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M3F Fest 2023: Beloved Arizona festival settles into its new era

M3F Fest, North America’s largest nonprofit music festival, wrapped its 19th year over the weekend and seems to be settled into its new era of mainstream appeal and larger audiences. 

The two-day festival welcomed more than 25,000 fans to downtown Phoenix’s Margaret T. Hance Park for a weekend of culture and community, all to benefit charity. Fundraising numbers for 2023 have yet to be released, but we can only hope that this year’s earnings met or exceeded last year’s record $1.2 million donation to dozens of organizations.  

Beyond the charitable component (that was recently expanded to a year-round initiative called the M3F Fund), M3F Fest had quite a few wins that made its 2023 edition one of the best in recent memory. Let’s dive in.

The Logistics Pave the Way for Better Future Fests

Let’s get this one out of the way — the logistics of this year were leaps and bounds beyond the 2022 fiasco. Additional entrance lanes, two food courts, wristband pickup in the days leading up to the event, and full use of the park all contributed to a smoother attendee experience and less time in lines. And the setup allowed foot traffic to move continuously, so there were no areas with claustrophobic congestion. Even better: No two-story VIP bleachers this year. What a nightmare those were. 

The ‘Fits Capture the Fun of the Season

Springtime sunshine in Phoenix means breaking out your loudest, most colorful, most creative outfits for your music festival outing. The most noticeable trends of 2023: Patterned button-downs, sequins, elaborate sunglasses, fuzzy bucket hats, florals, and matching sets. Even Friday performer Becky Hill got in on the trends in a matching herringbone-with-cherries patterned dress and coat. 

The Lineup Reflects a Fest Built to Last

M3F has had its fair share of growing pains with a desire to stay true to its wook-y roots of jam bands and funk but also embrace more popular musical styles. EDM and pop have slowly taken over the spotlight in recent years, but the lineups still feel curated year after year. You won’t see any artists that are selling out the world’s largest arenas, but the acts are still adored, and the ticket sales reflect that. 

The Knocks Know Their Lane

The 5pm slot at any festival might be one of the most difficult to nail. Hardcore fans have been on the grounds for hours at that point, while others are just arriving after cutting out early from work. The goal is to keep the energy up and entertain the ever-swelling crowd but not do too much — something The Knocks did with ease. The funky disco duo kept the beats thumping and the fans dancing with songs like “R U HIGH” and “Get Happy”.

Maggie Rogers Commands the Stage

Kudos to M3F for giving Maggie Rogers her first opportunity to headline a festival in the U.S., a task she handled like a natural. Emerging with back-to-back heavy hitters “Overdrive” and “Want Want”, she was in total command of the main stage on Friday night. More than that, she was emanating pure joy, showcasing why her current Feral Joy Tour is so aptly named. She’s a performer through and through, and good lord she can sing.

Becky Hill Gets A Proper Spotlight

As Chelsea Cutler noted during her set, Quinn XCII crashed a Bird scooter and got a concussion, meaning he had to skip his planned M3F appearance. She roasted him a bit for it, but there was a silver lining to the disappointing situation: Becky Hill was given a main stage slot on Friday evening. The former Voice UK contestant had arguably the most fun set of the weekend with her catalog of vocal features on house tracks like “Lose Control”, “I Wish You Well”, and “Crazy What Love Can Do” — which should be helpful on her quest to “break into America,” as she describes the current stage of her career. Also helpful? She can do a full performance, complete with an onstage DJ and a pair of backup vocalists, in stiletto heel boots.

Del Water Gap Lets Loose

“Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear shorts,” S. Holden Jaffe, better known as Del Water Gap, wrote on Instagram about his performance at M3F. Indeed, the indie artist showed up in a tiny pair of bright green gym shorts ready to soak up the sun during his Friday afternoon set. Strutting across the stage with his guitar, Del Water Gap brought an upbeat element to his mellow pop tunes like “Hurting Kind” and “Perfume” and even brought special guest Maggie Rogers out for their collab, “Better Than I Know Myself”.  

Stage Choreography Steals the Show

Two acts on the secondary stage, Polo & Pan and Channel Tres, had dancers as the visual focal points of their sets. While the former had one vocalist/dancer lead the performance while the DJ duo largely stayed behind the turntables, the latter was a trio with one vocalist and two backup dancers doing synchronized choreography. Both sets were stunning — why aren’t more artists doing this?

The M3F Fund Takes the Festival’s Donations on a Victory Lap

M3F Fest donates all proceeds from the event to charitable causes supporting the arts, the environment, the community, and education. That’s why they say #everyticketcounts. And with the launch of the M3F Fund that supports these charities year-round, the festival has expanded its impact. 

Some beneficiaries of the fund include:

  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Phoenix Children’s Hospital
  • Boys Hope Girls Hope
  • Pacific Salmon Foundation
  • Follow Your Heart Animal Rescue

A Successful 2023 Bodes Well for M3F

M3F 2023 certainly wasn’t perfect. Sound issues plagued more than a few of the sets, the iconic photo opp with the M3F letters was moved to the VIP section, and plenty of fans felt the art installations were lackluster. But the festival team has the basics down and can handle the increased traffic of years to come, which was the most notable complaint from 2022. 

With 19 years of experience and its biggest fest yet in the books, M3F is primed for continued success. And we can’t wait to see what the event has in store for its 20th year and beyond. 

Check out all the photos! 

Story and photos by Taylor Knauf

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