Tucked away in the rolling hills of Pasadena, CA the second annual Arroyo Seco Weekend is a beautiful blend of good food, craft beers, expertly made cocktails, and amazing music. Situated in a golf course next to the “Grandaddy of Them All”, the Rose Bowl, this proves to be a perfect festival setting with it’s serene ponds, shady trees, and ample space for the 25k per day audience.
Headlining the Saturday night installation of this two day festival is legendary shredder Neil Young (playing alongside Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real). On Sunday Kings Of Leon top the bill. But throughout each day there prove to be a number of standout performances from the likes of Fantastic Negrito, Gary Clark Jr., Margo Price, and Kamasi Washington, just to name a few.
Our Saturday starts out at the Sycamore Stage with Austin, Texas’ own Shakey Graves. The singer/ songwriter/ guitarist/ and master of pretty much every other instrument on the stage is a unique blend of unassuming charm and heartfelt musicianship.
Next we move over to the main stage, entitled The Oaks, where rising-star jazz artist Kamasi Washington leads his ensemble of heavy hitting improv based musicians through a soulful, thought provoking set. Kamasi, donning a flowing royal blue gown, is a towering presence as he belts out epic notes from his well worn saxophone.
Next, we take a casual stroll over to the Willow Stage, where Margo Price will soon be gracing. With a few minutes to spare before her set opens we decide to partake in some of the gourmet food/ drink selections that Arroyo Seco Weekend prides itself on. We choose the Kogi BBQ short rib tacos, and wash them down with a pale ale from Saint Archer Brewing Company. With typical festival fare being greasy pizza slices and day old french fries, both prove to be a perfect touch for a festival that tauts on being geared toward folks with a more sophisticated palette.
Now back to the music. And with the sun going down, there’s no more perfect way to bring on the night than with a little down home honky tonk music provided by Nashville’s not-so-sweetheart, Margo Price. Her band of troubadours start out with their foot fully on the throttle as they ramble through their first perfectly pitched few numbers. An early crowd favorite is a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ where Margo’s voice provides a dreamy, angelic tone to the iconic rock anthem. Next up is ‘Cocaine Cowboy’, a rowdy cautionary tale about the new wave of cowboys that have infested Nashville. Margo throws down her guitar for this number and jumps behind the drums. Lead guitarist, Jamie Davis, soars into Skynard-esque solo midway through this jam that sends the crowd into a roar.
It’s time for the headliner of the evening, the legendary Neil Young. Despite a few sound issues that Young dubbed as, “a banner night for playing songs in the wrong key”, this proves to be easily the most emotionally charged and unforgettable sets of the day. Young, along with his band Promise of the Real start the evening off with a 20+ minute version of ‘Like An Inca’, jamming together with flawless precision. Another crowd favorite is ‘Cortez the Killer’ where the crowd claps along with the beat as guitarist Lukas Nelson (son of Willie Nelson) rips an angry guitar solo. A few songs later, Young makes a heartfelt reference to the immigration issue by dedicating the song, ‘I Am A Child’ to the families going through this horrible experience.
Things get ramped up several notches with a charged version of ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’, followed by the anthem ‘Hey Hey My My’ dripping with Young’s screaming guitar.
Day two starts off with a nostalgic treat, the Violent Femmes. Obvious crowd favorites, ‘Blister In The Sun’, American Music’, and Gone Baby Gone’ send the crowd into a salt-n-pepper haired frenzy as the they dance and sing unabashedly along with the well-known heavy baselines.
Next, we head back over to the Willow Stage to check out easily one of the funkiest performances of the weekend – Oakland’s pride, Fantastic Negrito. It should be noted that the band does their own soundcheck. And in that ten minute span this group of men provide more soul by just testing microphone levels, etc., than a lot of bands put forth throughout an entire set. Once finished testing, Negrito lets us know that they’ll be going back behind the stage to “make their entrance a little more formal”.
To categorize Fantastic Negrito into a nicely fit box is to miss the whole point of the man and his music. Like a handful of artists before him, he supersedes labels. He’s just as much storyteller as he is songwriter. He’s just as much rocker as he is blues or r&b artist. He’s just as much hustler as he is preacher. But as he struts his stuff around stage with the enigmatic swagger of a Prince or a Jagger, all of that comes fully into play. And from the moment that he and his band makes their formal entrance, he has the entire audience captivated with every move he makes.
Back over to the main stage, Gary Clark Jr. gets set to tantalize the audience with his virtuoso level guitar skills and buttery smooth voice. There is not one single thing that is not cool about this man as he rips through favorites like ‘When My Train Pulls In’, and ‘Don’t Owe You A Thang’. Ending with ‘Bright Lights’, he leaves the crowd screaming for more.
Sunday’s nightcap comes in the form of southern rockers, Kings Of Leon. The brothers Followill (Caleb, Nathan, and Jared) along with cousin Matthew swoon the audience with moody hits like ‘Use Somebody’, ‘Radioactive’, and ‘Back Down South’. The night is ended on a sultry version of the crowd favorite, ‘Sex Is On Fire’.
This year’s Arroyo Seco Weekend gets a strong two thumbs up. From the beautiful mountainous backdrop, craft foods/ cocktails, serene settings, perfect layout, and of course the killer lineup…Goldenvoice really hit a homerun with this one. In only it’s second year, it’ll be fun to see what they have in store for year three. You know what they say..third time’s a charm.