The inaugural Arroyo Seco Weekend wrapped up on Sunday. Concert promotion giant Goldenvoice — the same team that produces Coachella, Panorama, Hangout, and Firefly — followed a similar recipe to last year’s Desert Trip (Oldchella), ultimately catering the festival to music fans with money to spend on more luxurious concert experiences. The Pasadena, California, event took over the Brookside Golf Course at the Rose Bowl Stadium, just outside of Los Angeles, with three stages stacked with performances by talented rock, soul, jazz, funk, and blues acts. Across Arroyo Seco Weekend, the festival saw performances by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, The Meters, Mumford & Sons, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Fitz & the Tantrums, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, Galactic, The Revivalists, Lettuce, John Mayall, Alabama Shakes, The Shins, Weezer, Jade Jackson, Dawes, and many more.
For a city that’s not lacking in great live music, expansive venues, picturesque scenery, gourmet food, and world-class art, it’s somewhat shocking that Los Angeles still lacks a truly signature music festival. Arroyo Seco Weekend could change that for the City of Angels — at least for a certain subset of the music-loving populace, and not just those who consider Pasadena part of Los Angeles.
The latest entry into the festival circuit from Goldenvoice (the folks behind Coachella) turned the golf course surrounding the iconic Rose Bowl into a rollicking grounds for an event geared more toward families and folks in their mid-30s and up, rather than the younger, edgier contingent that typically packs these gatherings. Whereas larger, more established festivals often squeeze in close to 100,000 visitors, Arroyo Seco started with a more modest crowd in the range of 25,000 — albeit a crowd that felt much larger than that within the event’s expandable confines. With VIP sections taking up tons of real estate at the two main stages (The Oaks and Sycamore), most festival goers had to shoehorn their way through sardine-packed crowds for the bigger acts just to get a half-decent viewing spot.
Those who filed across the bridges connecting the two sections of the festival were treated to majestic backdrops of the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains. The food offered was just about entirely local—or Locol, in the case of Roy Choi’s recent entry in Watts that made its way to Arroyo Seco. There was upscale Mexican food from Petty Cash Taqueria, poke bowls from Sweetfin, barbecue from Barrel and Ashes, vegan fare from Sage, and some rather spectacular ice cream from Afters, among a whole host of options. Granted, portions were small and prices were . . . well, not, but that’s practically par-for-the-course with festivals these days.
The same could be said for some of the music. Day 2, in particular, featured a slew of artists (the Mowglis, Fitz and the Tantrums, the Shins, Weezer, Mumford and Sons) that appealed to more contemporary mainstream sensibilities. But Arroyo Seco, as a whole, served up a surprisingly eclectic lineup, save for the complete absence of EDM.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers did more than check the box for classic rock. The venerable outfit from Gainesville, Florida, now embarking on its fifth decade, closed out Saturday night with an energy that was absent from some other stops on its tour. There were the slower standards from “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels” to “Free Falling” and “Into the Great Wide Open,” but the band got the crowd going with harder-driving hits like “Refugee,” “You Wreck Me” and, of course, “American Girl.”
For those seeking the blues, Alabama Shakes held down the fort—and then some. Brittany Howard’s unmistakeable blend of captivating sound from her diva-caliber vocals and ripping guitar brought to life highlights from the band’s two albums, be it “Hold On” and “Heartbreaker” from 2012’s Boys & Girls or “Dunes” and “Don’t Wanna Fight No More” from the more recent Sound & Color.
The rest of the lineup featured a refreshing undercurrent of acts that seemed plucked from Jazz Fest in New Orleans. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band helped to ramp things up on Saturday afternoon with the uplifting spirit of a Crescent City second line. John Mayall hit the harmonica hard during his set at the Sycamore stage, which he closed out with his classic “Room to Move.” Under the Willow tent, Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra gave curious wanderers a whiff of lounge jazz with BuzzFeed quizzes for the crowd sprinkled in between songs.
And while large swaths held down spots at the main stage in between Alabama Shakes and Tom Petty, a certain selection (including yours truly) ventured over to see The Meters bring the Bayou to Southern California in full force. They opened with a pair of crowdpleasers — “People Say” and, far earlier than expected, “Cissy Strut” — before bringing out the venerable Cyril Neville to kick the New Orleans quotient up a notch, including during a stirring rendition of the Beatles’ “Come Together.”
That was all before Day 2’s stunning run of jam-friendly acts. The Revivalists drew in eager ears with their New Orleans funk and jazz before blowing minds with an expansive palette that came to include alt-rock and soul, among other genres. But the place to be on Sunday was under the Willow tent — and not just as an escape from the scorching heat and unrelenting sun. Con Brio, from San Francisco, got things going with their fantastic brand of West Coast funk. Jamtown—a new project featuring Donavon Frankenreiter, G. Love and Cisco Adler — kept the roll going with heavy doses of bluegrass and country.
Lettuce arrived about twenty late from the previous night’s gig in Philadelphia, but made up for lost time with their fair share of face-melting jams. That delay set Galactic back, though the New Orleans-based jam band added another ten minutes or so of its own to the growing trend. Still, with vocal cameos from Erica Falls, the Revivalists’ David Shaw, and Chali 2na — of Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli fame — Galactic did plenty to reward the patience of those who dutifully stuck around.
All told, Arroyo Seco Weekend earned high marks for a first-time festival. There are some logistical kinks to work out, particularly in terms of foot-traffic flow. But with so much space available around the Rose Bowl, it’s possible those concerns will go by the wayside if (or when) the festival expands its footprint in the years to come. Arroyo Seco may never rival Coachella in terms of size, notoriety, and cases of FOMO induced. Then again, with its convenience to the L.A. area and particular appeal to a higher-brow crowd, it doesn’t have to.
Photographer Steve Rose was on site to capture the magic, and you can check out his photo gallery below.