Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn
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MIM Trips: Non-Profit M3F Festival Brings Odesza, Empire Of The Sun and more to Phoenix

Celebrating their 16th year, McDowell Mountain Music Festival gathers impressive line-up of artists in the desert

After The Big Turn Music Festival last weekend, which was accompanied by an uneventful snowstorm that nearly stranded us in Red Wing, I concluded I had enough snow, but I still craved the celebration of the festival atmosphere. 

My dad lives in Arizona, so I decided I would look for an event happening in Phoenix so I could visit him and get some much-needed vitamin D. Upon searching for events, M3F Fest came up at the top of the page. Headlining, were two phenomenal artists; Empire of the Sun and Odesza, along with a handful of other noteworthy artists like Margo Price, Mansionair, Big Wild and others.

Viewing the line-up, we made a plan of which artists we didn’t want to miss. I booked my tickets, ordered a Lyft to the airport and we were off.

Day 1

After a three and a half hour flight, we were welcomed by beautiful seventy-degree weather. Conveniently, Hance Park just was a short jaunt from the airport.

When we arrived on location I expected to come upon a sea of festival goers, considering the large population of Phoenix. Not the case. The attendance was more like a county fair, with people scattered across the open area.

There were a few admission lines from which to choose. One with a sign that said “no bags” was empty, and after getting my pass we breezed right through. We walk to the nearest tent serving beer, which also had no line. This was a nice change compared to the typical festival experience. A variety of Oskar Blues brew is on tap. We began walking around the vendor tents and checking out all the cool art available. Then I heard my name, “Bo!” I looked up to see Drew from Wander & Co. He’s a rad dude from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who started a clothing line that helps various social causes. We shot the breeze a bit and we’re on our way again.

The first artist we came upon was Mansionair. I had seen them open for Bob Moses a few months ago at Varsity Theater, so I was familiar with their exceptional sound and very eager to find a spot in the grass, sip my pilsner, and vibe to the Jack Froggatt’s wonderful vocals.

Mansionair M3F Jack Froggatt Live
Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn

As I looked around, I was surprised to see small families sitting on blankets on the lawn. There was a woman holding her sleeping baby, who couldn’t have been more than six months old, and the child was wearing noise-canceling headphones.

It was a mixed demographic, but I definitely saw my fair share of early 20’s dudes in Hawaiian shirts, backward hats and white vans, and girls with the on-point festy squad putting more effort in capturing the cliche Instagram pic for clout tokens than actually enjoying their surroundings.

Veteran festival goers sported flashy metallic capes, flowing as they danced unapologetically with the music. Circle-shaped John Lennon style sunglasses were worn by many, making me feel like I was trapped in a hybrid version of the past and the future world. People passed vape pens, shared drinks, and got primed up for the headliner, Odesza, to come on at 10:00pm.

Crowd M3F Jacob Tyler Dunn
Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn

The bar and bathroom lines became considerably longer. By the time I finally got a beer, I had to use the restroom, and by the time I made my way through the restroom line, I had finished my beer. The cycle continued.

I walked back to find my crew. The spot we once had, had been overtaken by swarms of people. There was no longer the option to sit down. As I searched for a familiar face, a hand grabbed my arm and pulled me 6 feet to the left. Whew. I made it. Odesza begins.

Odesza Duo Live M3F Jacob Tyler Dunn
Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn

The crowd is fired up. If you’ve never experienced Odesza, I will tell you it is somewhat of a spiritual experience. Their sound is moving; the perfect soundtrack for an astronaut jettisoning off into the unknown dead, black, space. Fans held their hands to the sky almost in prayer as the duo broke from their crushing bass and drums to lay a wide methodical synthesizer across the blissed-out crowd. The light show and perfectly in-sequence drum line intensified for a booming conclusion to their set.

Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn

Day 2

We started our day out at the Phoenix Zoo, which was just a few miles away from the festival. It was a bust as most of the animals seemed depressed, quite frankly. It reaffirmed my belief that this environment is certainly not the best life for an animal. We found a great vegan restaurant to fill up, and headed to Hance Park once again.

We walked into the event as they put a purple wrist band around our arm, then hit the beer tent, and copped a squat on the grass with another Oskar Blues brew in hand. It felt good to rest our legs after walking a few miles around the zoo. Marion Hill was taking the stage next door and we made our way over and find a spot in the back.

Marion Hill live M3F Jacob Tyler Dunn
Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn

Right away I noticed the level of crowd chatter was competing with the volume of her music. Her vocals were solid, but it was underwhelming due to the fans prioritizing talking to their neighbor. Clouds of smoke poped up above the heads of listeners/ talkers. A light breeze pushed the scent of marijuana my way. It wouldn’t be a festival experience without it.

Marion Hill Saxaphone M3F Jacob Tyler Dunn
Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn

Marion Hill’s saxophonist, Steve Davit, stole the show not once but several times during the performance, ripping some mean solos that were loud enough to interrupt the conversations and left me with my hair standing on the back of my neck. I looked over to my friend and we both gave the nod of approval.

Jungle Band M3F Jacob Tyler Dunn
Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn

Jungle was next on the Rattlesnake stage. Wow. How have these guys not been on my radar? My best explanation is falsetto vocals reminiscent of Tame Impala mixed with Empire of the Sun. Their musical sound is ominous, as well as their light show, sticking to mostly dark reds and oranges. Song after song, Jungle quickly became one of my top five favorite artists. I will absolutely be catching them at their Minneapolis show coming up March 12. Check here for their tour dates.

Jungle 2 M3F Jacob Tyler Dunn
Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn

The next artist was who I’ve been waiting ten years to see. Empire of the Sun. As soon as the host announces them on stage, I split from my crew and politely swam my way through bodies to near front of the stage.

Empire of the Sun M3F Jacob Tyler Dunn
Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn

Surprisingly, “Walking on a Dream” is one of their first to be played. The crowd was going absolutely nuts. I was surrounded by Empire fans. People with jewels and glitter on their faces, unicorn people dancing with shiny decorations fixed on-top of their heads. Singer, Luke Steele stood on an extraterrestrial platform of royalty, fist in air.

Empire of the Sun Live Band M3F Jacob Tyler Dunn
Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn

Dancers in unusual costumes accompanied the band, dancing in sync with one another, each song offering custom choreography. Steele and the dancers each participate in multiple costume changes. An LED screen behind them projects large 3D symmetrical images. This is not just any other band. This could easily knock Las Vegas performances out of the park.

Empire of the Sun Live M3F Jacob Tyler Dunn
Photo by Jacob Tyler Dunn

Steele ended his final song with a rigorous and continuous smashing of his guitar into the ground. Still plugged in, the distorted noise of the failing guitar strings echoed across Hance Park as fans screamed in encouragement. This is wild. My phone rang in my pocket. It was 11:15pm. We had less than two hours before our flight was scheduled to leave. I had to find my friends fast, and it was apparent to me that I’d had too many Oskar Blues brews. 

Long story short, I missed that flight, but luckily Sun Country helped me out and got me on a plane the next day. Thinking back, M3F could certainly in my top 5 festival experiences. Their staff is friendly, the weather is warm, and they pack an awesome lineup that has something for everyone. I’ll see you there next year!

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Written by Bo Weber

Positive energy-seeking singer/ songwriter, graphic designer, vandweller, writer, photographer and whatever else I can get my hands on.

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