Log onto Twitter any given weekend and you’ll find a list of reasons why a certain festival or concert didn’t live up to expectations. Influencers flooded TikTok when they were turned away from a clothing brand’s event at last year’s Coachella, apparently ruining the entire weekend for many. More recently, of course, Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show was knocked for not being exciting enough. Post-pandemic festivals seem to have extremely lofty expectations to live up to, and many people think some are falling short. The conversation about live music over the past year-and-a-half has begged the question: Aren’t festivals supposed to be fun?
Enter M3F Fest, the Phoenix, Arizona two-day event nestled in a sunny, sizeable downtown Margaret T. Hance Park over the weekend of March 3, 2023. Surrounded by palm trees and cacti, the three-stage festival held its nineteenth iteration March 3rd and 4th with two goals in mind. The first, was to raise money for charity. The second? Bring good vibes. And they managed to deliver on both promises.
M3F Fest — short for McDowell Mountain Music Festival — sets itself apart from other music festivals. Not only does it take place in March, trading scorching summer temperatures in favor of temperate light jacket weather, but M3F Fest prides itself on having a good cause. M3F is a non-profit festival, meaning 100 percent of proceeds from the weekend are donated to charity. To date, organizers have been able to raise a whopping $4.4 million to benefit charities that operate in the arts, community, education, and environmental sectors. These charities operate both locally within Phoenix: donations from M3F Fest were used to purchase laptops and technology for underserved communities through the organization Elevate Phoenix, while funds from M3F Fest also supported national organizations like Backline, a charity that connects music industry professionals and their families with mental health and wellness resources.
Since its inception, M3F Fest has always been focused on doing the right thing. When asked about his reason helping to start the festival alongside M3F founder John Largay, Ron Colone described a certain feeling that live music lovers will know all too well. Nearly 20 years ago, he and Largay were walking back from a California music festival and riding the high of the collective joy and connection they had just experienced. They asked themselves: “How do we capture this feeling and help bring it to the masses?” So, M3F was born and their mission to spread good vibes and benefit their community was put into motion.
Now, M3F is a mostly electronic-focused festival that also brought in several indie pop staples. Toro Y Moi dug up a set consisting mostly of their older hits from albums like 2019’s Outer Peace and 2013’s Anything In Return to appease the dance music fans in the crowd. Peach Pit created perfect upbeat melodies to serenade the crowd into the sunset. Del Water Gap wow’d the early afternoon crowd by bringing headliner and previous bandmate Maggie Rogers to the stage — who he opened for on a recent tour run — to perform a new song together. Rogers herself was a highlight of the weekend. Though her music is on the softer side compared to acts like Polo & Pan or Jamie xx, she put on such a spectacular performance that even the bass heads were captivated by her.
Speaking of Jamie xx, the UK musician closed out the festival by giving the crowd a full-body experience with his bass-heavy music. An expert at live mixing, Jamie xx seamlessly transitioned from one song to the next, keeping the energy high as a proper send-off for an all-around great weekend. Other honorable mentions in the DJ realm were Purple Disco Machine, who made the crowd collectively lose their minds with dance-ready remixes. The Jungle Giants got the crowd moving by leaning into disco-inspired beats while duo Neil Frances launched into all their hits.
Music aside, M3F had a lot to offer in terms of on-site amenities, though the art installations were few and far between. Two separate food courts were serving up inspired eats, outshining (still very delicious) basics like pizza and burgers with stands serving shaved ice, adorable animal-shaped bao buns, Indonesian barbeque, and Nutella waffles with NSFW-shaped candy. Local vendors flocked to the festival grounds to sell their wares, some of which included (very on-brand) hemp hats, jewelry, stickers printed with every anime character imaginable. There was even an animal rescue tent that brought a very special guest: an adorable pit bull begging for pets and attention by eagerly obliging festival attendees. It’s difficult to find ways the festival could have improved without getting too removed from its essence, though little things like interactive art and lifestyle activities could have gone far in fostering a greater sense of community among festival goers.
Throughout the weekend, it was clear that everyone from friendly festival workers to excited attendees showed up with a chilled mindset. During the day, laid-back festival goers basked in the Southwest sun and spotted the grass with colorful picnic blankets and inflatable couches. Friendly strangers respectfully danced with each other during groovy DJ sets. Even during the most packed and popular sets people in the crowd made sure to be considerate of everyone else’s personal space. Overall, organizers achieved their goal of creating an environment for music fans to let loose and have a good time, all while giving back to their community.
Find more information about M3F Fest here.
Uproxx was hosted for this story by M3F Fest. They did not review or approve this story. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.