A growing crowd of guests bustled under the Arizona sun toward the Deschutes beer tents, gourmet food trucks, merchants' village, and any seat they could find or patch of grass they could dance on. Children with sparkly paint on their faces tumbled and cartwheeled across the lawn. Sunglasses, sarongs, and sunburn set the festival scene among the buzzing Margaret T. Hance Park. The crowd continued to spill into the festival grounds Saturday, March 23 and Sunday, March 24 following Friday's kickoff to the philanthropic festival.
Saturday's main stage lineup brought boho blues rockers Heartless Bastards, genre-bending strummers Deer Tick, Hawaiian stoner crew Iration, and Philadelphia hip-hop heroes The Roots. Sunday stayed true to the earlier incarnations of the festival with the jammy JGB Band; Philly indie rockers Dr. Dog; Les Claypool's banjo plucking, bass-slapping Duo de Twang; bluegrass boys Yonder Mountain String Band; and prog rock headliners Umphrey's McGee.
In spite of the palm trees, cloudless blue skies, rock formations in the distance, and the distinct lack of spring humidity, Philadelphia was ever-present in two of the 2013 McDowell Mountain Music Festival's most engaging performances – The Roots on Saturday and Dr. Dog on Sunday.
“We about to get busy,” warned Black Thought, lead MC for legendary hip-hop collective The Roots. He swayed in Saturday night's breeze, moving in time to the instrumentation, dedicating the first song of their electric set: “Sending this one out to the legacy of the late, great godfather of Go-Go music, Mr .Chuck Brown. Rest in peace! And also sending this one out simultaneously to the legacy of the late, great hip-hop icon Mr. Adam Yauch, MCA of the Beastie Boys. Rest in peace!”
Questlove and F. Knuckles percussively led the band forward as Black Thought took the crowd for a midnight ride: “Now here's a little story that I got to tell / it's the Boys outta Philly you know so well / sayin' started way back in history / with Adrock, MCA – rest in peace!”
After a quick rendition of the Beastie Boys “Paul Revere,” complete with Tuba Gooding Jr.'s sousaphone-defying moves, they transitioned into the indelible hit, “The Next Movement,” from their 1999 album “Things Fall Apart.” Among the outstanding setlist was another 1999 hit, “You Got Me” (sans Erykah Badu but with added scatting), “Mellow My Man,” 2006 single “Here I Come” off “Game Theory,” “The Fire,” and “The Seed 2.0” off “Phrenology.”
The Legendary Roots Crew were nonstop, engaging the crowd in call and response verses, encouraging clapping and subtle snap-alongs, and jumping from funk to rock to R&B and everything in-between. Kamal Gray's keys led jazzy interludes made richer by Mark Kelley's bass. Captain Kirk Douglas surprised the crowd with Guns N' Roses anthem “Sweet Child of Mine.” A few bars of other unexpected tunes made cameos, including Led Zeppelin's “Immigrant Song,” Sugarhill Gang's “Apache,” and Kool & the Gang's “Jungle Boogie.”
Sunday brought Dr. Dog, and by their late afternoon set, they had doubled the crowd. They began their energized 18-song set in true festival form, with a bouncy rendition of 2012 hit “That Old Black Hole” and clap-along a capella harmonies. Bassist Toby Leaman's foot bounced during “Stranger,” which gleamed with springy percussion. Dmitiri Manos handled the vibrant orange acoustic labeled “Strum Machine” after putting down two colorful maracas. Guitarist Scott McMicken's bright voice sparked 2010 single “Shadow People,” off “Shame, Shame.” Leaman kept time next to Eric Slick's drum kit while McMicken's whimsical delivery spun into the final chorus, building to frenzied keys and an upstage jam.
Slick's drums cued the chord that dropped everyone low to the floor, sinking and slinking across the stage for sultry lament “Vampire” off 2012's “Be the Void.” Keys and cymbals built to the Pennsylvanian line: “You're as tempting and savage / as Marcellus Shale.” Manos double-fisted tambourines during “How Long Must I Wait,” where Toby went tender on the mic and Scott's fingers cooled to hold the note into the next song, “These Days.”
“Do the Trick” showcased stunning harmonies and the synchronization of guitarists Frank McElroy and McMicken as they moved up and down the stage, mirroring each other. Feedback growled as fan favorite “The Beach” off 2008's “Fate” erupted onstage. Leaman's dramatic gestures – springing from a squat to sling his bass over his shoulder, dragging the mic stand in time, and replacing his sunglasses after an intense drumroll – emphasized the grinding of his gravelly voice to sand. Slick brought the tempo down gently for McMicken ditty “The Breeze,” which drifted into dreamy harmonies. The catchy percussion of “Heavy Light” set the crowd, and the band, dancing, with McMicken bobbing, Leaman folding nearly in half over his bass, and McElroy rhythmically nodding and rolling his shoulders.
“Shame, Shame” was smoky, high-pitched, and slow-paced with an upstage strumming faceoff by McElroy and McMicken. Anthematic closer “Lonesome” culminated in Leaman hopping into the pit, roaring, “What does it take to be lonesome / nothing at all,” as he retreated from the audience under the stage, then came spinning out and belted the final lines writhing on his back in the grass. The captivating Philly contingent left an impression on the Arizona music scene.