Back in February, Goldenvoice announced a new festival at The Queen Mary in Long Beach for the first weekend in May. Featuring a lineup heavy on favorites from the age of Myspace, Just Like Heaven 2019 looked to deliver a boatload of nostalgia for a generation that’s just far enough away from that era to embrace it all over again.
With the demise of FYF Fest, the vanishing of Air+Style, and the “postponement” announcement of Arroyo Seco Festival, 2019 was shaping up to be another year of sliding downward from the peak of the music festival bubble. This new event was a welcome addition to the calendar, but with so many people headed to Queen Mary Park for the first time, the questions about this event were many. How do we get there? How crowded will it be? Will MGMT wait til the end of their set to play the Oracular Spectacular hits? Who’s going to jump around more, Peter or Bjorn? And would Washed Out play “Feel It All Around”? They pretty much have to play that one forever now, right?
The festival website made a clear statement that the only way in was to take a shuttle from the parking lots in downtown Long Beach. After rumors of long lines and long waits on Friday it sounded like people were eventually able to walk in from ride shares or other transit instead. By Saturday the shuttle system seemed to be pretty well worked out. I waited 20 minutes for my shuttle and once we were all picked up it was maybe a 10-minute ride to the festival entrance. But how we were all going to get back out afterward was a popular topic of discussion throughout the journey and throughout the day.
Upon arrival at the front gate the Queen Mary loomed over the proceedings as the crowds moved fairly briskly through the switchback maze (Which will be familiar to anyone who attended FYF Fest) through security and into the festival grounds. A six or seven minute walk along the water, with a stunning view of downtown Long Beach and Shoreline Village, led to the Like A Dream stage. Here Tokyo Police Club started the day off with an energetic and fun set featuring Dave Monk’s timeless indie rock vocals and quality hook after quality hook. Their epic couple of shows at Moroccan Lounge a few months ago were excellent and the chance to see them play again was a major factor in deciding to go to Just Like Heaven fest in the first place. In a set that was way too short, but great none-the-less, “Tessallate” from debut album Elephant Shell, with it’s epic guitar intro and bouncy fun energy, was the highlight.
After a set finished at that stage it was time to walk to the other stage, named Strange As Angels. Since the festival grounds were bisected by the road the shuttle busses brought everyone in on, getting to the other side became a major part of any attendee’s day. Near the entrance, right next to a mini stage where people could get up and have their picture taken with a multicolored Just Like Heaven back drop with… wings, was a Long Beach Grand Prix style walking bridge over the roadway.
The Strange As Angels stage featured far more performances throughout the day and I got there just in time to see Louis XIV rock out, followed by a super fun electronic/pop set from Australia’s Miami Horror. Later sets included an expansive and unpredictable voyage with New York’s Grizzly Bear, a chilled and lush experience with Washed Out (yes they played that one song), and Tennis with their own brand of Indie Pop which sounds so light and expressive and engrossing.
Back on the Like A Dream Stage, Peter Bjorn and John unleashed their upbeat and fun indie rock on the crowd with Peter the great showman like usual, jumping down off the stage to be one with the crowd during “Second Chance” from 2011’s Gimme Some. They were followed by a somewhat more reserved but equally intense set from LA’s own She Wants Revenge. Then things went crazy with STRFKR! With the band and backup dancers all in NASA outfits and helmets. Eventually the blow up spacemen and a raft and a bunch of other stuff all got flung into the crowd and the whole thing just turned into one big party. So much fun.
After a little more time hanging out in the underpass and getting some shade, it was time to visit the food vendors and see what was up. There were taco booths and papusas, wings, burgers, Pizzanista, and bacon wrapped hot dogs. A good number of food trucks were on site as well, like festival regulars The Middle Feast and Sage Vegan. The best bet was definitely the Banh Mi Fries. They were delicious!
After food it was Ra Ra Riot where I decided to camp out for a while. I was going to miss Miike Snow, MGMT and Yeah Yeah Yeahs but I’ve seen them all play a bunch over the years and there were so many great bands playing this stage while they played the other. After all these years Ra Ra Riot still sounds great! More energetic fun, with excellent musicianship, and Rebecca Zeller’s stellar violin playing holding the whole thing together. Other highlights on that stage include a moody set from Grizzly Bear, an electro pop tour through the years with Neon Indian, and a wrap up with a very atmospheric and intriguing set from Beach House. With almost no light. So, really atmospheric. I couldn’t see them for the first three songs. At all.
Highlight of the day was the set from Shiny Toy Guns. By the time they played it had sunk in that a number of the performances throughout the day were going to be on the laid back side. So when they exploded into their first song and Carah Faye came out to the front of the stage and fired the audience up it was a breath of fresh air. 2008’s “Rainy Monday” sounded so good.
As they played I had a brief flashback to the fun of FYF Fest and it’s even more eclectic lineups. Just Like Heaven did a great job mixing up this lineup and they’ll probably continue to do so in the years to come, and it’s that drastic change between acts that can make a festival really come alive. Will they go as far as FYF and have James Blake and Lightning Bolt play the same festival? Or like 2013 FYF Fest where The Locust and Eleanor Friedberger were on the same bill? One can only hope. Then again 2013 FYF Fest did have Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Washed Out, STRFKR, MGMT, and Beach House so maybe this festival is already more like FYF than I realized.
Phoenix has been making the rounds as festival headliner for a while now and they fit the bill well. They make a huge sound, Thomas Mars’ voice is exceptional, the musicianship is off the charts, and the whole experience feels larger than life. They start with a bang and then build up to for the first 3 songs and warm the crowd up and by the time they hit “Lisztomania” everyone is singing along and the crowd is united as one and it really feels like the culmination of a very special day.
Then it was shuttle time. A long walk back through the zig zags led to a long stretch of sidewalk where people were being separated out into smaller sections to fill up each shuttle bus as it came along. And it was a near-constant situation of full busses rolling out, empty busses rolling in. Having a festival in a place where shuttle busses are near mandatory is a huge challenge but the system worked well. Shocking. It didn’t sound like something that would work, shuttling 15,000 people from The Queen Mary to downtown Long Beach but they had it handled.
In conclusion, Just Like Heaven 2019 pretty well lived up to its name. By their nature one day festivals (Or technically, in this case, two consecutive one day festivals) have time constraints that limit set lengths and necessitate some swift walking and have difficult set time conflicts but this one worked those issues out about as well as can be done. Having Sunday to recover is really nice. And the festival site at the Queen Mary is great; Big enough to have 2 stages that really don’t interfere with each other sound-wise but close enough that the walk doesn’t kill you.
Words and photos by Tim Aarons