By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
The spring-summer music festival scene has another serious contender with the arrival of Arroyo Seco Weekend. The new live-music event took place on June 24-25, 2017, at the Brookside Golf Course on the Rose Bowl grounds in Pasadena, Calif. Goldenvoice, the concert and festival subsidiary of AEG, the same producers of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Stagecoach and Desert Trip, presented the two-day weekend event, with an aim to draw a wide range of music lovers to the scene.
Arroyo Seco Weekend (ASW) was a scaled-down version of those huge desert events, offering big-name acts, serious eats and premium prices. Although Goldenvoice reps refused to divulge attendance figures, about 25,000 guests filled the grounds each day. That is about a quarter of the size of the desert festivals and even smaller than BottleRock Napa and Kaaboo, two other California music festivals that go after the same demographic.
Arroyo Seco Weekend is targeted to affluent music lovers and positioned as a family friendly destination. Kids under ten got in free, so strollers, toddlers and lots of frolicking youngsters gamboled around the grounds, along with a wide age range of adults. There also was a noticeable lack of hip-hop and EDM bands, which seems to be prevalent at many festivals lately and are generally less kid friendly, both in lyrics and sound levels. This one had about forty nicely selected bands that covered rock, blues, jazz, folk and Americana music.
The near-triple-digit temperatures in Pasadena, however, made ASW feel like the desert-based concerts. Fortunately, there were shady places to escape the scorching rays of the sun. The two big stages, called “The Oaks” and “Sycamore,” were situated on opposite ends of the fairway of a long, tree-lined hole on the golf course. Some fortunate attendees spread blankets and chairs under the shady areas. Many others spread out in areas exposed to the sun in front of the two stages. The third stage, named “Willow,” was under a tent and offered the best spot all weekend for shade as well as fabulous performances from lesser-hyped acts. Based on the crowds for some of the shows at the Willow Stage, the tent will have to be larger next year. And based on the crowds, too, it is pretty likely that ASW will be a yearly event.
Food booths lined the perimeter of the grounds and had choices from many of the Los Angeles area’s better restaurants and food trucks. Guests were also able to purchase premium cocktails, wine, beer and soft drinks. Prices for everything were steep, but somewhat in line with other festivals and sporting events. Free water filling stations were strategically located in multiple spots throughout the venue.
The first day had an eclectic mix of performing artists. New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band played in the afternoon at The Oaks Stage. British blues legend John Mayall was at the Sycamore Stage. Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra played jazz lounge music under the Willow Tent. Goldblum yukked it up with the crowd before the orchestra came out. He sang, played piano and continued his banter between songs.
Later in the evening, longtime Stax Records soul singer and Grammy winner William Bell played with his band at the Willow Stage. Dawes, the edgy folk rockers from Los Angeles, enthralled their home town audience at the Oaks Stage. Exuberant soul crooner Charles Bradley and his band hit the Sycamore Stage, followed by the original New Orleans funk quartet The Meters. The last sets at The Oaks Stage drew the biggest crowd. Alabama Shakes did an hour of southern blues/rock before classic rock legends Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers closed the day’s schedule with a career retrospective two-hour performance.
The problem for the crowd was that nothing else was scheduled against Petty. Everyone in attendance flocked to The Oaks Stage. The narrow design of the fairway, limited space at the stage and the poorly marked, carelessly enforced walk paths created logjams of frustrated attendees. Fans embedded at their blankets and chairs with a good view of the stage were happy campers, but those trying to return to their friends or get anywhere close had to settle for spots hundreds of yards away or obstructed behind clusters of trees.
Petty and the band were great, jamming through classic singalongs like “Free Fallin’,” “Learning To Fly,” “Refugee” and “Running Down a Dream.” The encore closing “American Girl” capped a terrific set of music that pleased everyone. But once the show ended, everyone endured a massive scrum of shoulder-to-shoulder bodies fighting to get across three way too narrow bridges, the only way to exit to the parking lots.
Sunday dawned hot and steamy for the second day of the festival. There was really no way to escape the heat, even in the shade, as the weather got even more sweltering than the day before. The intense sun baked Pasadena while hot music blared all day. San Francisco’s Con Brio brought super-funky, high-energy music to the Willow Stage. New Orleans’ alt rock stars The Revivalists stirred up the crowd at the Sycamore Stage. Local band, but national stars, Fitz & the Tantrums got the crowd moving at The Oaks Stage. Band vocalist Michael Fitzpatrick said it was the first gig he could walk to and co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs mentioned that she grew up in South Pasadena.
A new band with already established stars, Jamtown, put on a fabulous performance under the Willow Tent. The band consists of troubadours G Love, Donavan Frankenreiter and Cisco Adler, with support from guitar master Duane Betts. Beautiful vocals, harmonies and blazing guitar riffs highlighted their set. Alternative rockers Weezer paid tribute to fellow Los Angeles band Guns N’ Roses by dressing up as the hard rock legends – wigs, top hat, bandanas included.
Indie rockers The Shins put on a good show for a large crowd at the Sycamore Stage. Back at the Willow Stage, funk was the defining sound at night. Modern masters Lettuce laid down a thumping set of grooves with exceptional horn arrangements. They were followed by New Orleans’ funkiest band, Galactic, who ran through some of their dynamic songs accompanied by excellent vocalist Erica Falls.
The festival closed with Grammy winning, British hard-edged folk rockers Mumford & Sons. Like on Saturday with Tom Petty, their set was the only choice at the end of the day. However, the organizers did a much better job of directing traffic and facilitating movement around the area of The Oaks Stage. It was still jammed with fans, but the vibe was less chaotic and mellower. The band’s performance was tight as they ran through string-heavy songs from all three of their studio albums.
By the time the band launched into one of their biggest hits, “I Will Wait,” at the end of the show, the thousands of sweaty, happy and exhausted fans in the crowd were ready to wrap things up. The weekend of music, food and drinks at the sun-drenched event was at an end. It was a fun finale to the first of likely many Arroyo Seco Weekends. Despite some logistical hiccups, the festival was a success. Many bands put on memorable performances and everyone enjoyed two days of world-class entertainment. We expect Goldenvoice to learn from this event and make it even better next year. Keep an eye out for an announcement about dates in 2018.
Many more photos in the gallery below: