The annual McDowell Mountain Music Festival in downtown Phoenix welcomes the summer with three days of music from the likes of ODESZA, Empire of the Sun, Kurt Vile, Umphrey’s McGee, and more. What makes M3F so special is that the 100% non-profit is dedicated to giving back to the community that supports it.  

M3F Fest By the Numbers

Dates: March 1-3, 2019
Editions: 16
Attendance: 13,000
Artists: 35+
MFW Beer Index: $7.00
Highest/Lowest Temperature: 25C/13C (77F/55F)

The Scene

Friendly Festival Atmosphere
This is an easy festival to attend. The three stages are very close to each other with lots of comfortable seating on the grass. None of the crowds (except for Friday night with ODESZA) felt very packed. Because of city ordinances, the music wraps up early. The latest show ended at 11:00pm on Saturday night, so still plenty of time to hit the Phoenix nightlife.

It’s Already Summer in Arizona
The desert may be damn near unlivable in the summer, but March is dreamy for festivalling in Phoenix. Other than a slight dampening on Saturday morning and a few clouds, the weather remained perfectly sunny and pleasant for the entire weekend. I can’t promise you that any festival will be rain-free, but Arizona is predictable enough to plan your escape from Vermont ice storms or Montana blizzards.

Since 2004, M3F has donated over a million dollars to local Arizona charities like Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Smiles for Special Needs, and Habitat for Humanity. For my part, I tried to drink as many beers as possible to support the community.

Let’s Get Arty
M3F takes place right on the edge of the hip and trendy arts district of downtown Phoenix. Centered around Roosevelt Avenue, this ended up being the perfect spot to grab a coffee, some food, and late night drinks. On the first Friday of every month, the streets are closed and absolutely packed with vendors, art, and music.

Music Highlights

Acts I Caught and the Unofficial Order in Which I Enjoyed Them

-Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
-The Knocks
-Kurt Vile
-Marian Hill
-Mt. Joy
-Maribou State
-Empire of the Sun
-Big Wild
-Margo Price
-Toro Y Moi
-Chicano Batman
-Kevin Morby
-Umphrey’s McGee

Keep an eye out for EVAN GIIA. Recently signed to ODESZA’s Foreign Family Collective label, the Brooklyn based indie pop singer started off Friday afternoon with enough high energy to set the tone for the day over on the main stage.

Evan Giia

Mt. Joy
Sounds like the soundtrack to an indie movie where the main character, suffering from the ennui of modern day life finds salvation through the antics of his quirky neighbors. Starring Luke Wilson.

Mt. Joy

Sunday was for the jam bands, and Ripe tore into the afternoon with one of the most fun sets I saw all weekend.


The Knocks
Some bands seem custom built for festivals and The Knocks fit the bill perfectly bringing a dance party to Saturday night.

The Knocks

Empire of the Sun
Once a fixture of the festival season, Australia’s Empire of the Sun hasn’t been many American festivals lately. I finally got to see them live when they headlined Saturday night with their traditional sci-fi pageantry.

Empire of the Sun

When you run into The Festival Guy after a two-year hiatus, and he tells you to come with him to OPIUO, you just go because this dude always knows where the best party is happening at a festival.


Stray Observations

The Boston funk band played two sets over two days at M3F and fans showed their support by subtly throwing heads of lettuce to Lettuce. Like most people, I found it charming until I was beaned in the head with wilted produce.

The Los Angeles band is so ironically detached that one of their guitarists couldn’t even be bothered to stand up from his over-sized easy chair.


Things I Don’t Miss From American Festivals
I’ve been covering Europe festivals for the past four years, and while M3F was a welcome homecoming, a few things I’m glad haven’t been exported across the Atlantic.

1. Hula hoops
2. Early closing times
3. Patchouli
4. ID Checks for alcohol
5. Saxophones

Wizard of the Day
I didn’t catch his name, but I’m now on the outlook for this hat.

Best Shirt/Mystery
The Bob Ross crew went with a full tie-dye happy accident except for the one mysterious outcast. Maybe they ran out of dye? Maybe he’s just an outsider that’s stalking their fun-loving group? Maybe I should ask more questions?

Pretty Lights
Umphrey’s McGee closed out Sunday night on the main stage along with a spectacular lightshow.

Umphrey’s McGee

Travel Notes

Where Did You Sleep?
Definitely not at the airport one one of those uncomfortable bench seats with armrest. I stayed in downtown Phoenix and Kimpton Palomar and Marriott Renaissance. Both were across the street from the light rail which stops both at the airport, M3F, and the Roosevelt Arts District.

How Did You Get There?
The Phoenix airport is gigantic with tons of cheap flights from around the country. I flew from Newark in New Jersey to Phoenix on Southwest Airlines for only $122.

How Did You Get Around?
From downtown to the festival took only twenty minutes to walk, and the light rail ($2 USD per trip) took even shorter.

Final Thoughts

Phoenix has been riding a wave of new music festivals for the last few years with varying degrees of success, but M3F has remained a reliable anchor of the region, as well as an important community event.