Live Review: Arroyo Seco Weekend 2017

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Pasadena, California is home to The Rose Bowl, an American football stadium, and whose grounds are now home to the Arroyo Seco Weekend festival. The inaugural year of the festival looked mighty impressive on paper: over the course of June 24th and 25th, incredible headliners Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Mumford & Sons would be supported by some of Los Angeles’ favorite bands. It would seem that Southern California lives and breathes for Arroyo Seco’s self indulgent, exhibitionist older sister festival, Coachella, so I was interested in a lineup and experience that seemed more suited to SoCal’s alternative music scene.

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Arroyo Seco occurred during the hottest weekend that LA has seen in 2017, so far. While walking up to the venue, I fully expected the heat to be unaccounted for by festival planners but, to my relief, I was mistaken! Lemonade and gourmet popsicle stands as well as water bottle refill stations were no further than a stone’s throw away in any direction and tents and umbrellas were abundant among the grounds for some relief from the sun. I give planning and execution of festival activities and vendors a 10/10!

Saturday saw Jazz acts Avery*Sunshine (a powerhouse woman with all the soul of Aretha and Al Green) and actor Jeff Goldblum playing piano, accompanied by the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. Fully expecting to see an indulged celebrity having a little fun, I was in awe of Goldblum’s piano chops and smooth Baritone voice.

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With three stages boasting different acts, I found it was often difficult to make a decision of which stage to camp out in front of. Later on in the day, however, it was clear that the main stage, named The Oaks, was where I needed to be. Los Angeles natives, Dawes, took the stage with their consistent and driving rock and played equal parts of all their albums to the relief of fans who gave mixed reviews for their newest album, We’re All Gonna Die, due to a departure in sound.

Followed by Dawes was Alabama Shakes, lead by the unrelenting and unapologetic Brittany Howard. Ms. Howard, who I am convinced is actually an angel, stirred audience hearts with many tracks from the band’s latest album Sound and Color.

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Due to a personal circumstance, I was unable to stay for Saturday’s headliner Tom Petty, which was disappointing, but after just seeing Alabama Shakes, who always perform like the world is about to end… I felt content.

Sunday began early with a little folk rock and a whole lot of sun. As temperatures rose over 100 F (38 C), LA newcomers Magic Giant took the stage. I had seen them just a month earlier at a very small gig, and somehow the lads of Magic Giant used their contagious charisma and energy to make an outdoor space feel just as intimate. The band even got down off The Oaks stage to stand amongst the crowd and sing a campfire style ballad, “Nothin’ Left”.

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While all stages hosted incredible acts throughout the day, we decided to stay camped in front of The Oaks stage for the duration of the day to see The Mowgli’s, ZZ Ward, Pop Rock’s Andy Grammer, and a lackluster set from Fitz & the Tantrums. Musically, Fitz was on par with their studio work, however, after seeing their music videos I expected more energy to come from the stage. I understand that it was incredibly hot, but especially in that situation, I think it’s crucial to put on such a show that pulls the crowd from their sweaty misery to sing along to your songs for a couple minutes.

The second to last act of the night was LA darling band Weezer, who walked on stage dressed as members of Guns & Roses. Why? Who knows. They’re Weezer. The night heard many of the band’s classic sing alongs: “Holiday in the Sun”, “Beverly Hills”, and “Say It Ain’t So” bounced around the hills of Pasadena. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had heard us singing in Beverly Hills.

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The final act of the Arroyo Seco Weekend was Mumford & Sons, who brought the most energy since Magic Giant hit the stage early on in the day. If anyone knows how to close out a show, it’s the lads of Mumford & Sons. The band played a mixed bag of songs from their first three studio albums, as well as a new song, “Blind Leading the Blind” from the record they’re currently working on. Marcus Mumford’s voice cut through the still-warm night, leaving its mark on anyone in ear shot. There was a very tall frat-boy type standing behind me and though he had been rowdy and belligerent before the set had started, “White Blank Page” from Sigh No More had him whispering “Oh my God” to himself and, unknowingly, to me. Closing the show with Babel favorite “I Will Wait” and the well-received “The Wolf” from Wilder Mind, it was the hand-clapping, foot-stomping, feel-good resolution that the festival deserved.

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Musically and logistically, the inaugural Arroyo Seco Weekend festival was a complete success. The heat, though ever-lingering and causing festival-goers to become fussy, could not overshadow the greatness of the event and the promise of future festivals to come. A celebration of SoCal culture and the arts, Arroyo Seco has quickly and effortlessly cemented itself as a fixture of the city of Los Angeles.

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