Make Music Pasadena Festival
Old Town Pasadena
With the Sunset Junction Festival filing for bankruptcy and the Silver Lake Jubilee upping admission to $20 a head, one's options for quality summer music festivals in L.A. have dwindled a bit. Meanwhile, at this point the only two free festivals left standing are the Eagle Rock Festival and yesterday's Make Music Pasadena, the latter quickly becoming the lead contender for L.A.'s best.
Spread throughout downtown Pasadena across nearly 30 stages, Make Music Pasadena is organized by the Old Pasadena Management and Playhouse District, who did a wonderful job of appealing to nearly every demographic with their well-curated lineup this year. Indie pop groups Cults and Grouplove drew the biggest crowds of the day, but smaller bands like So Many Wizards took advantage of the intimate settings of the smaller venues, treating the Majestical Roof Courtyard Stage like their own raucous backyard party.
Cults kicked off my afternoon at the Old Pasadena Indie Rock Stage, situated in the middle of Colorado Boulevard, where restaurants and storefronts seemed to be thriving due to heavy foot traffic. Most of the employees, however, found a few minutes to poke their heads outside and watch Cults decimate their audience under the hot afternoon sun. As expected for a local music festival, the theme of the day seemed to be horrendous sound issues for the first five minutes of every set. While Cults singer Madeline Follin suffered from monitor issues initially, the band moved past it by the second song, giving way to a gloriously transcendent performance.
Follin nervously tugged at her dress throughout Cults' set, but her vocals were great, as she gleefully belted out hits from the band's self-titled album. Cults originally made their name off the strength of their unique brand of vintage-inspired pop, which comes off more interesting in a live setting. Songs like "Most Wanted" and "You Know What I Mean" vacated the rigid confines of their album productions, evolving into powerful and emotionally resonant pop anthems on stage.
Following Cults, I walked over to the Levitt Pavillion to catch local band No, who have been making waves since their debut album last year. After a soundcheck that seemed to last longer than the actual set, the band performed a mix of album tracks and two new songs, which expounded upon the dingy post-punk style of their debut. No sounded exceptionally tight and professional considering their short history. They didn't re-invent the wheel, but the band plainly excels at crafting catchy, well-written rock songs with no gimmicks. Still in the process of greasing their bearings, No definitely have a bright future if they can get around their Google issues, which their singer acknowledged.
The Majestical Rooftop Courtyard stage immediately gained my approval afterward during indie band Black Flamingo's set. Though the name was a bit misleading (there was no rooftop), the stage's afternoon crowd was small and relaxed, yet clearly engaged in Black Flamingo's self-described "gothereal" sound. Surrounded by trees and dangling vines, the band's singer joked that she felt she was playing for "fairies and elves." But the intimate setting propelled the band's delicate harmonies and the sparse crowd left more room for the band's morose, reverb-heavy sound to drift throughout the courtyard.
Back at the Old Pasadena Indie Stage, indie pop band Grouplove entered the stage to Kanye West's "Monster" and a thunderous applause. Their young audience had congregated at the stage throughout the day, multiplying to around 15,000 people by the time they finally started. In return, Grouplove was incredibly gracious in their performance, jumping around on stage and energizing the crowd, who responded with screams of joy after every song. The band is unabashedly pop, but Grouplove's folk and psych roots definitely lend them a legitimacy missing from other bands of the same vein.
After some Orange Chicken from Wokcano, I came upon a freestyle battle at the cringe-inducing Pepsi stage, which was halted due to one of the contestants, wait for it, cursing. If there's one recommendation I could make to the Silver Lake Jubilee and Make Music Pasadena alike, it would be to eliminate the Pepsi stage. In my nightmares the Pepsi stage chases me down a hallway blasting Ke$ha like the refrigerator scene in Requiem for a Dream. Regaining my composure, I made my way to Dam-Funk at Levitt Pavillion, where the crowd filled out nicely and a cool breeze finally swept in.
Many had come to Make Music Pasadena specifically to see Dam-Funk, the Stones Throw legend known for his inspired performances. Coming off a lengthy flight from Europe, he was elated for a Saturday night performance in his hometown, naming off childhood landmarks and streets where he used to live prior to kicking off one of the best sets I've ever seen him perform. Dam-Funk always brings energy to the stage, and there's something contagious about the overwhelming positivity and sense of purpose he brings along.
The first half of his set consisted of classics and fan favorites like "Hood Pass Intact" and "It's My Life," but towards the end he even felt comfortable debuting new cuts from his upcoming album. The mention of Q-Tip's guest appearance on the upcoming single "Just Trying to Survive in the City" drew huge applause, as did the performance of another new single, "O.B.E." He went on to call out Fairfax rappers (we're assuming Odd Future) that still flagrantly abuse the N-word. The entire audience, a perfect mix of young and old, cheered along in his plea for "progress."
And that's the key to success for Make Music Pasadena in a nutshell: its ability to draw such a large and diverse audience. Everyone from families with babies to roving packs of teens came out to Pasadena yesterday, many of whom probably didn't know a single band on the lineup. After all, isn't the point of a music festival to learn new bands in the first place?
Personal Bias: Dam-Funk is my religion.
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The Crowd: Not prepared for the heat. Kids were passing out on sidewalks, while me and the dudes from NO were sweating through button downs.
Random Notebook Dump: Is this the first music festival to technically be held next to a Container Store and a P.F. Changs?
Correction: This post originally stated that KCRW curated the festival, which was incorrect.