THROUGH THE LENS: Two Arizona Music Festivals Make It Under the Wire Before the Spring Season Is Canceled
Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie - Innings Festival - Photo by C. Elliott
As ND readers are aware, music festivals make up a considerable amount of the photography and reporting featured in this column. With the coronavirus outbreak shutting down nearly all public events, the music festivals my fellow photographers and I so enthusiastically cover have come to a grinding halt.
This week features the last US festival coverage for the foreseeable future. Next week will feature an Australian festival that also made it under the wire.
Longtime contributor and formed ND photo editor C. Elliott, a mentor of mine, covered two back-to-back festivals in her home state of Arizona: Innings Festival in late February and McDowell Mountain Music Festival in early March. Here are her reports, and, as usual, photos in the gallery below.
The two-day Innings Festival, held during baseball’s Cactus League spring training, featured 18 artists on two stages. Along with the Dave Matthews Band, Jason Isbell, Nikki Lane, Dr. Dog, and Strand of Oaks, the baseball-themed event also featured appearances by Major League Baseball greats such as Ryan Dempster and Trevor Hoffman.
Aside from headliners Dave Matthews and Weezer, the artists were allotted hourlong sets — what seems to be the festival norm. Enough to get you into the music, but invariably leaving you wanting more.
Isbell fully demonstrated why he was selected as a No Depression Artist of the Decade. Easily my favorite set. His lyrics are personal, but ones that almost everyone can relate to. It broke my heart that I had to catch another set and leave before his was over, but here is what my friend Ed Masley told me: “While Isbell worked through several staples that continue to define him, ‘Hope the High Road,’ ‘Something More Than Free,’ ‘If We Were Vampires,’ ’24 Frames,’ and ‘Super 8,’ he shared songs from his forthcoming album, Reunions, including the excellent ‘Be Afraid’ and ‘Overseas.’ They ended with a well-chosen cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well,’ affording fans an opportunity to experience Isbell singing lyrics it’s hard to imagine him writing — ‘Can’t help about the shape I’m in / I can’t sing, I ain’t pretty and my legs are thin.’ It was a raucous conclusion.”
Nikki Lane, the “Queen of Outlaw Country,” played her acoustic guitar and mixed many amusing back stories in with her country blues and Americana music.
Whiskey Myers is a Southern rock/red-dirt-meets-outlaw-country band that loves playing live and has perfected the rock-and-roll swagger.
Strand of Oaks obviously was enjoying every minute of their set. This Americana band has long been a favorite of mine and this was one of the best sets of the weekend.
Dr. Dog’s jam vibe is always a festival-going crowd pleaser. ZZ Ward and her band gave a stellar blues-rocking set.
Boy Named Banjo kicked of the festival on Saturday and their bluegrass and folk-rock songs were a great way to start things off.
While the Innings Festival doesn’t overlap the sets, the five-minute gap isn’t enough as it’s a good 10-minute walk between the stages. So, if you stay to enjoy the last songs of a set you’re guaranteed to miss the first songs of the next one, which resulted in some tough choices.
McDowell Mountain Music Festival
The 100% nonprofit McDowell Mountain Music Festival (M3F) is now in its 17th year. The driving idea behind the fest is to bring community, culture, and charity together around music, arts and food. All of the proceeds — more than $2 million during the previous 16 years — benefit local nonprofit organizations.
The three stages are easy to find and the grounds are very walkable, making it easy to get from stage to stage. However, throughout the day and night there were always two stages going with competing set times. M3F has traditionally been more of a jamband, rock, folk, and roots-oriented festival, but this year a good proportion of the music was EDM and electronica and, to my ears, way too loud.
My musical highlight was seeing Neal Francis playing his Honer keyboard with a whammy bar. His blue-eyed soul blends funk and psychedelic rock. His was the best set of the weekend. I saw him open for The Black Pumas a few months ago and fell in love with his music then. If he comes to a town near you check him out and tell him I sent ya!
The Grammy Award-winning Infamous Stringdusters brought the folks to their feet to dance along with their blend of progressive bluegrass, folk, and jamband music. This was absolutely wonderful set by very talented artists.
Now, the photos.