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M3F: The Music Festival That Helps Define Phoenix

McDoweell Mountain Music Fest, or M3F, is one of the music festivals that defines Phoenix—even though Phoenix doesn’t have much of a festival scene. But for some people, that’s exactly the point.

“I met this one vendor…and he was talking about how he loves to come to Phoenix because it doesn’t really have a good rep of having a great festival scene,” reflects an attendee named AJ. “He loves to see people come together in Downtown Phoenix and really get down and get funky. It’s great to hear that from vendors who travel around to different festivals.”

That being said, M3F has undergone some serious growth since its 2004 inception. Starting out as a two-day “Eclectic Music Festival” featuring mostly tiny jam-bands, it’s grown into a 3-day music festival that spans the genres—and donates 100% of its profits to Phoenix Children’s Hospital and UMOM New Day Center. With excited fans and a crush of well-known musicians, could M3F be the trigger that tips Phoenix into the festival scene?

Mcdowell Music Festival pictureThe Experience

After a ride on Phoenix’s light rail, visitors walk five minutes to Hance Park to enter the festival. “When you first walk into Hance Park,” AJ remembers, “You see an array of beautiful vendors that are selling different clothing items, art pieces and funky hats.” The green grass spills underneath tents and feet and music stages, setting an idyllic springtime mood.

Check out the Mcdowell Music Festival lineup from 2016! 

Mcdowell Music Festival 2016 lineup

Friday’s lineup featured Animal Collective and Beck, and was definitely wilder (according to festival attendees) than the mostly-electronic Saturday or the folksy Sunday. It provided an opportunity for a huge dance party to break out during Beck’s set, and for wild crowds to get lost in the night.

Dancing to Mcdowell Music Festival

Saturday delivered a wide array of music, mainly centering around an electronic vibe. The Main Squeeze performed some killer funk music, and other bands like GRIZ and Goldfish took the stage with pride. Even the wildly famous Kid Cudi showed up, telling everyone to put away their phones and really take in the  moment. “I met a lot of younger kids [on Saturday], “ AJ expresses. “It was their first event, and they were so excited to be able to really express themselves, dress up, and get out there.”

Picture from Mcdowell Music Festival Facebook album

Photo by Mcdowell Music Festival. 

And Sunday promised a different atmosphere. While around 5,000 people graced Hance Park on Friday and Saturday, only 2,000 showed up on Sunday. But those 2,000 were happy to be there. “Sunday, I met a lot of elderly people from out of town who said they love the Avett Brothers,” AJ tells. “I met this really awesome lady from Canada, and she says that she loves to go out to music events here. She loves to put on her pink hair, funky glasses, funky clothes and just let loose.”

AJ smiles and continues, “No matter what age you are, or what color your hair is, or what sunglasses you’re wearing or what funky skirt you’re wearing–we’re all here for the music.”

Day time picture from Mcdowell Music Festival Facebook album

Photo by Mcdowell Music Festival. 

What Makes M3F Special?

“As a third year attendee of M3F, I always appreciate the family-friendly atmosphere,” says AJ. “If you are able to arrive to the festival early it is always so fun to see the families and kids roaming through the field and playing games. It really gives a festival-goer like me a feeling of strong community within Phoenix since M3F has been going on for a while.”

McDoweell Mountain Music Fest, or M3F, is one of the music festivals that defines Phoenix—even though Phoenix doesn’t have much of a festival scene. But for some people, that’s exactly the point.

The size of the venue is also something unexpectedly magical. The park is small, which lends a festival like this a sort of intimacy and energy that would be lost in a bigger space. “There is enough room to dance, but still a small sense of community,” adds AJ. “There are two different stages, and plenty of activities, but it’s all somehow in this small part of Downtown Phoenix. You can go from dancing, to looking at vendors…to joining in on a drum circle with new friends.”

Conclusion

Even though the city name may not scream “festival scene,” this exciting, diverse (and family-friendly!) festival is a true oasis in the Phoenix desert, for locals and die-hard festivalgoers alike. Next time it comes around, why not grab a ticket and find out just how green the grass really is?

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