There’s something intensely exciting about attending a new music festival, whether because it’s the novelty or uncertainty about what you’re going to experience. It’s a lot like going to a restaurant for the first time, although a new restaurant usually can’t serve over nine thousand customers on the same day at the same time. I guess that’s where the comparison ends, but the sensation should feel similar.
Months of anticipation led to the first annual City of Trees Summer Concert Event this past Saturday (August 15, 2015) at the Gibson Ranch Regional Park in Sacramento, California. City of Trees’ sound spectrum was a slight departure from Sacramento’s other music festivals, which was to be expected since local indie music radio station Radio 94.7 played host, or matchmaker if you will, to this midsummer affair.
At first, it didn’t seem like the 100+ degree heat was too much of a concern for the many festivalgoers who smartly dressed appropriately (i.e., wore hats) except for the poor Quick Quack Car Wash duck (whose company sponsored the free parking)—I think he wanted to bathe in the nearby lake rather than schmooze (the former of which we all wanted to do at some point). When the lone water station went dry, I think many of the thirsty wanted to go drink from the lake.
Transportation was the other big concern as the park’s location provided limited mobility (there was only one main entrance road) and created much gridlock in the surrounding neighborhood as the gate opened at 1:30PM ahead of the proposed 2:20PM start time for opening act The Moth & The Flame (“Young & Unafraid“). Unfortunately, I too was stuck in traffic so I missed the entire set of the Los Angeles-based alternative rock band as well as the first half set of Halsey. I saw Halsey perform in a much more intimate setting at SXSW earlier this year, and she seemed much more riled up on a big stage in front of a few thousand people. I hadn’t noticed that type of vigor from her before, so much so that “Roman Holiday,” “Ghost” and “Hurricane” had different energies and flows. After she ended the set with “New Americana,” I almost wanted to label her music as “defiant pop” (you possibly heard it here first).
Night Riots took a hold of that lingering energy and ran away with it, performing many songs from their 2015 Howl EP such as “Break” and the big hit “Contagious” with gusto. There was a big following for Danish alternative (punk) rockers New Politics enthusiastic audience singing along and chanting aloud. I thought it was the fact that their new album Vikings dropped the day before or the gymnastics and break dancing from lead singer David Boyd or the “Sabotage” riff (Beastie Boys), but I think the crowd really wanted to support the former Chili’s restaurant worker-turned-professional drummer Louis Vecchio. Either way, “West End Kids” and “Harlem” were, to it mildly, crowd pleasers.
In terms of scheduling acts at the Music Discovery Stage, I was most disappointed with Radio 94.7 allotting only thirty minutes of music time to BØRNS (although with delays, the sets seemed more like twenty minutes). While I appreciate not wanting to keep people at the park all day during a heat wave, it more often than not felt like the artists were, understandably, rushing through their sets to get through as many songs as possible. I kept wishing for extended versions of “Past Lives” or “Electric Love” but all I got from BØRNS were the regular, but still great kind. Ohio-native singer-songwriter Elle King was the last artist on that stage, but in her case it seemed she did more talking than singing. Though at one point to great applause, she reprimanded some men who were fighting near the stage during a strange ad-lib cover mix of “Oh! Darling” (The Beatles). She explained there was “only time to have a good time.”
English singer-songwriter James Bay pushed hard to make the last stop on his current tour a good one as he belted out “Scars” and big radio hit “Hold Back the River” to a rambunctious bunch. As the sun slowly started to set, Icelandic quintet Of Monsters and Men delivered an appropriate set for the early evening hours with a mix of calming (“Dirty Paws” and “I Of The Storm”) and breezy songs (“Crystals” and “Mountain Sound”).
Local legends Cake closed out the evening with a textbook set, although I’m not sure the band always puts a potted tree on stage right next to frontman John McCrea. To celebrate the festival being the City of Trees, McCrea declared the young tree would be given away to a lucky fan despite the band’s usual aversion to do so during a festival performance. Everyone else had to settle with fan favorite songs like “Satan is My Prozac Motor” and “The Distance.”
After recalling the earlier trouble I had getting into the park, I reluctantly left early to avoid similar trouble getting out that proved the right call as I fortunately missed spending up to ninety minutes stuck in the parking lot after the festival (though part of me regrets missing the festival closeout). All in all, the inaugural City of Trees was a very good start to a possible mainstay festival that looks to give Radio 94.7 listeners an annual summer dose of live alternative rock and indie music.
Note: Article originally published on Blogcritics.