THROUGH THE LENS: A Tale of Two Arizona Music Festivals
Margo Price & Lukas Nelson at the McDowell Mountain Music Festival 2019 - Photo by C. Elliott
C. Elliott was at it again last week, covering two festivals in Arizona over a single three-day weekend: McDowell Mountain Music Festival in Phoenix and Innings Festival in Tempe. Those of us in the East who have seen several snowfalls and below-freezing temps can only imagine the sunshine and shirtsleeve weather.
But all was not peaches and cream: As Elliott’s Fitbit verified she walked nearly 18 miles, with full camera pack, over three days. Not to mention the travel between the two festival sites. So, when you see her work, as well as that of other photographers featured in this column, bear in mind the physical stamina needed to enable you to get up close and personal with so many engaging artists.
Here is C. Elliott’s report:
McDowell Mountain Music Festival
Celebrating its 16th year in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, this music festival continues to be 100% nonprofit. The artist highlights were Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and Margo Price, with both sitting in on each other’s sets. The charismatic Nelson plays guitar-driven Americana-rock with a band that is pulled on tight. Like his father, Willie Nelson, he takes the time at the end of his set to acknowledge the fans packed into the front of the stage. Bonus, once offstage he made himself available to the fans who hung out to meet him and take selfies, me included.
As Friday night’s final act, the very pregnant Grammy-nominated outlaw country/Americana artist Margo Price was worth the wait. Being a fan of her music I was delighted to hear her play her rootsy rocking hits live in one of her last shows before she takes time off to have her baby. At one point, she took over the drum kit — most folks don’t know that she began her musical journey as a drummer.
Saturday belonged to Kurt Vile, who brought his unique blend of folk, rock, and psychedelia to an expectant audience. With his hair mostly obscuring his tell-tale eyes, it was obvious to all that when he lost himself in the trippy 10-minute “Bassackwards,” he was not coming out the same way he went in. I think the crowd was pretty much on his wavelength.
The folks who put on this festival knocked it out of the ballpark, again! The Baseball Project was an excellent choice to open the second annual Innings Festival, a baseball-themed event held when teams come to Phoenix for spring training. Every song in this set did involved baseball and those who play it. It was wonderful to see Scott McCaughey back onstage again. Mat Kearney is an easygoing singer-songwriter who had the crowd singing along to most of his songs.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones are a full-on soul band with horns backing up Paul Janeway’s falsetto voice. Shakey Graves hit the stage full of energy, which lasted his whole set. No longer a one-man band, this gravelly voiced singer is one of my favorites. My only disappointment was his set was limited to one hour.
Folk rockers Band of Horses seemed to be enjoying the festive atmosphere and played their all-out county/folk/indie rock. After Ben Bridwell’s hat fell off, he said, “Baseball players also wear hats. Two professions that are different but also the same.”
Closing out the festival was headliner Eddie Vedder’s acoustic solo set that set the huge crowd on fire. Doing primarily covers, including The Beatles, Pearl Jam, The Clash, Warren Zevon, Tom Petty, and Jason Isbell’s “Maybe It’s Time” from the latest version of the film A Star is Born, Vedder turned the outdoor stage into a small club. He endeared himself even further when, trying to remember the words to his own “I Am Mine,” he said, “It’s strange because I didn’t even smoke pot today.”
Other than finally seeing him live, one of my my favorite parts of his set was his giving a shout out to a local band, The Meat Puppets. If you have a chance to catch this personable performer on this tour, please go. You won’t be disappointed, as no matter how large the venue, you’ll be rewarded with an intimate performance.
Yes, my total hiking mileage was close to 18 miles. However, I’ll be happy to do it again next year!