itself into the music mecca of the area for the weekend.

The next two days will feature some seasoned veterans: Hot Tuna and New Riders of the Purple Sage (a band that once featured one Jerry Garcia); some festival favorites: Michael Franti & Spearhead, Railroad Earth; an Irish band from L.A. (the Young Dubliners); a Hasidic Jew with a flair for all things reggae (Matisyahu); and then, headlining Saturday night, a band that has us – the desert dwellers – abuzz: the Flaming Lips!

Fun in the sun, groovalicious tunes, cold brewskis for those of us who enjoy such things, great food, great people….

And a nice forecast…

I’ll be snapping up some photos, and tweeting around throughout the weekend. For now, I leave you with a cool version of the Flaming Lips covering Madonna’s “Borderline”. See you all on the other side!

Bolero!: Conor Oberst at the Marquee Theater in Tempe

Thanks to a last minute ticket offer (gotta love Twitter), I headed out to see Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band last night at the Marquee Theater in Tempe. They played the ACL Festival last September, but I missed ’em there. I’ve been an admirer of Conor’s since I heard the Bright Eyes album ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning‘. Brilliant record. Conor’s self-titled solo debut last year is also top notch, “Sausalito” being my favorite.

With the venue located in the heart of Arizona State University, the college set was out in full force. I was one of the old folks in the crowd, and I’m only 38. Props to the older 50 something who was accompanying his teenage daughter. I’ll be doing the same down the road. I love seeing that.

Conor, his new wide-brimmed black bolero hat, and the band strolled out at around 9:20pm, and launched into a track called “Spoiled” from the MVB’s forthcoming album, ‘Outer South‘. The 90 minutes of music focused exclusively on music from that album, and from Conor’s record.

I was back by the soundboard, and my only complaint of the evening was the occasional muddiness in the mix in some of the louder full band songs – especially “Sausalito”. An exception though was a tune that the lead guitarist sang about a half hour into the show. It was a short, sweet blast of rock n roll – sort of like when Keith Richards steps to the mic for one of his uptempo tunes. I was taken aback. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this tune on the new record. I tried to get some lyrics down, but pretty much failed. All I got was “I still get…” and “with you”. That helps, huh?

What surprised me too was hearing the Conor songs live, and the way it breathed new life into them. “Eagle on a Pole” was explosive and spirited; “Get Well Cards” and “Moab” were also great.

The true magic for me though came when things slowed down, namely in the opening and closing songs of the encore. The first song of the encore was just Conor and his acoustic, singing “White Shoes” (from the new MVB album). It was just gorgeous, centered around the chorus: “Anything you wanna do. Lover, anything you wanna do.” Intimate and intense. You can hear it right here.

The closer of the evening was “Milk Thistle”, which also closes Conor’s record. Apparently I hadn’t taken the time to focus on this song when listening to the album, because the lyrics blew me away…

I’m not scared of nothing / I’ll go pound for pound
I keep death on my mind / Like a heavy crown
If I go to heaven / I’ll be bored as hell
Like a little baby / At the bottom of a well

And

And I’m not pretending / That it’s all okay
Just let me have my coffee / Before you take away the day

I was really impressed by Oberst and the band. Conor couldn’t have been more genuine and personable in his interaction with the 700 or so people in the crowd. He seemed to be in a great mood, and the crowd fed off that, enjoying every song, even the new unfamiliar ones.

Except for those few who felt like chatting away during “White Shoes”. I am not fond of people like you.

Conor Oberst Milk Thistle (mp3) – from Conor Oberst

[audio:milkthistle.mp3]

Links: Official Site | MySpace

Up the Hill: Bruce Cockburn @ the Orpheum Theater in Flagstaff

There are two Bruces in the music world I am very fond of. One is Springsteen, the other is Cockburn. This weekend, the perfect storm of shows came to pass: the Weekend of Bruce.  Friday night was the Boss. And on Saturday, the wife and I took off for Flagstaff on an anxiously awaited 24 hour getaway to see Bruce Cockburn.

I discovered Cockburn in 1994, when his great album Dart to the Heart was being played on local radio. It was an amazing discovery for me – his albums date back to 1970 (the year I was born), and I snatched most of them up. Masterful guitar playing, a clear and soothing singing voice, and a very diverse range of subject matter when it comes to the lyrics: from affairs of the heart to land mines, the metaphysical and spiritual to the eradication of Native American culture. He’s a very intelligent and thought provoking man.

It had been about 10 years since I last saw him live, so I made sure I scored tickets early when I heard about it. And that paid off, because we found ourselves in the front row last night (man, what a weekend for great location!).  The setting was the Orpheum Theater in Flagstaff, a great little theater on Aspen Street. It’s a nice long room with a large stage in front, and a bar area in the back which runs a good way along the side of the theater. We were bummed to discover that it closes at the end of April – permanently. Another great venue bites the dust (like they always seem to).

Bruce had three acoustic guitars set up, along with a dobro and a tiny 12-string guitar called a tarango (which originated in the Andes of South America). Out he came in army/cargo pants and a tan jacket, with his gray hair pulled up into a pony tail on the top of his head, and his signature specs. Speaking of gray hair, there was quite a bit of it in the crowd. There were a few scattered “younger” folks like me and my wife, but I would say most of the crowd was 50+ (Bruce undoubtedly has many more younger followers up in Canada, where he’s very revered and well known, as he should be).

On to the music. With a catalog that spans back to 1970, Bruce had plenty to choose from. He reached as far back as 1979 for “Wondering Where the Lions Are”, from one of my favorite albums of his – Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaw. The crowd stayed pretty silent throughout (at the venue’s request, being a quiet solo acoustic show), but Bruce implored the crowd to sing along to the chorus on this one. Nice moment. He also reached back to “How I Spent My Fall Vacation” – a highlight from 1980’s Humans, for the opening song of his encore.

But most of the two sets focused on his tunes from the last couple decades. It was great to hear a handful from Nothing But a Burning Light, Dart to the Heart, and Charity of Night, which were three of the albums that cemented my love for his music in the mid 90’s. “Night Train” and “Pacing the Cage” came from Charity (you may know “Pacing the Cage” from Jimmy Buffett’s version). “Kit Carson” and the show closer, “Child of the Wind” came from Burning Light – the latter song has a simple powerful lyric that I had in my head when I woke up this morning: “I love my sweet woman down to the core.” And from Dart to the Heart, Bruce pulled out the tarango for “Bone In My Ear” – one of the many songs that had me mystified at how this one man can make so many sounds come out of an instrument.

It’s hard to describe Bruce’s finger picking style, but I’ll try. His right hand is fixed in sort of the Hawaiian “hang ten” look – with his thumb providing the bass lines on the top strings, and his pinkie finger resting on the guitar under the strings. The jaw-dropping part is that his middle three fingers look like they’re completely still when you’re facing him. But holy jeebs, the sounds – the amazing picking that generate from the tips of those fingers underneath! I’m always in awe seeing him play live, and even more so last night sitting 15 feet from him. See it for yourself right here.

Other highlights for me: “Last Night of the World”, “Beautiful Creatures” (featuring a hauntingly beautiful falsetto in the chorus), “Elegy” (a slow and sublime instrumental), and of course it’s always great to hear ‘If I Had A Rocket Launcher”.

It’s almost midnight on Sunday night, the end of an amazing weekend of music. It was a once in a lifetime “perfect storm” of Bruce Music, and how satisfying to the soul to sit back and reflect on these past two nights – experiencing two great musicians up close, soaking up all their years of musicianship – such experts at their craft.

Thanks Bruces.

Set List

Set I
World of Wonders
Last Night of the World
See You Tomorrow
Night Train
Pacing the Cage
Lovers In A Dangerous Time
Bone In My Ear (on tarango)
Elegy (on dobro)
Wait No More (on dobro)

Set II
Jerusalem Poker
Beautiful Creatures
Call Me Rose
Kit Carson
Put It In Your Heart
If a Tree Falls
Wondering Where the Lions Are
Celestial Horses

Encore
How I Spent My Fall Vacation
If I Had A Rocket Launcher
Child of the Wind