Festivals have a special place in music history, for reasons both good and bad. For every original Woodstock, the 1969 festival that came off with relatively few glitches, save for some bad acid, there is a Woodstock 1999, where poor planning, bad weather and high concession prices (a bottle of water was eight bucks) led to mud fights, arson and charges of sexual assault.
While certainly not on the scale of any of the Woodstock festivals, the fourth annual McDowell Mountain Music Festival at West World in Scottsdale on Friday was a smoothly run event featuring great music by Tempe's own Pistoleros, along with Son Volt, Buckwheat Zydeco and The Black Crowes. The event featured plenty of bathroom facilities as well as short lines at the food and drink concessions, making it a resounding success.
“I think it's beautiful,” said first-time McDowell Mountain Music Festival-goer Alison Irvin of Scottsdale, who came out to see alt-country rockers Son Volt. “I love the layout, how it's set up, and the crowd is mellow and obviously here to enjoy the music. I'm very impressed — the prices for everything are great and I feel respected and appreciated here as a music fan.”
As some festival-goers played Frisbee and football on the vast West World lawn, Tempe rock legends The Pistoleros set up onstage before delivering an energetic set to a growing crowd of about 400 at 3 p.m.
“This is the first time we've played here and it was a lot of fun,” said Pistoleros guitarist Mark Zubia.
“It's a beautiful day and the crowd was really responsive, and the sound was great. We had a blast.”
St. Louis based alt-country rockers Son Volt delivered a terrific set featuring tunes such as “Drown” and “Windfall” from their mid-’90s classic record “Trace” as well as the title track and the Middle Eastern-influenced “Medication” from the band's excellent 2005 disc “Okemah and the Melody of Riot,”drawing fans to the front of the stage for the band's cerebral Neil Young-esque twang-rock.
By far the most entertaining act of the night was Buckwheat Zydeco, jazz and rock festival veterans who had the swelling sundown crowd, by now up to about 3,000, dancing to the band's infectious blues/jazz/funk/Creole confections with Buckwheat himself exhorting the crowd with his call and response stage banter as his crack band laid down an incessant groove behind him.
The Louisiana legends delivered a mix of originals as well as a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” with Buckwheat pounding the accordion, that whipped the growing crowd into a frenzy. “I'm going to buy a Buckwheat Zydeco CD tomorrow,” said Tyra Trevino of Tempe as the band left the stage to thunderous applause. “That was just awesome.”
By the time Friday festival headliners the Black Crowes took the stage with their patented Grateful Dead-meets-The Rolling Stones rhythm and blues jam band explorations, the audience was a good 8,000 strong, with fans dancing in the cool night air as Crowes lead singer Chris Robinson, sporting an impressive ZZ Top-like beard, strutted like a hippie Mick Jagger in front of the appreciative crowd.
It may not have been as big as something like Woodstock or a hip new music festival like California's Coachella, but the McDowell Mountain Music Festival gave Valley music fans a chance to enjoy the last gasp of cool temperatures with some great music.
“This is the third (McDowell Mountain Music Festival) I've been to,” said Pattee Spott of Tempe, who was at the event with her newly adopted son Carlos, his first big concert. “It's always a great time.”