Best and Worst of Arroyo Seco Weekend

Arroyo Seco Weekend was the 11th music festival in 11 weeks I attended, and I knew the first-year Pasadena festival would be the kind of chill, laid-back fest my body needed before I get a few weeks off from the circuit. However, it was hot as balls and the sun was directly on top of you if you spent most of your time at the main stage, so it was still a bit draining. I’ve recovered and here are what I found to be the best and worst of the fest.

BEST: Folk fest puts families first

Arroyo Seco Weekend seemed like it was Goldenvoice’s answer to BottleRock Napa. Both festivals target an upper-class market that gets little love in the music space. Pasadena is basically SoCal’s answer to Napa — bouji ass white people with families and a lot of money to spend. Goldenvoice was genius in allowing children 10 and under to attend for free. To put in perspective how big of a range that is, Outside Lands allows kids aged two and under in for free. People brought their whole families, and that easily translated to more dollars spent on food (and probably alcohol so the parents didn’t lose their minds dealing with their kids at a festival all day). It was pretty cool to look around and see little kids grooving out to some iconic rock legends and also bands who will be carrying the torch for decades to come.

Early on the first day, I spoke to a guy who was with his two little girls, aged 10 and 7. The girls were looking over the set times booklet and the 10-year-old was talking about how excited she was for The Meters and Galactic. There’s hope for America’s youth yet. Hopefully we made a couple hundred new rock n roll and funk and folk fans in the process.

WORST: Entitled people setting up chairs and blankets

One thing Arroyo Seco Weekend got wrong was allowing people to setup their chairs and blankets wherever they wanted. I’m not against people being able to relax and enjoy music at the same time. Not everyone has the energy that I have to stand up all day, and I want music festivals to be inclusive to everyone. However, there is something distinctly wrong about setting up your chairs and blankets 25 feet from the main stage. It’s even worse when these people pitch a hissy fit when you cut across their blankets or stand in front of their seats. At the end of the day, this is a rock n roll concert and I’m sure the performers want to see you on your feet and with as little space as possible between people.

One lady got all indignant at me for stepping ACROSS (not even on) her blanket, telling me to go around. The sense of entitlement from people who had to assume we both paid the same for a general admission ticket was ridiculous. My experience making my way to the front of the crowd led me to believe that Pasadena is where resting bitch face was founded.

BEST: Tom Petty, Mumford & Sons prove legit festival headliners

Tom Petty

Like I said, Arroyo Seco Weekend was my 11th festival in 11 weeks. Not all of those festivals booked acts that are bonafide festival headlining bands. Arroyo Seco Weekend may be a first-year festival, but they spent the money to bring in the right names to close each night out. Tom Petty is a legacy act and his band played a two-hour marathon set that played almost all of the hits as they celebrate their 40th year together. Mumford & Sons are a band that bridges the generation gap between attendees pretty well. They’re a rock band that’s liked just as much by people in their sixties as they are by people in their twenties. Mumford played close to two hours themselves, and I didn’t see many people take off early the way I did for headliners at other festival stops.

WORST: General festival logistics

There were too many bottlenecks for such a small festival — some of it having to do with how much space people were taking up with their chairs and blankets. If you wanted to go up the left side of the main stage, there was a narrow pathway fenced in by the VIP section on the left and a fence on the right. It made it so walking that pathway took much longer than it should have and really deterred you from checking out the other big stage on the opposite side of the park. It would have taken forever to leave the crowd after Weezer and go see The Shins, so we stuck to our guns and just got closer in waiting for Mumford.

BEST: The sound was cranked

Mumford & Sons

The last time I attended a festival in Pasadena was Air + Style’s inaugural year in 2015, which took place near where Arroyo Seco Weekend happened. For the two closing acts of one night, Diplo and Kendrick Lamar’s volume was so low that you could barely hear what was happening. For Kendrick, it was so bad that he kept asking them to turn it up and just walked off stage after about 30 minutes when it didn’t get any louder. Noise ordinances for Pasadena are pretty wack, but Goldenvoice’s PR team assured me when the fest was announced that they wouldn’t be hampered by them.

Thankfully, they were right. Tom Petty and Mumford & Sons were plenty loud enough to enjoy from the soundbooth and even further back. Perhaps when it’s rock n roll, the city is willing to stretch the rules a bit more. My other favorite thing was seeing people in nearby houses stand at the top of the hill outside the festival grounds and watch and listen to the music. There was one guy on a rock really far away jamming out alone to Weezer hardcore and it brought a smile to my face.

Five Favorite Sets:

Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  1. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers — One of two bucket-list bands I got to see on my two-and-a-half month festival circuit run (U2 being the other), Tom Petty delivered big time on my expectations. It was fun to take in their set and also laugh as a couple of much older people around me looked at a weed vape that was handed to them like it was a contraption from 200 years in the future. They also coughed up a storm after hitting it, but it was great to see the generation gap bridged by the mutual enjoyment of a rock legend — and weed. Petty still has it and I recommend catching him on this 40th anniversary tour — they’ll be at KAABOO in Del Mar, which is a similar vibe to Arroyo Seco Weekend crowd-wise, if a more diverse musical selection.
  2. Preservation Hall Jazz Band — I’ve seen Prez Hall Jazz Band a couple of times, and often they’re a bit out of place on festival bills that also include lots of electronic and hip-hop music. They were a perfect fit for this festival, and despite a somewhat early set time, they had a large crowd. The swagger of these guys is pretty incredible, and I may have danced more during their show than any other of the weekend.
  3. Mumford & Sons — It was my third time seeing Mumford & Sons on my festival trip, and it was right up there with their Hangout Fest set as being the best. One of my favorite things was when two women who must have been in their late forties or early fifties struck up a friendship before and during the show. I’ve always had an easy time making friends at these fests but it was cool to see that even a few decades from now, it’s a realistic thing. Also, Mumford had this really weird intro of a recording of a guy speaking, and it must have been the best thing ever for the ONE person in the crowd tripping on acid.
  4. Lettuce — I’d been dying to see Lettuce for a while and they didn’t disappoint. They were so funky and noodly, it was impossible to stop once you started dancing. It felt like they were never going to take a moment between songs as their transitions were just so seamless. Everyone in the tent was avoiding the last remaining moments of the sun and spent that energy moving around.
  5. Andy Grammer — I honestly had no fucking clue I knew so many Andy Grammer songs — to be honest, when I heard them on the radio I thought they were either Maroon 5 or Jason Mraz. Grammer fits that top-40 / adult contemporary vibe pretty well, but also connects with a younger audience. His band was extremely entertaining, especially the guy on keys who was giving 125 percent all set. Grammer got hold of the crowd early and never let go, and it was my biggest surprise of the weekend easily.

It’s crazy but I’m a bit excited to have a few weeks off before hitting FYF Fest, hopefully Lollapalooza, and then Outside Lands in late July and early August. I’ve been at a music festival every weekend since mid-April and my body is barely on speaking terms with me at the moment, so I’m gonna be relaxing for the next few weeks.

OTHER BEST + WORST FESTIVAL RECAPS:

Best and Worst of Firefly 2017

Best and Worst of Bonnaroo 2017

Best and Worst of Governors Ball 2017

Best and Worst of Boston Calling 2017

Best and Worst of Hangout 2017