Pasadena, California’s inaugural year of Arroyo Seco Weekend was a stunner and a great success. Several art installations presented good photo opportunities and were used frequently for selfies and group shots throughout the weekend of June 24 and 25. Delicious local food was abundant, and long lines wrapped around the brewery stations. Despite the relatively uncomfortable summer heat hitting triple digits at times, the festival provided great shade structures throughout – with plenty of seating opportunities, if you desired a break from jamming out at one of the three stages.
The three stages were well separated, so the sound from the various shows never overlapped. The two larger stages also offered a spacious VIP area with extra vendors and toilets, while the smaller stage was under a circular tent, inviting all people to mingle under its shade.
The festival certainly catered to its grown-up Pasadena audience with a very peaceful and well-organized vibe, a kid-friendly arts and crafts space and a play area. There was lots of open space for families to spread out and enjoy a picnic, a book from one of the many libraries throughout, or a power nap. It felt easy, it felt safe. Forget your typical teen-raver festival attendee – Arroyo Seco was designed for families. Kids under 10 were even granted free admission.
The festival started around 1:00 pm every day, but due to the intense heat, many chose to skip the earlier shows and joined later on for the headliners. Consequently, it offered great opportunities to spread out and get way up front during the day, while the closing shows were crowded with fans shoulder to shoulder sharing their bliss.
Here are a few high-lights from our favorite performances this weekend:
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
Fans were extra excited to see Charles Bradley this weekend, as was he. After a year-long battle with stomach cancer, Charles Bradley is back on tour. Despite pushing 70, this soul-singer was on fire, bringing the funk like it was 1970. His set seemed extra cheerful and fun but also very emotional. A true performer and entertainer at heart, Bradley rocked a black and silver studded outfit, threw his arms in the air any chance he got and had the crowd dancing and cheering to his hit songs in no time. Yet, Bradley also took breaks to tell stories, enabling him to connect with his audience on a deeply personal level. He took a moment to celebrate surviving cancer and with tears in his eyes thanked his fans for the many, many letters he received wishing him well. And just before his final song, “Changes,” dedicated to his late mother, Bradley took a moment to remind the audience to make peace with the loved ones in our lives, with our family despite their shortcomings, and to treasure them while they’re still walking this earth. Needless to say, many left this show tear-drenched and truly moved.
Jamtown is what happens when three seasoned musicians come together: Donavon Frankenreiter, G.Love, and Cisco Adler. The trio put on a laid-back but full-energy show, the perfect tempo for many families and children relaxing on blankets, but also for those who wanted to stand up and dance full-force. They kicked off their set and within a few beats Adler exclaimed, “We are Jamtown…and this is our seventh show,” following the rallying cry with a genuine and cheeky, “So what we’re gonna do for you right now is play the right tempo!” After their false-start, they adjusted and quickly had the entire crowd moving to the groovy acoustic-guitar driven melodies spiked with G.Love’s signature harmonica solos. The unique thing about this band is that you have a collective treasure trove of musical experience here– some X decades between the three frontmen–but the band itself is new. There’s a youthful energy flowing out of their performance but their musical chops are far from green. Jamtown is the next great addition to your backyard barbeque playlist– don’t miss their EP, and their full-length this fall.
We also sat town to talk with these jokesters on-site at Arroyo Seco. See our interview with Jamtown here.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, on their 40th anniversary tour and (supposedly) final tour, brought out everybody, young and old, to Arroyo Seco. I don’t think you could have fit one more body on that lawn, it was that packed. And just like 40 years ago, the band still sounds as sharp as ever and knows how to rock a crowd. Their two-hour long set brought all the hit songs one could hope for, starting with the first song of the first album they ever did: “Rockin’ Around (with You).” “Free Fallin’” probably wins “most popular song of the weekend” considering the enthusiasm of the crowd singing along, chin high, top of lung, obviously. No wonder, after all those delicious IPA’s the baby boomers who likely made up two-thirds of that audience were delightfully free of inhibitions and letting out their inner rager… in a most contained way, of course.
Broken Social Scene
Perhaps best described as a blissful cacophony of sound, Broken Social Scene is the band equivalent of a traveling circus– rotating band members that flitter in and out throughout the course of their eighteen year tenure (at times topping 18 active members in total). After a seven year hiatus, the beloved indie act returned to tour, and with an impending album release, out in July: Hug of Thunder. The group delivered a few of their well-known hits, including “Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl,” to the audience’s relief, but leveled and admitted that they were here to play the new tunes, as well. A standout track off the new album was the title track, “Hug of Thunder,” with its catchy chorus hooking you, but the intriguing instrumentation keeping you engaged the entire way through. Vocalist Emily Haines (also of Metric) delivered her ethereal and breathy sound on the old hits along with the new, the perfect cherry on top of the layered instrumentation coalescing on stage. They closed with an uplifting and salient message to the festival attendees, to choose the positive in the face of today’s turbulent climate: “Go for kindness and ripples, we believe in you!”
Mumford & Sons
I believe Mumford & Sons delivered their best performance yet at Arroyo Seco. In this fun finale to the weekend, Mumford quickly engaged his audience to “have a f***ing dance, shall we?” Needless to say, Mumford, being the great front man he is, had people dancing, skipping and clapping along to pretty much every song. Unlike Tom Petty’s performance the night before, the show seemed a bit less claustrophobic and more relaxed. And with the exception of a short serious nod to recent attacks in London, Mumford & Sons left the audience exhilarated – like one hopes to leave a festival: recharged and full of joy.
– By Angela Forsyth and Michaela Marchardt