It's 9 a.m. on Saturday morning and my crew is already getting anxious about making it in time for Kevin Morby's set at 2:35 in the afternoon.
One my friends has never been to a music festival, but last year's trending hashtag #fyffestline — used by hundreds of people who took to Twitter and Facebook to lament the laborious, three-hour wait outside of the venue's gates last summer— struck fear into his heart. While worrying about missing a set six-and-a-half hours in the future may seem a little ridiculous, we all agreed to leave super-early after the horror story that was FYF 2014.
The goal was to get to Exposition Park as close to 1 p.m. as possible, so we would have a full hour before gates opened and nearly two before the music kicked off. Of course, that didn't happen — partially due to our city's unpredictable traffic patterns, and also in part because when you shove a bunch of semi-stoned twentysomethings into a car, someone is going to decide that they have to eat now. So, after a few minor delays, we end up arriving around 2:45.
Tensions were high. We knew we fucked up, but we had no idea just how badly. Exposition Boulevard felt ceaselessly backed-up, Figueroa Street was a total mess, and crosswalk guards worked to shuffle streams of hundreds of concert-goers out of busy intersections and around confusing blockades.
"There are so many things to run over," I thought as I sat on edge for what felt like an hour in the left-hand turn lane, drowning in a sea of pedestrians. "We're never going to get there."
I dropped my friends off on a corner to go hold a space in line while I found parking. Before I even found a place to leave my car, they were in.
Sure, we missed Kevin Morby, but that was our own damn faults. As far as FYF's end of the deal, all I can say is: Nice work!
We don't know how exactly they managed to whittle down the wait-time by hours (FYF mastermind Sean Carlson could not be reached for comment), but compared to last year, this line moved much smoother. The people I stood next to on Sunday didn't even have enough time to down all of their vodka by the time we met the security check. (Some might see that as a bad thing, but we'll take it.)
Once inside Exposition Park, something strange became clear: Even at around 6 p.m., the festival still felt empty. Getting to the main stage for Dinosaur Jr. was a breeze, but was it because of the new walkway FYF cleared behind the Arena stage? Or was it because for the first time in a few years, FYF didn't sell out?
Sure, not everyone was impressed with the lineup this year. But with headliners Kanye West and Morrissey, the festival has certainly graduated to the next level in regards to the caliber of artists it's able to book, in addition to maintaining an overall compelling selection of artists from every genre each year. Where were all the people?
Kanye West, that's where. Impressively, Ye took the stage at only about 10 minutes after his set was supposed to start at 10:45 pm — and we were honored by his lateness. For the first time throughout the day, the crowd felt claustrophobic as thousands of people (who really need to find a new word besides "hyphy" to describe stuff, by the way) rushed the stage to see the Louis Vuitton Don.
To be honest, I wasn't quite sure what to make of West's last-minute addition to the lineup. Apparently, FYF promoters were uncertain of the change as well, offering refunds to customers who had really wanted to see Saturday's cancelled headliner, Frank Ocean. Whether anyone took them up on that offer is unclear, though, since it seemed like the entire city of Los Angeles showed up for Kanye's set.
This made leaving the main stage afterwards a particular pain in the ass. The new walkway beside the Arena was at a complete standstill. Thoughts that came to mind as we shuffled along: "This is definitely a fire hazard" and, "Am I going to make it out of here alive?"
Also, if you happened to be one of the many trying to catch some of Bonobo's DJ set (which was also a last-minute addition) in the Arena after Kanye West, you were also probably one of the many who missed it, as it was impossible to get inside. That said, however, this year's experience with the Arena stage was much better than last year's disaster. While it was still pretty tough to get a spot on the floor level, opening up the top level of seating made sneaking in for the second half of Flying Lotus a simple task — something that definitely would not have happened last year, as the Arena was "at capacity" sometimes a full 30 minutes before the next artist was set to play.
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Overall, it appears that FYF took a lot of notes from last year's mishaps in an attempt to make the festival a better experience. The wait to get in was significantly slashed, the short-cut from the Lawn to the Main stage was for the most part a time-saver, and I actually got to go into the Arena this year. The stages still feel like they are miles apart, but there were lots of gigantic inflatable emojis to distract us along the way.
Just how FYF managed to improve so much in just one year is still a bit of a mystery, but one thing is for sure: Next year, my friends and I won't be waking up stressed about logistics.