It’s hard to fail with a recipe like the one Treasure Island Music Festival created.
It’s rests on the mile-long atoll off of Yerba Buena Island that houses a naval station and calls itself “Your destination for recreation.” The festival grounds run parallel to the San Francisco skyline and the western span of the Bay Bridge, putting a truly unique atmosphere in place without ever playing a single note.
The sunsets are breathtaking on a clear night, and have become a key aesthetic of the festival’s experience. Turning away from the stage while an artist is playing isn’t such a slight with such views.
The premier two-day Bay Area fall festival has a dual-threat persona that’s split between sleeps.
Saturday is the celebration. Prolific electronic dance artists blended with masterful hip-hop performances graced the two stages that ran along the road that encircles the island.
Sunday is the connection. Mesmerizing songwriters, jumping off from indie rock and folk influences provide contrast and help sew the Treasure Island impression deeper with each performance on the final day.
Like Virginia’s Lockn’ Festival, the lineup is carefully crafted to be light with a heavy touch, and bounces its crowd between stages without a single artist overlap.
Once Viceroy stepped forward in the early afternoon on Saturday, the weather tipped its cap, steadily clearing the clouded morning sky as the sun finally shone down on the main stage.
“Of course the sun comes out when I come on,” he said, setting the early festival mood with synth-heavy summertime instrumentals and feel-good vibrations.
Open minds are encouraged, embraced, and rewarded at this festival. To stretch between genres and then further raise the umbrella to encompass such a range is a testament to Treasure Island’s identity.
Elsewhere, Run the Jewels is a niche outlier, but on this lineup, it feels like it’s at home. The culturally-conscious wordplay of Killer Mike and El-P ran the gambit through their catalog, playing staples like “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1”, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”, and “Lie, Cheat, Steal” for a hyped up, opposite-coast crowd.
Cashmere Cat shared a magnetic, attention-grabbing collection of sounds on the Tunnel Stage before STS9 provided the soundtrack for the first day’s sunset.
The only true five-piece collective of Saturday took advantage of the striking atmosphere of the time slot and took root as the entire crowd surrendered to the flow. With the sun still shining and the on-stage visuals limited, the instrumentation was up to the task of captivating a broader audience than the group is used to. Sound Tribe unraveled and expanded each song, repeatedly building and unleashing waves of energy at the highest points of its improvised originals. As a tribute to Big Boi of Outkast, who performed later that night with Big Grams, STS9 covered its hometown duo’s classic, “In Due Time”.
Before Big Boi took the stage at Treasure Island for the second year in a row, FKA Twigs let loose its entrancing performance that swung from strange to absolute brilliance. It was another example of the range and direction electronic music is pushing toward in 2015 with its engaging and sensory-satisfying experiences.
One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend was the first live show for Big Grams, the new collaboration featuring Big Boi and Phantogram. Fresh off the release of their self-titled EP, Antwan Patton and Sarah Barthel’s on-stage chemistry was magnetic, and pulled in the largest crowd the Island Stage saw all weekend. Their experimental blend of EDM and hip-hop was well-received, but even more so were the familiar sounds of Outkast’s “Miss Jackson” and “Kryptonite.” A Run the Jewels appearance on “Born to Shine” was a welcome surprise, too.
If FKA Twigs was a glimpse behind the electronic curtains, Deadmau5 was the complete look at the gold standard. Playing from inside “The Dome” that looked like it came straight off a playground from Mars, the Canadian master of house music took the electrifying energy of the headlining set and turned it on its head. No matter how shallow or deep Joel Thomas Zimmerman dug in his catalog, the music never felt unfamiliar. Tracks like “Not Exactly” or his hit “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff”, at their peaks, mirrored an international rave with hypnotized bodies jumping to the heartbeats of each track.
Sunday was paced by its loaded second half, starting with the skyrocketing Father John Misty in the late afternoon. Led by singer/songwriter Joshua Tillman, the band’s contagious folk and sneakily impressive lyrics connect rather easily. Whether it’s the relatable Wilco-esque nature, or Tillman’s complete mastery of the frontman persona, Father John Misty’s music was definitely a Sunday blessing after all the sins of Saturday night.
With thick cloud cover masking the setting sun, the War on Drugs stood as silhouettes in front of the LED screen behind them and rocked the Bridge Stage to kick off the final night of music.
The band navigated its three-album catalog with precision, but the memorable pieces off Lost in the Dream like “Under Pressure” and “Red Eyes” were never far off. No WOD show is complete without an Adam Granduciel guitar smash, and the final contributions from his axe as it hit the ground were met with approving applause.
Deerhunter warmed up for CHVRCHES and lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s soaring vocals that dance on the electro-pop melodies of the Scottish trio’s sound. While enjoyable, CHVRCHES’ set pulls at more pop strings than any form of rock, and can be forgettable as part of a late-festival blur. That could also just be an overdressed way of saying it wasn’t a very memorable performance.
On the Island Stage after, though, Panda Bear electrified the night with his odd mix of ‘80s power pop samples and experimental, psychedelic styles. His stop at Treasure Island follows the release of his latest EP, Crossroads, and did justice to the energy of the final night as the one man musical instrument took serious care to craft every sound that emitted from the stage.
Indie rock sensation, The National, headlined the final day and punched in for an impressive closeout set to the weekend. Featuring everything from a Mayberry sit-in for a duet of “I Need My Girl” to the Grateful Dead favorite, “Peggy-O”, The National owned the stage and lit the clouded night sky before sending thousands of swirling, spinning heads off the island until next year.
Treasure Island is short but sweet; impactful but brief. In that beautiful space, under the mid-October sun in San Francisco, one of the true gems of the California festival circuit passes so quickly that, a day later, it feels like a dream.
What a dream it was, though.
Words by Yousef Baig, Photos by Dave Vann. Full Gallery: