McDowell Mountain Music Festival moves downtown for 2013

Margaret T. Hance Park will host the McDowell Mountain Music Festival in 2013, the first time the festival will be held downtown. (Cydney McFarland/DD)

The McDowell Mountain Music Festival will be coming to Margaret T. Hance Park in 2013, the first time the festival has been held in downtown Phoenix.

The festival will have two stages and feature both national and local acts. Running from March 22-24, the festival features The Roots, The Shins, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Dr. Dog, Balkan Beat Box and Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang. There are also plans to host bands at Crescent Ballroom.

John Largay, president and founder of Wespac Construction, the company that organizes the festival, said that Hance Park was chosen from among several possible locations. Ultimately, Hance was chosen for its easy commutability via light rail and its urban location.

“We were in the outskirts, and now we are in the thick of it,” Largay said. “It’s new to us, and we’re excited.”

Since 2010, the festival had been held at The Compound Grill, a venue opened and owned by Largay. The Compound Grill closed in April, just a week after the 2012 festival.

Largay anticipates crowds of between 3,000 and 5,000 each day of the festival. He said that the audience will likely draw between $500,000-$750,000 in revenue to the Phoenix area, and that “30 percent of our fan base is from out of state coming from the cold country to get warm.”

All proceeds from the festival will be donated to charity, with funds to be directed to Ear Candy, a Phoenix-based music education organization; Phoenix Children’s Hospital; and UMOM New Day Centers, a Phoenix homeless shelter for families. Largay said the festival is also pursuing corporate sponsors to help support the festival.

Largay said that a music festival was a logical charity effort for a construction contractor to undertake because the logistics to set up a festival are the same as nearly any construction job.

“The circus comes, and the circus goes,” Largay said. “The people that are helping us are the toilets, the dumpsters, the fencing, the power, all are on every one of our job sites.”

Largay said the festival, which is all-ages, is intended to be family friendly. There will be a “kids zone” for children. Largay believes that the moderate size of the festival contributes to its approachability for families.

“Some people ask, ‘Well, why don’t you do a Coachella and go big, big, big?’ To many people, that’s not enjoyable. We want the coziness of being close to the band and not trying to trample people.”

Performances will continue after 11 p.m. as the Crescent Ballroom will host festival after-parties, according to Crescent Ballroom owner Charlie Levy. Musicians have not yet been scheduled at Crescent.

“When we found out all the great acts that are going to be playing and that it’s going to be a downtown festival, obviously we all got pretty excited,” Levy said. “To me, the most exciting thing about the festival is that it all goes to charity.”

Largay said that McDowell Mountain Music Festival is “looking for a long-term partnership” with the city of Phoenix and the Hance Park location.

Cate Russo, recreation coordinator for Hance Park, said the precedent at Hance for a music festival on such a scale was the Arizona Blues Society event Blues Blast, which drew a crowd of 2,000 or 3,000. Russo said the McDowell Mountain Music Festival will be a boost to Hance Park.

“We like new events coming up into the park,” Russo said. “We’re really excited about it. It helps activate the park, it puts us on the map, and everyone enjoys it.”

Russo also believes that the spirit of the festival speaks well to Hance Park’s character, which she said emphasizes inclusivity and diversity.

“We want everybody to enjoy the park here,” Russo said. “We have the Japanese Friendship Garden that sits on our park, we have the Irish Cultural Center, of course the Phoenix Center for the Arts, and part of our library is here on the park.”

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