McDowell Mountain Music Festival - Phoenix, AZ (March 24, 2013)

written by Pete Mecozzi

“It’s nice to be here in the warmth. We were in Montana, seems like a couple of hours ago!” ~ Adam Aijala 

While most folks were still digging out from all of the late March snow and dealing with a little “Cabin Fever”, The 10th Annual McDowell Mountain Music Festival in Phoenix, AZ brought the heat in more ways than one! With a Sunday line-up that included the Jerry Garcia Band with Melvin Seals (and home town hero Dave Herbert on guitar), Dr. Dog, Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang, Umphrey’s McGee, and of course, Yonder Mountain String Band, there wasn’t one person without a smile on their face, a groove in their step, or at the very least, a tap in the toes!

“I’m in the unenviable position of being the bass the player that plays after Les Claypool… awesome!” ~ Ben Kaufmann

With Yonder taking the stage at 6 PM sharp, it was the perfect time of day for everyone to get up and really shake their tail-feathers! The desert sun was going down in the west, as well as the heat from this surprisingly warm day in the Valley. The crowd was primed and ready to get their Bluegrass on, and it showed as soon as Yonder hit the first notes of "Out Of The Blue"! As I looked out over the stage and the crowd from the VIP perch, I quickly noticed how alive everyone had instantly become. I saw a couple of green and white Kinfolk Flags waving, as well as the obvious Colorado State Flag seemingly smack dab in the middle of the crowd! Add to that a small parade of flag-bearers and over-sized “festival bluegrass characters” slowly making their way through the sea of Kinfolk… and you definitely had a party on your hands! It was as if this festival and all of the music lovers therein, were waiting for this moment to arrive! A literal jubilee ensued!

“Pretty sure this is our first festival of the year… that feels good, feels good in the body!” ~ Ben Kaufmann

Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like the band was relaxed and really enjoying themselves with this short but sweet festival set. Maybe it was because they didn’t have to wear ski boots and jackets to get here. Maybe it was because this was the tour closer… I don’t know, but the energy was definitely palpable and the crowd, once again, responded in kind! It’s like that last thirty minutes at work right before the weekend… and that smile slowly starts to beam on your face as you realize your weekend of fun is about to begin! Whatever the case, as the band made their way through each song, the dancing became more intense, the energy climbed higher… and even Ben Kaufmann got into the fun just a little more when he joked that the blimp that was flying overhead just may have been the band’s first ever! 

“Never had a blimp at a show before, that’s kinda cool!” ~ Ben Kaufmann

"Pockets", "New Deal Train", "All The Time" and "Another Day" were personal favorites of mine, but as always, Yonder could play just about anything and I think myself, and everyone else included, would be more than happy with whatever the boys had in store! The Hee Haw Factor was definitely taking place, with everyone from little kids to old hippies dancing around and kicking up a little dust in the process! And speaking of songs, don’t let the short setlist fool you! Each song took on a life of its own, with an almost seemingly limitless supply of energy from the band to boot! As I stated earlier, the band seemed very relaxed and this definitely carried over into their performance. All of that being said, I admit, between clicking my shutter to get some photos, dancing, smiling and singing along with every song… the set almost seemed to end just as quickly as it began! That’s all right though, if you ask me. The McDowell Mountain Music Festival, and the fans in attendance, have been waiting a very long time for a big act like this to grace the stage in Arizona! It seems like every year the folks who run this festival ask everyone who they’d like to see, and Yonder Mountain String Band is always mentioned on numerous occasions! In my very honest and humble opinion, having Yonder on stage at this festival was a good shot in the arm for this hometown throwdown! While MMMF is a fun and fantastic festival, it’s not Harvest Festival or Red Rocks. Maybe I’m biased, but Arizona truly needs its version of a big time festival, and hopefully the energy that Yonder and every band who performed will carry over to next year when MMMF kicks off its 11th edition of this festival in the Valley of the Sun! 

“Once a day, every day, it is Bluegrass O’clock!” ~ Ben Kaufmann

Lastly, I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t give a few shout outs here at the end of this review. Big thanks to Lara Keithley (by way of Ben Hines) for the VIP Pass. It was truly a gift that I will remember for a long time to come. It also helped me get some photos of the band from a much different perspective than I’m used to… so, again, thank you, Lara and Ben! I’d also like to thank my new friend Shayna Diamond-Atonna for helping me out with a photo of the band’s setlist. It was so much fun shaking and shimmying for a little while up on that VIP Perch with Shayna and her cool hubby, Marc! And finally, big thanks to Dorothy St.Claire for allowing me this wonderful opportunity to share my words, my photos and my Yonder Day with ya’ll! I am honored and touched. From the bottom of my heart… thank you!

Setlist: Intro, Out Of The Blue, Pockets, Little Lover, New Deal Train, One More, Casualty > Rag Doll, All The Time, Don’t Worry Happy Birthday, Another Day, Fingerprint, Troubled Mind, Peace Of Mind

Written by Pete Mecozzi

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