FYF Fest 2016: The Best and the Worst
We feel you, dude in the chimp shirt.
Overall, this year's edition of FYF Fest was a smashing success. The lineup was killer, the headliners (especially Grace Jones and Kendrick Lamar) more than lived up to the hype, the weather cooperated, and some logistical issues from previous years — especially the long (long) walk between stages — were fixed, or at least much improved. We had a blast, and it seemed like most of the folks around us did, too. (Especially these people.)
But it wasn't all smooth sailing. We critique because we care, FYF!
So with that in mind, here's a roundup of our favorite and least favorite things at FYF Fest 2016. We hope you'll share your highlights (and lowlights) in the comments section, too.
Even if Hot Chip doesn't do it for you on record, their live show — and their fans — are awesome.
Best: Hot Chip live
You know those bands you go to see just for the hell of it and end up walking away in love? Yeah, that’s what happened for me at Hot Chip. I had expected to be getting lost in the majestic sonics of Tame Impala, whose set overlapped with the English electronic act. Instead, I found myself in a crowd of entranced, head-bobbing, shimmying, jumping fans singing “Over and Over” in unison, blanketed by flashing rainbow lights, neon energy and effortless cool — in other words, the kind of crowd you’d get major FOMO for leaving. The band even threw in a couple of covers, Prince’s “Erotic City” and Bruce Springsteen's “Dancing in the Dark,” for an unexpected and fully unique tribute to one of the greats we’ve lost this year and another that continues to shine on. —Artemis Thomas-Hansard
Best: Grimes’ backup performer, Hana
As usual, experimental pop artist Grimes was her awkwardly endearing self, peppering in a hurried “anyways” or “in any case” followed by a slightly congested giggle in her banter between songs, and remaining impressively positive and calm (while still blurting out a “fuck” here and there) when her sampler began to malfunction and her mic transmitter kept getting stuck in her shirt. But as big a personality as Grimes is, it was her mermaid-haired backup performer who really grabbed our attention, playing guitar and drum pads, singing powerful backing vocals and joining in on several choreographed routines with Grimes' two dancers. We couldn’t help but ask, “Who is that girl killing it in the camo pants?” Turns out it was Hana, the previously purple-haired songstress whose talent has been lauded by Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Grimes herself, who aside from shouting out Hana’s solo work during her shows has also gone on record to say, "Just being around Hana, I think I learned about singing." —A.T.
Who's got a beer, a spirit hoodie and the ability to saunter freely about the festival? This guy!
Best: Being able to walk from stage to stage while drinking a beer
At most music festivals in California, grabbing an alcoholic beverage means being herded like cattle into a fenced-off enclosure that may or may not be anywhere near the next band you want to see. FYF came up with a simple but clever solution to this problem, making the entire inner ring of the festival that wrapped around the Coliseum a 21-and-over zone. Suddenly, it was possible to catch Peter Bjorn & John at one end of the festival grounds, grab an IPA from the beer garden by the Night Market food stands, and sip it leisurely while taking the 15-minute stroll to the mainstage for Vince Staples. Sure, this setup meant longer walks for the under-21 set, who were stuck on the more meandering outer ring. But their young legs can handle the additional mileage. —Andy Hermann
Worst: Everything else about the layout
Back in FYF's first year at Exposition Park (after moving from L.A. State Historic Park in 2014), crowds lamented three-hour-long entrance lines, being shut out of the indoor Sports Arena stage (which frequently hit capacity), and 15- to 20-minute walks between stages. It’s clear the festival organizers have made efforts to solve these problems, but we’re not sure the solutions they arrived at this year are any better. The festival grounds felt smaller but no less confusing to get around, and it was not much quicker to bounce from stage to stage. Vendors and stages were tucked into unintuitive corners, and it took me until Sunday night to find food that wasn’t crappy. Moving from secondary stages like the Lawn and the Trees to the mainstage and back again felt almost like moving between two different festivals, and the crowd bottlenecks around the mainstage area were often extreme. One first-time FYF-er in the crowd noted that it all just felt unfinished, and we’d have to agree. —A.T.
Father John Misty keeps it old-school.
Best: Father John Misty's stage projections
J. Tillman, aka Father John Misty, is famous for his sardonic, deadpan sense of humor, which was on full display during his FYF Sunday afternoon mainstage set. After grabbing a few fans' cellphones to help them Snapchat his set, he remarked, "OK friends, let's try to carry on with dignity." During one of his many heartfelt ballads, he announced with great reverence, "Please join me in welcoming Grace Jones to the stage." (Grace Jones did not come to the stage.) But his wit manifested itself most memorably in his projection screen graphics, a deliberate series of trainwrecks that seemed calculated to poke fun at the very notion that every festival headliner these days feels obligated to perform backed by a giant TV screen. FJM's set began with an Apple iOS error message, then later shifted to a circa 1995 Windows start button and brick maze, and finally concluded with — why not? — the Bonnaroo logo. —A.H.
Best: Ty Segall and the Muggers
When it comes to figuring out your festival plan of attack, sometimes you’ve got to make sacrifices in your schedule, especially if there’s an artist you’re likely to see again soon, just saw, or who typically plays that festival year after year. In FYF’s case, Ty Segall is almost always performing in one incarnation or another, so it's tempting to sit him out. But unlike some other acts that frequent the festival circuit, Segall's shows are pretty much the definition of “solid,” so there's really no excuse to miss him. This year, he took the stage with The Muggers, a band made up of several of his best longtime collaborators, including King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas, Mikal Cronin, Emmett Kelly of The Cairo Gang and Cory Hanson from Wand. There's also Sloppo, Segall’s imaginary baby, whom all of us in the crowd had apparently somehow killed that night (it’s fine, though; Ty just said he’d have more). In addition to conducting several swirling mosh pits with The Muggers' raw, high-intensity, guitar-driven set, Segall announced this FYF would be The Muggers' last. I call B.S., but it was certainly a farewell-worthy show, and The Muggers (supposedly) closed out their career with a fiery, explosive bang. —A.T.
You're awesome, Charles Bradley — but your keyboardist hype man could stand to take it down a notch.
Worst: Charles Bradley's hype man
Maybe it was because I just saw the real deal at the Hollywood Bowl in the form of James Brown's "cape man" Danny Ray, who may be the greatest hype man in history. But when Charles Bradley's keyboard player walked up to the mic to rile up the crowd for Bradley's return after a lengthy costume change, his ersatz Live at the Apollo shtick ("I need all y'all to put your hands together!", etc.) didn't rile me up so much as make me cringe. Bradley's backing band, the Extraordinaires, are great musicians, but they should probably leave the preaching-the-gospel-of-soul routine to Bradley himself. —A.H.
Best: Hop Along singer Frances Quinlan's voice
When I tweeted about Frances Quinlan's amazing, raw-throated performance during Hop Along's early Saturday set, someone replied, "Amazingly awful. Worst live singer I've ever heard." Which, frankly, just makes me like her even more. Like many great, quirky rock singers, Quinlan's style is so unique it can be an acquired taste — her phrasing is, to say the least, eccentric, and she deliberately cracks her voice frequently, toggling schizophrenically between a breathy upper register and a raspy punk-rock roar, sometimes on a single syllable. But polish has little place in Hop Along's rough-hewn yet catchy, emo-tinged rock — it's all about raw, heart-on-sleeve emotion, and Quinlan delivers it with originality and riveting intensity. —A.H.
Best: The Black Madonna
As a dance music fan, I wish FYF had booked more acts at the DJ-centric Woods Stage, which had only six confirmed bookings all weekend — though the last-minute addition of a Hot Chip DJ set was a nice late-night surprise on Saturday. On the plus side, fewer acts meant longer sets, so househeads got to hear two full hours of Marea Stamper, aka The Black Madonna, resident and creative director of fabled Chicago club Smart Bar and one of Chi-town's many homegrown talents capable both of honoring the city's house roots and pushing that sound in exciting new directions (see also: Derrick Carter, Mark Farina). I wasn't able to stay for her whole set — this is FYF, after all, where FOMO is king — but what I heard was a perfect Sunday-afternoon mix of buttery-smooth deep house, melodic techno and some old-school Chicago vibes. The dance floor was smiles all around. More DJs next FYF, please? —A.H.
Between bands at the mainstage, the vibe was less "Yay! We're at a festival!" and more "Great, I'm standing in a parking lot."
Worst: The mainstage
Don’t get us wrong — from Vince Staples to Grace Jones to Kendrick Lamar, we were impressed by all of the performers on FYF's mainstage this weekend. What wasn’t so impressive, however, was the stage itself. Besides having intermittent technical issues throughout both days — vocals being too soft, essential equipment not working properly (Grimes’ sampler, Jones' mic) — the vibe of the space felt completely off. Moving the mainstage from one end of Exposition Park to the other and plunking it down in a parking lot meant no grass, no shade and no flair (save for some blue stringy lights in the beer garden). We’re not sure what motivated such a drastic change in the layout of the festival this year — the closing of the Sports Arena, maybe — but we hope it’s not a permanent one. —A.T.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.