Arroyo Seco Weekend


(aka Day One)

I didn’t really know what to expect when I purchased tickets to Arroyo Seco Weekend so many months ago. This is the inaugural year of this festival held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Which could mean unique innovation or unprepared disorganization. I did know it had a unique lineup of some great diverse acts, so I took a chance. It turned out to be an incredible weekend. There was so much to see, hear, eat and drink so I’m splitting my blog post into two. Side A is Saturday, day one. Side B is Sunday, day two. That’s a reference to vinyl records and cassette tapes for all you millennials out there.

The general admission weekend tickets came with a free parking pass, but the Rose Bowl is not known for easy parking. With only one road in and out and street closures abound, I took the advice of the website and utilized one of their sponsors, Lyft. The site claimed a designated ride-share area with easy pickup and drop-offs at Lot H. Works for me! We arrived on Saturday around 1pm and our driver had just come from dropping someone else off. There was no directly road into Lot H. Not yet anyway. But he nicely dropped us off on a nearby side street close to the venue. A quick walk and even quicker trip through security later, we were on the open grassy golf course. A little bit of cloud cover made for a pleasant afternoon.

First stop was the water refilling station. There were plenty of free filling stations to fill your water bottles, throughout the park, but they weren’t marked on the festival map, so you had to hunt and peck your way through the fields to find them and memorize their locations for later. Thankfully no one in LA shows up on time so the fields were clear of obstacles and crowds. We grabbed a quick beer and walked over to the Sycamore stage for the first band of the day. I had only listened to Baskery for the first time earlier that morning and was intrigued. These three Swedish sisters put on a great set. Sitting on our blanket under the cool sky, they covered Neil Young’s “Old Man” and a few raindrops began to fall. It was lovely. One sister even commented on the rare rainstorm saying we would all remember that time we watched Baskery at the Rose Bowl in the rain. And I will.

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Baskery at Sycamore Stage

After Baskery I made a stopped at the one of the Little Libraries on display. I’m a total bibliophile. (Check out this post on my favorite used bookstore, The Illiad) These little libraries were presented by Vroman’s Bookstore. SoCal’s oldest independent bookstore. These mini versions were designed and built by students and teaching artists from Pasadena’s Side Street Projects in the fashion of Pasadena’s iconic architectural styles.

I headed back towards the Sycamore stage to check out another band that was new to me. Haley. Another wonderful discovery. That is my favorite thing about festivals. Sure there are always current popular artists in the lineup, but I love finding a new band, I had not heard of before today and becoming a fan.

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Haley at Sycamore Stage

Time for a snack! I’m a bit of a pizza snob. Blame it on my NY roots. The crust needs to be just so. Not too thin and not soggy from too much sauce. I admit it, I’m picky.

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Brick Oven Pizza

But this Brick Oven pizza stand delivered. I went with my old standby, sausage and peppers. It could have used some black olives but the jalapenos were a nice touch. Who cares that I got smudges of black soot all over my face from the brick oven baked pizza crust. It was worth it.

The Oaks is the other main stage at Arroyo Seco. We headed that way to listen to a few songs by Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The best part of this festival lineup is that there is something for everyone. Sure you may not like every act, but with this much variety every person is bound to find a favorite. My favorite was up next. LIVE! Now as an angst-y 90s kid, hard alternative rock was my lifeblood. Throwing Copper was on constant repeat on my disc-man. The sun was bright and hot in the sky by 4pm when LIVE took the stage. I was about six rows back from the action. They opened with “All Over You” but Ed’s vocals weren’t working. No matter the entire front half of the audience was like, “we got you…” and sang our hearts out to every word until the vocals came on strong. We all cheered and danced. There was even some headbanging. Ah memories.

LIVE fulfilled all my 90s fan-girl fantasies. I was too young to see them play live, no pun intended, during their heyday, so this really satisfying. They played “I Alone” and a kick-ass cover of Johnny Cash’s, “Ring of Fire.” I didn’t get to hear my all time fave, “White Discussion” but they closed with “Lightning Crashes” calling it a prayer for our times. I have goose-bumps while writing this, because the moment was so palpable. All the fans singing the chorus in unison, felt like a choir in the church of rock music. When they finished it was hard to drag myself away from the stage. But I was beaming in the afterglow of their music and the brutal sun. Time to replenish all the sweat I danced out of my body. Next stop, water refilling station and a beer, or two.

On the way to see Broken Social Scene at the Sycamore stage, I found one of the many art installations throughout the park. Three Dunnage Balls is an art installation created by Peter Tolkien Architecture. It consists of three massive Icosahedrons (which I learned is a polyhedron with twenty faces.) Each structure is twenty two feet in diameter, made by stitching thirty dunnage bags together. Dunnages are large bags used in shipping. Their shape reminded me of toys you would buy for a child. Nestled inside the installation was a scent workshop. I didn’t attend because my husband is basically allergic to most perfumes and spending time making him smell scents from the ancient perfume trade seemed cruel. But the table had a nice gathering so I assume it was popular.

Broken Social Scene put on a great show. They had more people on stage then Arcade Fire. It was fun and lively and good music to bop around to. But I needed another snack before seeing Alabama Shakes. Tots to the rescue! I’m a sucker for tater tots.

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Blame it on childhood lunchrooms, or Napoleon Dynamite, I can’t get enough of them. These were grown up tots. Covered in green onions, a creamy cheese sauce and crispy bits of bacon. Yum!

The last time I saw Alabama Shakes was back in 2012 at the Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park. They were just hitting it big and the promoters didn’t accommodate for just how popular of a band they’d become. Stuck on a tiny stage, with no big screens and poor sound quality, if you weren’t front and center you could barely hear a thing. Sadly, I was not front and center, more back and to the right. So I was determined to have my redemption concert.  I walked along the left side of the crowd and it was already packed. The VIP section at the Oaks was huge, maybe bigger than it needed to be and it ran the entire length of the pathway to the stage. I found a spot up against the fence for a minute, before security made us leave, because the walkway needed to stay clear for medical. I totally understand, but there were no signs and he was very abrupt with me. Of course the couple next to my husband and I had a child, so he spoke much more kindly to them. Seriously I encounter this all the time. People with children always get special treatment, but that’s a rant for another day. I made my way through the crowd to the opposite side of the stage. This side was even better. It had a view of the stage, the big screen, and it was in the shade. Perfect! Brittany Howard, the lead singer is a force.

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My girl Brittany, killing it at The Oaks Stage.

Her voice, her musicality, everything about her performance commands your attention. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I also didn’t realize what a bad-ass the drummer is in live performances. I was blown away by the whole set. Some new, some old, but all amazing. Unfortunately towards the end, someone in our section didn’t have enough water that day (hydrate festival people!) and had to be helped threw the crowd to medical. This side didn’t have a designated pathway, but most people moved away quickly and allowed the EMTs to do their thing. Except the drunk girl who thought she was helping but was actually a hindrance. There’s always one, right?

After Alabama Shakes, most people were staying put for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. I saw Tom Petty just a couple years ago, and he was fantastic. Really puts on a greatest hits show for the fans. But it’s kind of always the same show. So, my husband and I decided to wander about the park, taking advantage of the missing crowd of whom most was waiting for Tom Petty. I saw another gorgeous piece of architecture called the Field House, designed by Bureau Spectacular. Throughout the weekend they were podcasting from this location about the future of Architecture.  Nearby was the Tournament of Roses Archway. Phoenix Decorating, one of the official float builders of the Roses Parade, crafted this gorgeous archway in the style of a parade float.

18,000+ steps later, I was ready to go home. We headed back out the way we entered stopping to ask some event staff about this elusive Lot H ride-share area. We were pointed in the right direction and saw the bright pink Lyft tent in the distance. Hooray! I guess it took them a few hours, but the ride-share area was up and running. Fairly organized too. Each lane was designated with a letter that your Lyft or Uber driver would tell you where to find them. Quite an easy process.

It was a full day of eating, drinking and listening to some incredible musical acts. I left thinking I can’t believe there is a whole second day of this awaiting me tomorrow.
Click here to see the full lineup from Day One.

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