A vision of emerald green hills and the stunning backdrop of the San Gabriel mountains set the stage for Pasadena’s own carefully crafted Woodstock — but with children.
Families and millennials beat the heat to the beat of the Goldenvoice sponsored inaugural Arroyo Seco Weekend, a food and music festival located on the Brookside Golf Course surrounding the Rose Bowl on what was the first — and hottest — weekend of summer, featuring headliners such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Mumford & Sons.
The festival brought together the best of Los Angeles by combining music, food and artisans in a cleverly organized spread between three music stages: The Oaks, Willow and Sycamore. The scene had some of the familiar feelings of Coachella, like a custom flower crown station provided by Crown Bloom Co., a vendor stand selling watermelon wedges and a cart selling coconuts grown in North America from Colima donning the Arroyo Seco Weekend logos.
At the watering hole, parched patrons could choose from local breweries and creative cocktails. Some choices were the First Water Brewing I.P.A., craft beers from Beer Belly and a Spiked Scottish Lemonade with fresh lavender sprigs accompanied by a 12-year Glenfiddich single-malt scotch whisky.
Chego mastered the art of cheesy fries with their beer battered Ooey Gooey Fries, which were smothered in a savory nacho sauce and sour cream mixture that left no fry uncovered. They also served a kick-you-in-the-mouth fantastic spicy pork belly bowl piled high with beautiful fatty chunks of pork nestled next to a perfectly poached egg.
Some local Pasadena City College hangouts were also present at Arroyo Seco. Afters and Dog Haus were among the diverse L.A. area vendors that presented their best dishes for the foodies and sugar junkies between shows. When Ridges Churro Bar ran out of ice cream on Sunday afternoon, Afters was there to compensate with plenty of Milky Buns and cereal to dish out.
With treats in hand, festival goers made their way between stages to take in as much of their favorite artists they could with The Revivalists performing at the Sycamore stage and maxi-instrumentalist David Lindley at Willow.
At The Oaks, Pasadena resident Michael Fitzpatrick of Fitz and the Tantrums strolled down the street from his Arroyo Seco home just 3 miles away to perform, stating “this is the first time I could walk to the gig” after his first few songs.
Amy Fang and Andy Cho got down to Andy Grammer’s “Honey, I’m Good” but came to see everyone. Fang had never been to Coachella but was happy to come out to the Arroyo Seco festival just an hour from home.
No need to camp in, drive six hours or pee on the highway —- SoCal residents came out for a festival without the horror stories of Coachella’s past.
The heat, however, was still there.
“It’s hot as balls out here, guys,” Grammer said to the sweating crowd at the start of his set at the Oaks stage on Sunday where, according to Snapchat, temperatures exceeded 100 degrees.
Children, infants and their families enjoyed the weekend alongside party focused millennials without friction or clashing of interests, such as wanting to spark a j or browse Vroman’s Little Free Libraries.
When security was approached about the pot use, they said that because of legalization, they couldn’t do anything about it. There wasn’t a designated smoking area despite the presence of children, but that didn’t seem to be an issue. The happy co-mingling of generations was a beautiful example of what event spaces could look like post recreational legalization of marijuana.
According to the Pasadena Fire Department, there were no heat related incidents at the festival, but medical was on their game throughout the weekend. A woman reported having chest pains on the first day of the festival in the V.I.P. section and was taken care of within 10 minutes.
Aside from the heat, the festival carried on smoothly with free water fill-up stations spaced throughout the grounds and a very strategic crowd control procedure carried out by the security teams.
Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes joined her backup vocalists in a joyful conga line off the stage following her set at the Oaks stage on Sunday. She took a quick selfie with a fan and fellow musician, Jesse Edwards of L.A. Edwards band, where he plays the drums with his brother Luke.
When it came to who Edwards was excited to see next, the answer was easy. Tom Petty, of course, because to Edwards he’s the ultimate dude.
“The guy has tons of class, great songs, classic American songwriting,” Edwards said. “I’d say my top 3 idols [are] him, maybe Tupac and Jesus.”
“I like how family oriented it is,” Salis said about the festival, adding that there is no comparison to Coachella. Arroyo Seco stands on it’s own.
Colin Kupka, 29, of the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra has been playing the saxophone since the 5th grade when his father, Cal State Los Angeles music professor Craig Kupka, insisted he take it up instead of the trumpet.
“I didn’t think much of it until middle school when I noticed that when you practice, you get better,” said Kupka. It’s actually a fun thing to do. And to have something you can dig into and just get better and better and better and 19 years later and still be doing it.”
When it comes to what kids need most right now, Kupka said critical thinking.
“Thinking for yourself and being able to make your own decisions is what the arts is all about and that’s what’s getting taken out of schools,” Kupka said.
The event had a kid’s center provided by the Kidspace Children’s Museum that looked like a toddler’s paradise, with a make-your-own guitar section, experimental bells and a play gym. The center was a success for many parents who were afraid of the trials that come with bringing a toddler to a festival.
Even Alhambra city council member Jeff Maloney took on the challenge of bringing a little one to a busy event. According to his wife, Akiko Maloney, they were having a wonderful time.
Akiko and their son Koji, 2 and-a-half, danced to the Erica Falls and Galactic set with special surprise guest Chali 2na of Jurassic 5 on Sunday night. Akiko said this was Koji’s first music festival and he was among many children experiencing the thrills of live music for the first time.
Con Brio’s Ziek McCarter remembers the first time he felt the spirit of music call to him through his family’s speakers in Houston, Texas. It was James Brown, and his influence could be seen in the fancy footwork and sexy-electric presence McCarter delivered during his show.
“I started when I was 2. I was taking a nap and I heard some ruckus going in the living room. So I woke up and went down the hallway to where everyone was hanging out. And there was a speaker this tall or a little taller [than him] and it was playing James Brown. His voice went — I guess it felt like an out of body [experience] but it went through my body like whoa… this feels amazing,” said McCarter. “[That] guy’s voice [was] commanding my attention and just really speaking to my soul at that age. And that’s my first memory as a human being and it was connected to music. My family and uncle started playing soul music more and really, that feeling never left. It hit me at 2 and never left. I wanted to continue to grow and evolve that feeling and translate and illuminate to so many other people cause that can hopefully get us through these tough times.”
His music is more than just his stage presence, but the message behind his lyrics. Con Brio’s anthem Free & Brave was dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement and his own personal pain from losing his father to police violence. A pain that he has worked into gold through his lyrics, relentless drive for the music and dedication to the fans who follow them on tour. The hook, “Are you brave enough to be free?” is the inspirational message that, when paired with the driving funky beat, uplifts and awakens the soul.
Los Angeles residents Randy Wire and Kiri Stromberg attended Coachella a few years back and said that their experience at the Arroyo Seco Festival was more organized than previous Goldenvoice events they had experienced.
“The production value is definitely there and the stages look great. It feels intimate with all the trees, we’re really enjoying it so far,” said Wire.
The golf course setting was problematic only when looking for the car post-festival, but when it came to finding a shady spot to hide from the sun, the options were vast. Many festival goers congregated under large trees or sprawled across the luscious green hills.
Between Saturday and Sunday, the organizers had made a few noteworthy changes. On the second day, restrooms were suddenly segregated, causing lines to go from approximately five minutes for everyone to around 30 minutes for women. This led to cisgendered women arbitrarily identifying as male in order to use the restroom, which received no resistance from security.
Goldenvoice Security Logistics Officer Michael Whited said that the various teams behind the festival held meetings every three hours to see what improvements could be made. He has been with Goldenvoice for 17 years and in that time has developed the formula to organizing security and crowd control for festivals through trial and error.
“The [police department] is really nice and fire is involved. Most of this was put together in three days. Everyone is concerned about what the experience is for the patron, not the [organizers],” said Whited.
The weekend served as a test for the future, with Arroyo Seco Weekend 2018 already on the minds of organizers. The Goldenvoice team has a year to solve the few hiccups of the festival, such as the wall of people near The Oaks stage and the dark labyrinth the parking lot becomes at night when searching for the car.
With lyrics stuck in the heads of fans and cooling memories of Fat Dragon’s green tea cold brew slushie, the summer rambles on with No Future Fest in Pasadena on Friday July 7th to hold local music lovers over till next year.