The lineup at Hance Park for the McDowell Mountain Music Festival had some hits and misses, but oh did the hits hit hard.
Upsahl returned to Hance Park for the band’s second M3F performance, this time taking full advantage of the big stage with striking visuals, a fuller sound and a stronger set list.
Then, there was Bear Ghost. Perhaps the greatest local act of the weekend and definitely the most memorable, the band stunned with liveliness, personality and movement. Through diverse originals and a Queen cover, each vocalist nailed every pitch. The full band enhanced each member’s ability to keep the early crowd fully engaged, even running and spinning across the relatively small stage.
After a lackluster performance by Bob Moses, in which vocalist Tom Howie failed to escape his self-assigned box on stage, The Record Company turned the night around.
With the simplest introduction — “We are The Record Company and we play rock and roll” — vocalist Chris Vos went haywire with a harmonica, maintaining impressive vocal control through a multitude of leaps into the air. One of the most electrifying parts of the set came with “Feels So Good,” in which instrumentals consistently boosted the crowd’s excitement from a brilliant guitar riff to an energetic full-band crescendo. Vos further proved his talents by transitioning his pure rock voice into falsettos for “Off The Ground” without failure.
Grouplove delivered an equally energetic set with an absolutely wild performance. Admittedly, their vocals weren’t quite up to par with other acts of the night, but they certainly didn’t hold back any skills. After kicking off the set with the singles “Colours” and “Itchin on a Photograph,” Grouplove displayed a tremendous interplay of vocals with “Good Morning.” The band proved its mastery in innovating songs for live performance, differentiating songs from album versions and performing an impressive cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.”
Following a gorgeous performance by Heaps n Heaps, The Shins unfortunately caused the energy of the night to plummet. Despite a great entry, beautiful songs and a pitch-perfect rendition of “Simple Song,” the set never became much more than mediocre. It was an anticlimactic headlining performance that led the crowd to thin, with the minimalistic “Gone For Good” and lively tunes of “Phantom Limb” as highlights. By the time “New Slang” came on in the encore, I was already tuned out and only mildly entertained by the straightforward performance.
I arrived late into Day 2, but with enough time to pinpoint my two favorite sets of the weekend: Chromeo and Flume.
Chromeo opened with “Night By Night,” in which strobe lights, fog and more built into frontman David Macklovitch’s constant appeasing of the crowd. With “Over Your Shoulder,” the duo convinced likely 100 people to sit on their friends’ shoulders for the entirety of the song before Macklovitch ran into the pit to reach the crowd and the band played a guitar duet back to back. The most engaging parts of the set came with the closing “Fancy Footwork,” which was the right amounts of cheesy and energetic in one performance.
Flume was a perfect headliner. His entry was even more dramatic than Chromeo’s entire set, with a black curtain dropping to the ground after a lengthy electric intro. Visuals ranged from slithering snakes to sunray-like lights. Flume transformed songs like Lorde’s “Tennis Court” and his own “Never Be Like You” into experiences. While Porter Robinson brought jaw-dropping graphics last year, Flume proved his superiority by displaying a complete knowledge of every beat of his songs and remixes — dancing in perfect tune and engaging attendees before anyone could stop paying attention.
Whiskey Myers and the valley’s own Wyves and CooBee Coo took home the gold on March 5, while legendary jam band musician Warren Haynes took home a close silver for not only giving a solid performance with his headlining band Gov’t Mule, but being featured in Railroad Earth’s third M3F performance as well.
Pure rock band Whiskey Myers fought to be remembered with some of the strongest vocals and my favorite guitarist of the weekend. John Jeffers delivered solo after solo, which climaxed as he led a crescendo into all four guitarists rocking at the front of the stage together for a memorable set. Whiskey Myers could have been any jam band, but their cohesion allowed every member to be featured and contribute a crucial element to the set.
Wyves was truly outrageous in the best ways, bringing a performance that literally had its vocalist on the ground as he played harmonica and in the crowd as he sang. Closing out the second stage, CooBee Coo brought the grit of rock and soul of experienced musicians to create the fullest sound I heard from any local band. They deserved the same pre-headliner slot, but on the big stage. Next year, I hope they get it.
Citation – Downtown Devil