Kamasi Washington, Gary Clark Jr. & Others Bring The Soul To A Nostalgic Arroyo Seco Festival
The second annual Arroyo Seco Weekend Festival served as the grounds for stellar performances from The Revolution, Gary Clark Jr., Kamasi Washington and others.
This week the calendar officially brought summer upon us as Golden Voice brought Los Angeles the second annual Arroyo Seco Weekend festival at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. 70’s legends Neil Young and Robert Plant headlined along with 80’s and 90’s throwbacks such as The Pretenders, Violent Femmes, Alanis Morissette, Third Eye Blind and Prince’s legendary band, The Revolution. Current fest faves Gary Clark Jr., Allen Stone and Jack White broadened the turnout, making Arroyo arguably the most family-friendly festival being held in 2018.
In contrast to the arts driven desert scape of Coachella and the urban concrete setting of last year’s FYF, Pasadena’s Brookside Golf Course, located adjacent to the legendary Rose Bowl stadium, offered rolling green hills, trees for shade and picket fence section dividers like a sort of suburban oasis in a yesteryear southern community (all three festivals are produced by L.A.-based Golden Voice). Three stages dusted the air with the sounds of jazz, blues and southern rock; Americana delivered in the form of sound, encompassing what many would say are America’s greatest cultural gifts to the world. Gifts which are rooted specifically in black culture. Although the line up veered towards artists of a lighter hue, there was no lack of inclusion or homage to the originators.
The day began with back-to-back jazz starting, appropriately, with the 77-year-old sax legend, Pharoah Sanders, at the Willow stage, followed by Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. Yes, that Jeff Goldblum. AKA your girlfriend, wife and side chick’s secret Hollywood crush who treated the crowd to renditions of Herbie Hancock, Nina Simone and Nat King Cole covers interspersed with movie related trivia games (Jurassic Park anyone?) to make for a unique interactive experience. This week marked the release of saxophonist/composer Kamasi Washington’s new album, Heaven And Earth, which he dug into during his midday set at the Oaks main stage. Lately, along with Thundercat and BADBADNOTGOOD, Washington is proving the new interest in jazz at major festivals is not a fluke but a serious desire by audiences to immerse themselves in instrumental music and complex artistry by performers who have become more easily discoverable thanks to Spotify and other streaming services. America’s first great export is alive and well.
The blues were abundant both days and most purely on display when Gary Clark Jr. took over main stage Sunday afternoon. Saturday evening, Jack White performed in the same space running through career highlights spanning three bands and several solo albums worth of crowd pleasers. Despite all of White’s success and reputation as a prolific and exciting axeman, the accolades Clark Jr. has accumulated in a short time from critics and audiences alike has earned him the mantle of being this generation’s heir apparent to Stevie Ray Vaughn and [Jimi] Hendrix before him. Laying down licks on songs “Ain’t Messin ‘Round, When My Train Pulls In” and “Don’t Owe You A Thing” proved why his tour bus never seems to stop and why he is a must see when in your town.
“We had music back home, but most of it was sludge,” former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant reminisces to the crowd gathered under a setting sun. “We looked for something to turn us inside out. We found it in the music of Louisiana, Chicago and Mississippi. One of the guys we found was a guy named Lead Belly. He created a lot of rock songs, he didn’t know he was, but he did,” Plant explained before ripping into a bluegrass rendition of “Gallows Poll,” originally by the blues legend he spoke of and made famous by his iconic band. It’s not rare to hear the rock legends of the ‘60s and ‘70s pay homage to the black artists that changed their lives decades earlier, but it is still important for crowds to hear so they don’t forget where it all came from. The sound of the Delta could be heard all weekend from the band North Mississippi All Stars to the gritty rock of Dorothy, but to hear the soul-shaking wale of Robert Plant in person was a cherished moment for many. Not one to deny why we all still buy tickets, the set gave equal attention to new songs by his latest ensemble, The Sensational Space Shifters, and Zeppelin classics such as “The Lemon Song” and “Whole Lotta Love”.
Prince would have turned 60 a few weeks ago if he were still with us. The demand to revisit his catalogue has prompted the reuniting of his band, The Revolution, who were immortalized in the 1984 film Purple Rain. The band graced the Sycamore stage early on Sunday and filled the grounds with an unlikely family of fans needing closure. “What we found is it’s therapeutic,” bassist Brownmark tells Okayplayer, “this is about giving the songs back. This is about you guys singing the songs and you guys making it a celebration with us.” Guitarist Wendy Melvoin adds, “What I think the ultimate result of getting back together and doing this is that people like you and us and the people that are out there have a sense of community.” The band, consisting of all five original members Wendy & Lisa, Bobby Z, Brownmark and Dr. Fink have been touring since last year playing songs from their tenure during the Purple One’s most successful run with albums 1999, Purple Rain, Around The World In A Day and Parade. “[At] club dates… we usually end up being on the stage about two hours,” Mark continues, “in a festival they want you on and off, boom-boom like clockwork. We have to edit a lot of what we’re doing.” The set included deep cuts starting with rocker “America” and the funky “Mountains,” but leaned heavy on the necessary classics like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Raspberry Beret”. Mark adds,“We were involved in so many of the hits that we don’t really have a problem selecting what to play. We can stick to the hits and can’t go wrong. Every once and awhile we’ll bring out [a b-side like] ‘Anotherloverholenyohead’.”
Being sandwiched between so many traditional acts begs the bigger question of where Prince and the Revolution’s genre-bending legacy stands. “I don’t know how we fit in” Wendy tells me, “I think more will be revealed. Maybe we don’t necessarily, but does it really matter whether we fit in or not? Nah! If we’re the slice that’s slightly weird, bring it on. I wear it with pride.” In the distance during the interview The Bangles could be heard playing “Manic Monday,” their first hit single which was also penned by Prince, suggesting his influence is everywhere and will live on forever.
Other highlights on Sunday included New Orleans soul legends Aaron Neville and Irma Thomas before the night ended with Tennessee rockers Kings of Leon. Arroyo Seco offered a mellow, earthy ambiance drawing graying rock ’n roll survivors and trendy teenagers alike to the altar of good music. There was seemingly no concern for what celebrity may be in the VIP area or how to best post a FOMO-inducing photo on social media. A refreshing change to the big business of festivals proving, for many of us, it’s still really just about the music.
Check out the highlights in the gallery below.