First City Festival is the young, boutique festival out of Monterey, CA, done by the same promoters of Coachella. Only into its second year, First City Festival 2014 boasted artists like How to Dress Well, Liars, and Phantogram which piqued Rupa Jogani’s interest into seeing what the festival had to offer.
From the moment I walked onto festival grounds I knew I truly was at a California festival. They had a full fledged carnival on one end of the grounds, had fancy fucking food stands all over (crab meat garlic fries? Shwarma? KOREAN BBQ?!), dope beer, and even signature cocktails with absinthe mists and green chartreuse.
Even their decorations were some next level shit with chandeliers strung from trees over VIP stands, canopy lights draped from the main stage into the crowd, and vintage / carnival-esque lit signs all over festival grounds. With three primary stages and one mini stage that had rotating music acts (vaudeville music, the most terrifying 7-foot clown named Puddles, and aerobic dancers) by the food stands, it was straight fanfare.
But with that fanfare came a price, and sadly it showcased itself on every sound stage.
I first noticed the terrible sound emanating from speakers (which would haunt my steps throughout the weekend) during How To Dress Well’s set. I’d been keen on seeing the Chicago-native because 1) Tom Krell is from Chicago 2) What Is This Heart?is one of my favorite albums of 2014 and 3) he’s known to put on a damn good performance. The dude is fucking hilarious, as evidenced by his banter at First City which made jabs at Beck turning it into his running gag of the performance. It was even sweeter when the audience had no idea he was joking around.
“Before Beck I was a completely different person – 5’4”, not Jewish, and 200 pounds heavier. He got me on that Paleo diet. So, basically, if it weren’t for Beck, none of us would be here right now. THIS ONE’S FOR YOU BECK.”
While not every patron appreciated his Beck-based humor, we could all collectively sway to Tom Krell’s beautiful lyricism and live performance. Or, well, we should have but the sound dude fucked up so hard I almost went over and smacked him.
Tom Krell’s voice was washed out and muddled due to the din of shitty bass. When the drummer began his performance the sound was so off it sounded like an amateur 128 bit YouTube video clip. Then, to top it all off, the sound just gave out and he stopped his performance to continue bantering with the audience. You could see the sweat dripping off the sound manager’s face from sheer stress.
I was pissed off for sound ruining an amazing set but, you know, maybe it was just the one time?
I later went over to watch Mr. Little Jeans whom I’d never heard of before, but the beats drifting over to the media tent seemed promising enough. Within five minutes of listening to her set, I noticed how glaringly off the highs were when the vocalist sang. The feedback made everyone clamp their hands to their ears and despite how often the band kept breaking performance to tell sound stage to fix it, nothing happened. No one had their shit together, the vocalist’s monitor wasn’t working so she couldn’t even hear herself perform and it was every level of awful. I left early to save my ears from bleeding.
The saving grace of the festival was Phantogram delivering a heart-stopping performance. I’d actually ran into the band earlier in the day since we were staying at the same hotel. The keyboardist and drummer recognized me from their stripped down, intimate Uber Live sets in Chicago, and when they smiled and said hello to me I had the very sexy reaction of gurgling and mumbling a muddled “hello?” before running away.
I know, such a charmer.
Watching them onstage later gave back my ability to speak. Sarah Barthel is raw energy on stage, where she danced, jumped, and rocked the fuck out. Every song engaged with the crowd and we were in a trance dancing with them. Absolutely a mind blowing performance, I highly recommend seeing them even if you’re not a die-hard fan (which includes myself).
Skipped Beck because I don’t really care about seeing him, sorry guys.
Day two was a slow start for me so I took some time exploring what Monterey had to offer. The city setting of a festival is important, ‘cause most likely you’re going to have serious downtime and a thirst for non-festival activities. I tried out the delicious Parker-Lusseau bakery and filled my stomach with many french pastries; took a stroll through the Monterey Bay Aquarium with its two dedicated floors of jellyfish and exhibit devoted to octopuses; and (later) had a fancy ass dinner at Passionfish where I took dessert to my hotel and ate it in my food bed with a makeshift cardboard spoon.
It’s a quiet city where you won’t find any after parties so your nights will always end by 11PM – most restaurants stop serving at 10PM so keep that in mind if you decide to head out there.
Back at the festival, I started with Future Islands who put on a stellar show though it was ruined by, YOU GUESSED IT, shitty sound setup that screwed with feedback so badly I threw my earplugs in. Older folk loved it and danced the hardest during the set which made me giggle a lot.
Later, I hit up Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. because of my Midwest pride (they’re Detroit-based) and how well-reputed they are for energetic sets. They gave us their all since it was the final performance of their current tour. The crowd loved DEJJ very hard which was great to see from a smaller stage, and they further won us over by performing a jam-cover version of ‘God Only Knows.’ Extra kudos to the lead singer who repped a Fool’s Gold shirt – whoop!
My final act of the weekend was Liars who I was excited to see because ‘The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack’ is one of my favorite songs, ever, and their overall aesthetic always intrigued me. Unfortunately, sound was sub-par (ugh) and they didn’t play my favorite song so I was pretty bummed after the set finished. They had fantastic energy, though, and really eclectic sounds which vibed well with my taste in electronic music.
I left the festival soon after the Liars set ‘cause I fancied indulging in a fancy last meal before my journey home.
Photo by Tom Hoppa
First City Festival is doing a lot of things right for such a new festival – killer amenities, well curated lineups, and providing a lot of breathing room for patrons. Even the media tent had really nice touches, with WiFi spots on either end of festival grounds, many snacks, water, and even earplugs! Those small details really make a huge difference in going and covering festivals as my fellow writers will know.
The glaring negatives, however, need heavy improvement, primarily in the sound department. The point of a music festival is the actual music, so having faulty systems and poorly EQ’d stages is a major disappointment. If they get that collected together for next year it’ll definitely be a great festival to hit up. Until then, however, I’ll wait patiently for those garlic crab meat fries. Hot damn.
Do you think we’re too salty about festivals? Let @LYFSTYLmusic know and we’ll RT the best answers.
Rupa Jogani takes sound setup probably too seriously. She’s on Twitter @r_jogani