Arizona’s M3F Festival is a nonprofit, community-driven model for live music

Nothing on this world is sure, besides dying, taxes…and the rising cognitive dissonance that is exploiting your labor simply to have the ability to pay for the fleeting joys of life. It is a harsh actuality that music followers, particularly Gen Z, are significantly attuned to as they sq. off towards perceived company adversaries like Ticketmaster.  

However Arizona-based unbiased music pageant M3F(Opens in a new tab) posits an alternative choice to coughing up unfettered ticketing charges to feed capitalism’s ruthless miasma(Opens in a new tab). What in the event you knew precisely the place every greenback of your ticket sale went — and, even higher, what if these {dollars} have been making a distinction in our communities? Is making reminiscences whereas additionally driving charitable impression the best way ahead for the live music trade?

From picnic to $4.4M powerhouse

M3F’s story begins in 2004, launched as a single-day pageant thrown by Wespac Construction(Opens in a new tab), a normal contracting and development administration agency that operates across the Phoenix space and is nonetheless the pageant’s core companion. 



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As a cooler, extra community-driven model of an end-of-the-year gala or fundraiser, its preliminary incarnation was identified extra formally because the McDowell Mountain Music Festival, providing live music to Westpac workers and members of the group. It was a single-stage occasion with simply 2,000 attendees, full with homestyle picnicking and a sea of garden chairs.

Nearly 20 years later, M3F is extra impactful than its early founders may have imagined, increasing to a three-day, multi-stage pageant at Phoenix’s Margaret T. Hance Park and working as one of many solely 100% nonprofit music festivals within the nation. It is on par with the likes of different regional music occasions like Columbia, Maryland’s All Things Go(Opens in a new tab) or Atlanta’s Shaky Knees Festival(Opens in a new tab), and it isn’t that far off from bigger mid-sized festivals both, like Manchester, Tennessee’s Bonnaroo(Opens in a new tab).

Attendees ultimately 12 months’s M3F spend the day beneath the Arizona solar.
Credit score: Neil Schwartz

In 2022, the pageant reached its greatest numbers but, welcoming 30,000 attendees into its philanthropic mission. “We donated $1.2 million to 30-plus charities, and we’re nonetheless donating all through the course of a 12 months,” defined M3F’s pageant supervisor, Warner Bailey. Over its historical past, the pageant has raised greater than $4.4 million for charities, together with organizations targeted on the humanities, schooling, surroundings, and group welfare.

The scope of the trouble has led the pageant to introduce the M3F Fund(Opens in a new tab), a year-round initiative supporting native organizations. “We launched the M3F Fund as a separate web site that tracks precisely how we’re utilizing the cash and to who, and the way they’re utilizing the cash,” Bailey mentioned, describing what the pageant calls a “365-day ecosystem” of live music and charity that includes continued check-ins with beneficiaries and even social media collaborations(Opens in a new tab). “Transparency is large for us.”

M3F is tapping into a nationwide dissatisfaction with the established order.

The pageant’s model is constructed on a horizontal system of volunteer networks, charity sponsors, and labor swapping — about as near communal bartering as you may get this present day. Westpac nonetheless handles a lot of the pageant’s logistics coordination, like discovering native fencing and staging corporations to donate free supplies for pageant employees to handle, or providing up firm volunteers. Model companions and nonprofits provide further companies, labor, and merchandise. All of it makes an attempt to cut back bills and guarantee that almost all of the pageant’s income, whether or not derived by ticket gross sales, concessions, or merchandise, goes to its nonprofit beneficiaries, not operations or overhead.

The occasion is not sacrificing high quality for its mission, packing the lineup(Opens in a new tab) with acts that vary from large hitters like Maggie Rogers and Quinn XCII, to indie faves like Toro y Moi, Del Water Hole, and COIN. 

A festival attendee poses under red and blue light with a dancing crowd behind them.

M3F continues to attract a youthful and extra various crowd, since its inception 19 years in the past.
Credit score: Mario Vega

In an trade producing simply as a lot ire as money nowadays, M3F is comfortable to be succeeding at not making a revenue.


“We actually make a aware effort to maintain costs as little as we are able to whereas nonetheless having the ability to generate as a lot donation as attainable.” Bailey mentioned. “We wish to be inclusive for followers which have each been with us for years, but additionally a youthful cohort that is being compelled to pay $100, $200, $300, $700 to see a few of these acts.” 

Their success in constructing out a youthful viewers, one which’s simply as disenchanted with the present state of live music as older festival-goers, means that M3F is tapping into a nationwide dissatisfaction with the established order. It is a development that many artists are greater than keen to hitch, together with headliner Maggie Rogers,(Opens in a new tab) who is centering social causes(Opens in a new tab) on her newest tour.

“I believe the youthful cohort cares about doing good,” Bailey mirrored. “They’re socially aware. They care about giving again, and so they care about corporations that accomplish that and attempt to align with them.”

M3F is a calling card for group assist

At its core, the counter model additionally reveals that the music trade can nonetheless be a car for tangible good on the earth, together with higher therapy of the artists making any of it attainable.

Terra Lopez is the group supervisor overseeing artist partnerships for Backline(Opens in a new tab), a 3-year-old nationwide nonprofit group partnering with M3F(Opens in a new tab) in its mission to construct a safer, higher music trade by entry to psychological well being companies. “We service everybody within the trade, together with artists, administration promoters, venue employees, crew members, safety employees, and their households,” Lopez mentioned.

The group was constructed to answer what its founders noticed as a sample of damage, loss, and grief amongst music professionals, and to fill a psychological wellness void within the trade, she defined. In 2022, Backline helped 819 individuals access mental healthcare(Opens in a new tab) inside a community of 416 suppliers in 48 states, connecting the music world with case administration, assist teams, and direct wellness companies like talk-based remedy, breathwork, and meditation.

Supported completely by fundraising, the group is not solely one in every of M3F’s nonprofit beneficiaries, it is also occurring its second 12 months of offering on-the-ground companies to M3F employees and artists backstage.

“If of us wanted to speak, or in the event that they needed to be taught extra about Backline, we have been there and accessible. This 12 months, we’ll be again, however with even a larger presence, ensuring that each artist has the chance to come back speak to us in the event that they want,” Lopez defined. 

M3F’s 365-day mission to advertise fairness, optimistic change, and useful resource entry additionally impacts the area people by the work of beneficiaries like Phoenix-based music schooling nonprofit Rosie’s House(Opens in a new tab). Based in 1996, the group offers greater than 20,000 free music lessons to children(Opens in a new tab), predominantly from lower-income households, in Maricopa County on an annual foundation as an M3F companion since its starting. 

“Via music, we assist youth as they develop their full artistic and private potential,” mentioned Becky Bell Ballard, CEO of the music academy. “Our finish recreation is to ensure college students, who would not have the chance of music schooling, have that chance and have all the benefits that music schooling offers for a little one. The group has actually stepped as much as fill this hole of fairness in schooling in Arizona.”

Rosie’s Home is additionally one of many companions that gives pageant volunteers annually, demonstrating the symbiotic relationship that the nonprofit model promotes. Bell Ballard famous M3F is the one pageant she’s conscious of that is producing any such impression by the humanities. “We at Rosie’s Home are creating future musicians, artists, storytellers. And it is simply actually vital that these future storytellers are consultant of your entire group,” she mentioned.

Festivals are giving new that means to way forward for live music

Chronicling a wider, cyclical development, festivals are as soon as once more on the come-up, re-cementing their place as prime money-earners within the music trade. Shifting perceptions of the price of venue, enviornment, and stadium reveals — that are under fire for their rising costs(Opens in a new tab) and associations with accused monopolies like Live Nation and Ticketmaster(Opens in a new tab) — appear to be pushing many again out into the lawns and amphitheaters of music festivals, which not less than supply a probability to spend extra time with a number of artists and fellow music listeners.

The view of a large festival crowd from the back of the stage. A band plays instruments at the front of the stage.

M3F drew in additional than 30,000 attendees in 2022.
Credit score: Sam Silkworth

As TIME reported(Opens in a new tab) in 2019, festivals have advanced from a (historically free) alternative to commune publicly with others into a aspect of the “experiential economic system,” which shifts customers away from investments in bodily items and in the direction of occasions, journey, and different memory-making alternatives. Now, within the receding shadow of COVID-19 lockdowns and the rising shadow of a potential economic downturn(Opens in a new tab), the salience of these experiences is heightened. 

Business titans, like Coachella, are additionally going through competitors towards new for-profit pageant fashions, at the same time as they see jaw-dropping attendance(Opens in a new tab). Occasions like 2023’s Re:SET Concert Series(Opens in a new tab) (headlined by alt favorites(Opens in a new tab) Boy Genius, Steve Lacy, and LCD Soundsystem) are reviving an unmoored type of festival-going. Made partially within the picture of useless occasions just like the emo-favorite Warped Tour, the pageant live performance collection permits artists to merge the geographical vary of an enviornment tour with the shared logistics of a pageant set-up. 

It is sensible that a new wave of curiosity in festivals would observe within the wake of a global health crisis(Opens in a new tab), and that it might feed off the pent-up wishes of younger individuals now looking for types of group and expression. Socially-focused festivals, whether or not that is fostered by village-like venues or a extra accessible, community-driven model that places social welfare first, supply responses to the criticisms of live music within the COVID period. 

“I really feel COVID actually exacerbated points that have been already there,” Lopez mentioned, from the angle of Backline’s give attention to psychological well being on the earth of music. “However within the trade, we have been taught to only roll with it, to go together with it. And I believe the pandemic introduced every thing as much as the floor and made it utterly simple. So now, we’re beginning to have these conversations as a entire in society.”

The issues of revenue over emotional and bodily well being, of exploitative techniques making the most of people looking for connection, are simply a microcosm of a lot bigger social questions: How can we get pleasure from artwork in fellowship? How can we extra intently align our consumption with our values? How can we make sure that people really feel empowered within the intersections of identification, artwork, and group?

As M3F heads into its nineteenth 12 months of revelry, stuffed with music, creativity, and a contact of personalised care for all concerned, its nonprofit model shines as proof that the ability of artwork is stronger than one may suppose, and that the way forward for live music will be one for good, not greed.

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