The excitement was palpable this weekend at Arroyo Seco Festival. People from all over flocked to Pasadena to see a great collection of popular music from several different genres as they played live. From Maxim Ludwig to The Specials. I had the pleasure of getting to go to both days of the summer festival and it was something I won’t soon forget.
The first band we saw was Jeff Golblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, a performance piece as much as a Jazz Band – even to a large audience Mr. Golblum was all charm. Given the recent release of the newest Jurassic Park movie and his involvement in the franchise he even read out a Jurassic Park quiz. While I admit Jazz isn’t always my go to I could tell how tight his band was, filled with professionals, they sounded fantastic. They are definitely a group I would see again, in fact I think they would be even better in a smaller venue.
We decided to grab a couple drinks and look at the grounds. Brookside park is a beautiful place to have a show. Long sloping hills of green, plenty of space for vendors and the stages were far enough away that you couldn’t really hear one while at another. In other words it was perfect. Everybody was nice and feeling the vibe the entire weekend. Children running with each other and their parents. Couples canoodling up under a tree. The extra space was much appreciated because attendance was through the roof.
After looking around a bit we went and saw The Milk Carton Kids. Americana and a bit of bluegrass with a tinge of country, this band was one of the highlights for me during the entire weekend. I had never actually heard them before but had been meaning to give them a listen. Their songwriting is simply impeccable and the execution of those songs live, flawless. Everybody was singing along, I could feel the pure joy radiating off of the audience. All the instrumentation was tight, I was especially fond of their fiddle player who played masterfully. It’s always a special thing to fall for new artists, and fell I did.
The Pretenders. A band that has left an indelible mark upon the history of rock and roll. I was a little nervous to see them; sometimes as bands reform and start playing again it doesn’t quite work but I’m happy to say that my nervousness was unnecessary. They sounded fantastic. Chrissie Hynde sounded like a rock and roll angel. Every note she sang with a clear passion. Whether she was playing guitar or just singing she played with a confidence not often found, even in rock stars. Their guitar tone was beautiful, the band meticulously tight and a pleasure to watch play. Hearing the crowd sing along and watching them dance: we were all a part of something much bigger than ourselves and that alone made the entire festival for me.
Unfortunately two artists that I badly wanted to see played at the same time so I had some hustling to do to make sure to catch some of both sets. Indy darlings Belle And Sabastian were definitely some of the audience fan favorites. The more people I spoke to the more of them said that’s who they were there to see and the feeling is completely valid. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band have so much fun in all my time of going to shows. They’re a great band and quite eclectic. Multi-instrumental with some solid songwriting. Almost the entire audience was singing along, clapping and dancing. While I can’t say it’s my forte I can say that they are a fantastic live band and one that nobody should ever pass up seeing but, I had another artist to see so I scuttled away excitingly on to the next stage.
I’m very picky about country music – what I love, I love deeply and listen to often, when I don’t, I really don’t. Needless to say Margo Price is one of the former. More in the older style, Rebel Country than the new poppier Nashville sound, the singer/songwriter was on fire. He voice is filled with passion and force and she’s a hell of a guitar player. My only regret was not getting to catch her whole set; but if she ever comes back into town I’m going to see her. There’s something about good country that takes you back to an idea of a simpler time, it’s comfort food for my heart and soul and she absolutely made me feel it.
There were two more acts for me to catch that night. Regrettably there isn’t three of me so I missed a couple bands but, I did get to do a little booty shaking as I watched The Specials. Ska masters, they sound just as good now as they always have. Their playing is flawless, the pocket tight but, to be honest Ska is all about getting your dance on, a sentiment that literally everybody else in the audience seemed to agree with. It felt good to laugh and dance with so many people as the sun lowered into the surrounding hills. A sense of community was forming, you didn’t hear people complaining or having an awful time. The fresh cut grass smell with festival food in the air and everybody having a great time. Some things are almost indescribable and nothing gets people together more than a little dancing.
After that we headed to the headliner of the night, the one and only Neil Young + The Promise of the Real. Neil Young will do whatever Neil Young will do and this show was no exception. His first song was a very long jam and I have to admit just seeing the man on stage was very powerful. He’s one of the world’s most prolific singer/songwriters. He’s been through it all, done it all and it shows in his playing. His band was ridiculously tight, consummate professionals. Watching Neil play is an almost religious experience. We left a little bit before his set ended, grabbed a Lyft and headed home. Sunday would be an even bigger day, a bigger crowd and even more fun.
One of my all time favorite bands were playing the Sunday festival and that’s the first band we saw, The Violent Femmes who brought their raw energy and they brought it heavy. I’ve never seen a band play the way they do live, not only as amazing songwriters but as musicians as well. One minute into watching and you know you’re in for something unique, as they ended with ‘Add it Up’ the audience went crazy. They have a frenetic kind of feel that can’t ever really be duplicated. They’re a very special band whose live show rivals all the classic recordings that they’ve done.
Time crossover is a big deal at the festival so we ran over to catch the ending of The Bangles 80’s nostalgia at it’s best – it was fantastic to see so many people in the audience singing along, hands raised. This was the second time I’d had a chance to see them and they looked and sounded great.
It had been a crazy weekend already, so many people dancing and having fun, the summer sun singing it’s own song as it covered us all. My favorite, true life-changing moment was about to happen and I didn’t even know. Sometimes you see bands and it’s great, sometimes you see artists and they change you. Alanis Morissette was both. I saw her in a small theater in 1996 and fell in love with the way she performed. When she came out this Sunday she played the exact first song that she’d sung at that first show, so to me personally, it was already magic. How can you explain somebody like her? She owned the audience. She mostly played songs off her first record and everyone knew the words. She was powerful and her voice was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. When I look back at this festival she’s always what I will think of first; her amazing band, a smile to break everything and a seamless joy that emanated off of her while she played her songs. She is an artist that revels in the joy of her fans. Her physical expression while she wasn’t playing guitar was so special to witness. Her hour-long set was easily one of my favorite memories of live music. I knew as I watched that I was in a special pocket of music history and that I would never forget how she made me and all those around me feel that blistering summer day.
We had some time between artists and decided to do a little shopping. A pop-up record store that had an amazing selection came first. We bought some Flock of Seagulls and a pretty rare Cure single. Then we went and bought some souvenirs of the day. All the vendors were nice and quick, the organization on the entire event was frankly staggering, there were no loose threads.
Before posting up to watch Robert Plant we went and watched legendary soul singer Irma Thomas the soul queen of New Orleans. The soul queen she certainly is, her voice was as strong now as it has ever been. She controls the stage with her voice, demands the audience listens as she unburdens herself, her voice being as strong and as loud as her band. Her band was flawlessly supporting her ever knowing that soul is in the voice. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. She stirs things up in you emotionally just by the way she carries herself, by the way she draws your attention with the belt of her voice. She was another highlight of mine this weekend, somebody I don’t think I would have checked out otherwise and somebody I will always remember. Soon we were posted up on a small hill waiting for Robert Plant to come on.
Robert still has it, his voice, the voice that started so many heavy rock genres still sounds incredible. They played some Zeppelin tunes which sounded good but I prefer hearing him sing some of his newer stuff. Without the rest of Led Zeppelin it feels weird hearing the tunes. His voice still carried it though and is as strong as it’s always been. As one of the forefathers of metal it was a delight to hear him and see him up there just being Rock and Roll. It was another special moment in what was turning out to be a weekend of them.
The sun was setting as we watched the last band we would that evening. It had been a full weekend, full of laughter, joy and music, full of love. I couldn’t believe that something this magical had come to Pasadena and drew so many fantastic people. The sun going down would be our goodnight and goodbye, our farewell to a moment in time where everything was perfect. We sidled up to the edge of the stage to watch Third Eye Blind
It had already been a day with a bit of 90’s nostalgia and Third Eye Blind really brought it home to me. I obsessed over their first album when I was sixteen and had wanted to see them ever since. They disappeared after that first record and by the time they came back I was on to other things. But that first record remains one of my favorite albums. They came out swinging. The audience singing along at full volume almost made it hard to hear them and that’s the kind of passion that can make music very special. They played some of their greatest songs and all in all it was a fantastic way to end the evening.
I went home that night tired and smiling. It’s so fantastic to be aware that you’re a part of something special, a cog in a system of vast beauty. I don’t think the weekend could have been any better, from the bands to the people. I know that no matter where I am next year I’ll be showing up to Arroyo Seco again, our little town festival that showed the world that our hearts are big and our love for music bigger.
Of course I missed a lot of bands so for more information Arroyo Seco Weekend and a list of all the artists that played please go to https://www.arroyosecoweekend.com/