The best weekend of the year has come to a close, and the countdown to M3F Fest 2021 has already begun. Phoenix’s most magical festival is celebrating the smash success of its 17th year, which also marked more than $2 million given to local charities. And even though the fest has exploded in popularity with the addition of huge EDM headliners like RÜFÜS DÜ SOL (2020), Odesza (2019), and Big Gigantic (2018), it has retained its homegrown feel and downright weird audience draw. The little idiosyncrasies are what make M3F special.
After several years of volunteering at M3F, it has been a pleasure to attend as a media correspondent taking in the sights and sounds of the nonprofit fest as it has evolved from jam band central to an eclectic mix of acts. This year, like those past, had its fair share of highlights and notable moments. If we were to distribute awards, they would be as follows:
Best Cover: Moby Rich’s “Truth Hurts”
Moby Rich has quickly become an Atlas favorite, so when the schedule was announced and showed they’d play one of the first sets on Friday at the main Kerouac stage, we knew we had to be there. The LA-based duo is a real life yin and yang, complementing each other in vocals and in writing/production styles, and they thrive when bouncing around together on stage. Under the perfect springtime sun, they introduced most of their catalog to the early festival goers and had them hooked immediately. But then they hyped up a “special song” and the curiosity really got the people going. Play “Truth Hurts” at a party and you’re a hero—cover “Truth Hurts” at a festival and you’re a legend. Afterward, Moby Rich gave Lizzo a shoutout and made an open thank you to all the women making killer music.
Honorable Mention: Generationals’ “Just Like Heaven”
Biggest Surprise: San Holo’s band
When you see an artist grace the lineups of raves and dance music events, the last thing you expect is a full band accompanying the artist on stage. That’s exactly what happened with San Holo, who walked onto the Kesey stage with a handful of other musicians. Throughout his set, Sander van Dijck alternated between playing guitar and creating music from behind the table, which gave some depth to an otherwise standard DJ set.
Biggest Bummer: Taylor Rice skipping the crowdsurfing
The whispers (shouts, really) spread like wildfire through the photo pit: Taylor Rice was going to get into the crowd. It’s become regular practice for the Local Natives frontman to crowdsurf sometime in the first three songs, and the packed crowd of a festival seemed like it would provide an extra secure surface. However, he skipped the dive and instead hopped into the crowd to sing and jump amongst the fans.
Honorable Mention: Bon Iver’s setlist — Creative expression and artist autonomy are what keep music interesting, but there is something to be said for showing appreciation for longtime fans by playing their favorite songs. Of course it’s important to support artists throughout their careers and the many changes along the way, but it’s also natural to miss the early entries in the catalog.
MVV (Most Valuable Vendor): Zevia
Every year, M3F curates a stellar lineup of local and national F&B vendor booths where you can get anything from fried fair food to hand crafted enchiladas with local ingredients, plus alcohol and non-alcoholic beverage samplings. But when the dinner rush strikes, you have to grab and go to make the next set. That’s when the sample tents come to the rescue and why Zevia gets my very biased MVV award: the full size cans of sugar-free teas, sodas, and energy drinks were my lifeblood that put an extra pep in my 10,000+ steps. Big shouts to Zevia.
Most Noteworthy Audience: Sofi Tukker
He’s American, she’s German, and they sing in Portugese. Despite their New York base, Sofi Tukker maintain an international aesthetic and never let you get too comfortable standing still. Their big beats guide even the most rhythmically challenged, and the utter lightness of their lyrics show a refusal to take any of it too seriously. While their performance alone was standout, the fans emerged and formed a fleeting tribe in the middle of the crowd. M3F is a festival where no one will blink an eye if you show up in a cheetah print bodysuit and obnoxiously large purple hat, but it makes all the more sense when Sofi Tukker is on stage singing “Purple Hat.” Also, special shoutout to the toddler who watched almost the whole set from a nearby tree and screamed the lyrics while her dad watched with pride.
Honorable Mention: Candle guy — Sometimes it’s best to experience an act from the thick of the crowd because there is nothing distracting you from the visuals and the energy of the fans, but then you miss the action happening on the outskirts. During RÜFÜS DÜ SOL, one guy pulled a scented candle out of his pocket, lit it, and held the jar aloft as he swayed to the music. Nothing captures M3F better, truly.
Check out all our photos from M3F Fest!
Story and photos by Taylor Gilliam