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McDowell Mountain Music Festival unites community, charities (Includes interview and first-hand account)

Thousands of people surged through Hance Park in downtown Phoenix this weekend to participate in the McDowell Mountain Music Festival, an annual charity event that showcased more than 30 bands and raised money for the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and UMOM New Day. The event ran from Friday, March 27 through Sunday, March 29. Some of the performance headliners include Passion Pit, Portugal. The Man, Widespread Panic, and Phantogram.

Since its inception 11 years ago, the McDowell Mountain Music Festival has raised more than $800,000 for charity. This year’s donation is expected to be between $100,000 and $200,000, says Nate Largay, the public relations manager for the event. The festival is designed to support the community, and in order to accomplish that, for the last three years the charities have been the same.

“The best way to support the community is to support from the bottom up, and we feel there is no better way to contribute than to benefit the communities youth,” Largay says. “Both of these charities provide the support for the youth we’re looking for, and we are very proud to represent these charities in any way possible.”

Deschutes shows exactly what goes in each beer it makes.

Deschutes shows exactly what goes in each beer it makes.

Friday evening, festival goers strolled barefoot through the cool, green grass with donated porters, stouts and ales, or the random prosecco wine, in hand and cheered on the performing bands. Phoenix Children’s Hospital and UMOM had booths at the event raising awareness for the causes each organization supports, but they were overshadowed by people dancing with light-up hula hoops, and jubilant faces exploring a row of local food truck vendors and Deschutes Brewery barrel kiosks. All of the beer sales went directly to charity.

The experience felt very homely—a pleasant escape from downtown Phoenix’s chaotic urban sprawl.
Despite this year being successful, the whirlwind of planning doesn’t stop. The event will kick off again next year, and Largay says one of the biggest challenges is staying relevant and cost efficient in order to ensure the following 12 months are successful enough to make next year’s event happen.

That success depends on the donations and a sense of community engagement that the MMMF team can wrangle up, because those are what keep the event afloat each year. The festival is managed by Wespac Construction, and its clients donate alongside other corporate sponsors as a part of their charitable efforts. When the donations are not flowing, the event has to be scaled down.

“It hasn’t been easy over the last 12 years, and we functioned through the worst economic years the world has ever seen,” Largay says. “During the years between 2009 and 2012 we had to scale the festival down in order to make sure it functioned as an annual event. It may have been a tough few years, but we’ve been in full stride ever since.”

The recession caused a decline in attendance and total donations, but the economic recovery has treated MMMF well. The festival started off with roughly 3,000 attendees, and now about 15,000 people participate each year.

Largay says this success is partly in thanks to consistency through branding and adapting the festival. “We’ve sort of taken both of those and twisted them into one as a festival that plays your favorite jam bands while also playing what’s relevant and worthy,” he says. “That doesn’t mean we’ll play anything on Top 40’s and also put up a classic rock band. We try to brand ourselves as booking bands that are talented, relevant and fresh- and we believe our lineup represents that fairly well.”

If this weekend’s event is any indicator, the formula seems to be working.

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