With the success of Coachella, Stagecoach and FYF, Southern California is quickly becoming the music festival capitol. Add Arroyo Seco Weekend to this expanding mix, which took its maiden voyage - if you will - during a summer-hot weekend. For music fans, it was well worth braving the heat.
The grounds for this three-stage festival encompassed a sprawling golf course in the shadow of the famed Rose Bowl. The two large stages bookended the festival grounds, with a smaller, tented stage sort of in between these two. Although nobody likes to hear music bleeding into one stage from another, these two main stages were more than far enough apart, which made it both difficult and inconvenient to hop between each. Also, the crowds were extremely large - particularly at The Oaks, where the main headliners performed - with many folks settled in at The Oaks for whole days. If you weren't 'camped out' at The Oaks stage, you couldn't find a close spot toward day's end. On the plus side, though, the sound system was excellent, which meant the music sounded great - even toward the back.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, who are celebrating 40 years together this year, headlined the first night with a career-spanning set, while Mumford & Sons closed out the festival. Although Mumford & Sons hit the stage with enthusiasm, playing the hit "Little Lion" early on, many were already starting to exit the venue. For some, The Shins preceding performance - which was highlighted by a surprise collaboration with hometown heroes Los Lobos on "The Fear" - was a proper festival ending note.
The best thing about Petty's set was how much room he gave to songs from his album "Wildflowers," many of which featured Petty strumming an acoustic guitar. He also performed "You Don't Know How It Feels," "You Wreck Me" (as one encore), and "Crawling Back to You." On the downside, though, he didn't sing "The Waiting," a personal favorite.
Alabama Shakes preceded Petty with a blistering set of its own. The group's recent full-length, "Sound & Color," incorporated psychedelic rock elements, however, vocalist Brittany Howard was in the mood tonight to be a soul singer. Whether she was accompanying herself on electric guitar, or singing behind a microphone stand, Howard showed off all the power and glory of her wondrous voice.
Dawes ended its set by dedicating "All Your Favorite Bands" to Alabama Shakes, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and all the other fantastic bands at the festival. Vocalist Taylor Goldsmith appeared to be in a great mood as he jumped around the stage. He, like many others, were obviously excited about the huge sea of people grooving to their music.
Some have described Arroyo Seco Weekend as the festival for fans with good musical taste, and almost every act participating was a critical favorite. This left Rachel Platten as the proverbial fish out of water. She thrilled the teenage girl to my left, who excitedly captured key moments on a cellphone, but it's unlikely Petty fans were there digging her too. Platten's sound was that loud, preprogrammed pop sonic that the young pop music audience is so into these days. Platten made the best of it, though, and had many in the audience singing along with "Fight Song," her big hit.
The Willow stage was somewhat off the beaten path, but if you stopped in now and again, you heard some funky jazz and sweet soul. Avery*Sunshine brought a bunch of that soul, and ended with a song that started with an Al Green vibe and concluded with James Brown. While Sunshine brought back classic soul memories, stage closer William Bell relived some of these firsthand memories.
Luke Nelson & Promise of the Real rocks a whole lot harder than his famous dad, but when he sang the regretful breakup song, "Forgot About Georgia," he hinted how he may well be a chip of the old block. It's an amazingly good song! He introduced it by expressing how hard it's been for him to perform "Georgia On My Mind" with his father, as the song always reminds him of his ex. There wasn't a lot of country music on this eclectic bill, but Jade Jackson combined a singer/songwriter vibe with her twang, while the Swedish sisters, Baskery, put a pop sheen on its roots rock.
Much like the larger and longer Coachella Valley Music Festival, it was impossible to experience it all at Arroyo Seco Weekend. For lovers of quality rock & roll, it was kind of like Coachella without the EDM and hip hop. Maybe, this is the reason why the audience demographic skewed older. Although by no means perfect, Arroyo Seco Weekend shows great promise. And for Los Angelinos, the opportunity to take public transportation to a festival, rather than book a hotel room and drive two hours to Coachella/Stagecoach, easily made attending this one worth the while.