Arroyo Seco Weekend is a new breed of music festival, challenging the notion that a “festival” must be equal parts good music and rite-of-passage discomforts. The prototype of a music festival has, until recently, nearly always included at least a few token annoyances: long lines, difficult entry/exit logistics, limited seating, leaving the kids at home, or braving harsh weather conditions (see: Bonaroo, and the early days of Coachella when held in May during 115+ degree heat). Arroyo Seco begs the question – must we really be uncomfortable to see great music?
It turns out we don’t have to be. In it’s second year now, Arroyo Seco almost entirely avoided the universally accepted festival annoyances, instead maintaining an even-keeled and pleasant vibe all weekend long. A well-curated (if somewhat eclectic) lineup played to a mellow multigenerational crowd amid rolling hills and picturesque oaks. Kids and adults alike explored the interactive space dome hosted by NASA’s JPL, made a flower crowns at Huntington Gardens’ set-up and munched on treats from hip L.A. eateries like Hatchet Hall, Playa Provisions, Jon & Vinnys, and Van Leeuwen ice cream.
Arroyo Seco preserved the mellow-yet-elevated vibe of it’s inaugural year while making a few needed logistical changes. The main stages moved to the opposite side of the golf course, and designated chair-and-blanket seating areas prevented the crowd flow nightmare that plagued Tom Petty’s set the first year. And, for those wanting even more ease and comfort, VIP passes granted access to a section running the length of the festival. Within it were extra shaded structures, additional picnic bench seating, VIP restrooms, up-close viewing points for both main stages, and exclusive food vendors not available in General Admission such as Gwen, Ms. Chi, and Kogi BBQ.
The eclectic lineup certainly helped this festival toe the line of what a “festival” is, as well. Read on for our Day 1 musical picks…
Day 1 began with a range of musical acts. Bowie-approved musician Seu Jorge delighted crowds with his stripped-down Brazlian pop samba tunes and a some more production-heavy hits. Alynda Segarra, lead singer for Hurray for the Riff Raff, delivered her enigmatic Americana-tinged tunes and spoke to the political climate, encouraging we “mov[e] forward into a world that is just and kind to all humans.” Kamasi Washington‘s new jazz was the perfect soundtrack to enjoying the sunshine on a blanket while chowing down on seafood fare from Hatchet Hall and and a scrumptious drink from Block Party.
Jack White White’s performance was well-attended, perhaps due to the 20-and-30-something demographic showing up in larger force at this year’s festival than last’s. Famous folk galore were up front in droves for White’s performance- concert-goers lucky enough to be in the pit viewing area were able to rub elbows with the likes of Jude Law and Victoria’s Secret superstar Alessandra Ambrosio.
White bounced around his catalog, but began by opening with the heavy “Over and Over and Over,” off 2018’s Boarding House Reach which was tolerated by the crowd, but didn’t get much reaction beyond that. Perhaps this was due to the newest album’s widely ambivalent reception from fans; they appeared to be there for pre-2017 discography.
Upon reaching back into his catalog for hits off Lazaretto, along with numbers from his White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather eras, festival-goers became more animated. Audible cheers were heard for “Steady As She Goes” and “Seven Nation Army” prompted sing-a-longs.
Though White is an undeniable star and talented musician, his Arroyo Seco performance was just satisfactory. His energy conveyed less rockstar at times and more of a going-through-the-motions feel. White may be better suited for small venues where he can enforce his notorious no-phones policy (which is admirable, truly – live in the moment) and play electric guitar riffs that shake the venue’s walls. Ever the eccentric, White signed off with an appropriately odd and quite literal goodbye, stating” I am Jack White. And you are Los Angeles” before exiting. Hint: it’s actually Pasadena, Jack. We’ll forgive you, though.
Neil Young and backing band Promise of The Real closed out Saturday night with a two-hour set, selecting songs at random from a printed list of options (posted on their drum set), rather than sticking to a predetermined set-list. In line with this improvisational vibe, Young and POTR riffed organically for nearly the entire set, often extending single tunes by a factor of ten, namely the 20+ minute rendition of “Like an Inca” which opened their set.
Jammy renditions of “Cortez the Killer” and “Down By The River” made an appearance, along with crowd-pleasers “Ohio” and “Rockin’ in the Free World.” POTR band lead Lukas Nelson also played his band’s own tune, “Forget About Georgia,” a strikingly beautiful tune on Nelson’s 2017 album that leans sort of country and sort of rock ballad.
Young and company were consistent and measured in their performance- they put on a great show, though not as explosive in energy as some might remember from Neil Young shows of yesteryear. That said, they didn’t shortcut to playing the hits exactly as recorded and going through the motions, either. Nearly half-hour single-song jam sessions can’t be written off as lackluster, although some fans may have preferred to hear the hits and only the hits. Young and POTR made a great team, and showcased a wealth of true musicianship by balancing the challenge of any well-known rockstar: how to play the hits without sounding stale, and how to keep things fresh while maintaining relevancy. The crew certainly achieved that, bringing old songs to life with improvisation, and serving up a few of the more packaged hits to satiate the crowd.