Sarah & I went to the first day of the Treasure Island Music Festival on Saturday, and had a lovely time. Although there were more bands in day 2’s lineup that I’m familiar with, the schedule just didn’t work out for us, so Day 1 it was (also at $100 for a 2-day pass, we opted for only one day!).
Downtown SF from Treasure Island
Treasure Island, a former Naval Base in the middle of San Francisco Bay, has very limited parking, so they ran free shuttles and provided free parking at semi-nearby AT&T Park on the SF waterfront. We got to the festival at a little after noon, with plenty of time to walk around before the meat of the program started.
They had a pavillion full of vintage arcade games (Pac Man, Space Invaders, Tempest, Defender, and so on), several kiosks with environmental information, a few dozen merchandise vendors a few ATMs featuring $4 service charges, and another couple dozen food and drink stands of the type usually seen at street fairs and festivals.
After getting the lay of the land, we staked out a patch of lawn near, but not too near, the Bridge Stage.
This first act on the Bridge Stage (the nearby Tunnel Stage seemed to be mostly DJ acts, and we didn’t want to give up out patch of lawn for them) was this group from LA featuring a lovely Cambodian singer in the Bollywood style, with ska/funk sounds from the band, which was comprised of keyboard, sax, bass, guitar and drums. They had a fun, international-pop sound, and we enjoyed their half-hour set very much, enough so that I later purchased their album “Escape From Dragon House” on iTunes.
In the 20 minutes following their set, I got us a couple of drinks. The choices were 2 red wines, 2 white wines, Hinekein (regular & light), and the ubiquitous soju “cocktails” here mixed with your choice of Vitamin Water energy drink, cranberry, or tonic.
I was hopeful about this group, having heard one of their songs, a reggae remake of a song by the Clash, and they’re local boys from Oakland, described as a positive Hip-Hop group, but alas, although I appreciated their energy and good vibrations, their music to my ears sounded like any other hip-hop. Granted, it isn’t a genre that I’m well-versed in, but my tastes run to the much funkier side of things (the Coup, Blackalicious, etc). Zion I consisted of 2 rappers and a MC, with a third guest rapper for a few songs. They did, however, get the crowd on its feet and moving, which counts for something.
This Austin, Texas-based duo (singer/guitar and synthesizer) were one of our favorites of the festival. We didn’t know anything about them beforehand, and were quite pleasantly surprised at their fun-filled and upbeat set. The keyboard player, sporting a baby-blue cape with a purple cross on the back, laid out some old-school squeaks and squacks atop some fine 1980’s-style synth pop while the energetic singer bounced and danced all over the stage, singing in a high-pitched voice. Hmmm, that description doesn’t sound nearly as good as the band does, but anyways we liked ’em a lot!
MIA was one of the two acts playing at day 1 that we were already familiar with (the other being Thievery Corporation), and although both Sarah & I quite like MIA’s deubt “Arular,” her set was lackluster. MIA had a backup rapper/dancer with her, and a DJ in the back. One of my gripes about the 1st day’s lineup was the (over) preponderance of DJ or mostly-DJ acts, which aren’t all that interesting to me to see live. Not to detract from the talent that many DJs obviously have (and that I certainly do not), but I’d really much rather see someone play an instrument than push a bunch of buttons.
Towards the end of her set, a couple dozen people from the crowd were allowed onstage, and were clearly psyched to be dancing w/MIA. Song-wise, she played a mix of stuff from “Arular” and her new album “Kala,” which I don’t care for very much.
The field was getting much more crowded by this point, so we decided to give up our patch of grass and wander around. We ran into our upstairs neighbor Liz and her friend while in the bathroom line, a funny coincidence in a crowd of thousands!
Sarah wanted to ride the Ferris Wheel, so we paid our $5/each and waited in a short line. Treasure Island has excellent views, being in the middle of SF Bay, and they’re even better atop a 50′ (or thereabouts) wheel!
Although we saw a number of people with DJ Shadow shirts on, the set ended with us wondering what the deal was. They sounded very much like the sort of filler music one would expect in between bands, with long stretches of source material with no discernable mixing going on, and their set, at one full hour, felt way too long.
The DJ-heavy lineup more than redeemed itself with this group, our favorite of the evening. Featuring up to 8 acoustic players (singer, 3 violins, cello, piano, accordian, and guitar) plus 2 DJs providing the beats, this modern tango-electronica fusion had a fantastic energy and talent to spare. Not at all normally one to do much more than a white-boy-head-bob, I was actually moved to swing, step and sway (in my own unrhythmic way of course), as was everyone else. This was the highlight of the concert for us, for sure!
We were very tired by the end of Gotan’s set, and decided to bail out, even though that meant us missing headliner Thievery Corporation. We’d been at the festival for over 8 hours, and just couldn’t see handling another 2+ hours. Also of concern were the logistics of getting 7000+ people off of the island on 50-person-capacity shuttles, and our early departure was crowd-free and smooth.
This was a fun festival, and I hope they do it again next year. The lineup over the two days was a good sampling of local and indie acts and the setting is beautiful – good stuff!