By Brian Ives, CBS Local
Over the past few summers, “destination festivals” have become all the rage in the touring industry. Theme-specific summer tours (such as the H.O.R.D.E. for jam bands, the female-centric Lilith Fair and the metal-heavy Ozzfest) have all retired from the road. Indeed, even the mother of all modern U.S. festivals, Lollapalooza, ended its touring days in 2003, and redefined itself as an annual event in Chicago. Thousands of music fans around the country travel every year to Indio, California for Coachella, or Manchester, Tennessee for Bonnaroo, or Texas for Austin City Limits.
New festivals have popped up in Delaware (Firefly Music Festival), San Francisco (Outside Lands) and Florida (DeLuna), but New York City hasn’t been able to launch an enduring annual pop/rock event. That may be changing — last year Governors Island hosted the first Governors Ball (which moved to Randall’s Island this year, but didn’t change its name). And this weekend, Randall’s Island hosts the inaugural Catalpa Festival, which features an eclectic lineup including The Black Keys, Snoop Dogg, Matisyahu, Umphrey’s McGee and others.
According to their website, Catalpa puts as much emphasis “on site artistry, interactive experiences and experimentation as the musical entertainment itself.”
Indeed, the festival seemed to put a lot of care into details and non-musical attractions. “Frisky’s House Of Sham Marriages” was an actual 60-foot-high inflatable “church” with a so-called “pimp pastor” performing unconventional (and completely unofficial) weddings, between not only straight and gay couples but also group marriages as well. Marrying oneself is also an option, for those interested. Meanwhile, the “Silent Disco Tent” featured DJs spinning and broadcasting via wireless headphones instead of a sound system.
Even the corporate sponsors and partners provided interesting and fun experiences. Hair product company Got2B’s “Rockin’ It” Confession Booth encouraged video confessions (the most “liked” confessor will win a trip to Vegas). Global Inheritance awarded points for attendees turning in recyclable garbage; the points are redeemable for rewards from drinks to denim jackets. And Heineken had their own DJ tent with a bar serving their beer (you had to be 21 to get in, of course) and Absolut Vodka had a similar branded area.
Even the food choices were unconventional and local: the vendors included local grilled cheese specialist Little Muenster selling their self-styled “fancy” sandwiches, and Englishtown, New Jersey’s Four Boys Ice Cream sold sundaes, shakes and root-beer floats. Local breweries and pizza places were also represented.
Ultimately, though, festivals are about the music. Day 1 was headlined by The Black Keys. One of the biggest breakout rock bands of the past five years, they knocked out hit after hit from last year’s El Camino (“Lonely Boy,” “Gold On The Ceiling,” “Little Black Submarines,” “Run Right Back”) and 2010′s Brothers (“Howlin’ For You,” “Next Girl,” “Tighten Up”) as well as some of their earlier material (“I Got Mine”). By far, the most commercially successful band of Day 1, they barreled through their most well-known songs as the drenched audience sang along to nearly every one. Torrential downpours earlier in the day certainly discouraged a good percentage of walk-up sales, and likely kept some ticket-holders home. By mid-afternoon the rain cleared up, but the moment that the Keys hit the stage the precipitation returned. No one seemed to mind. That said, the crowd was much smaller than the audience that they played for at their two sold-out Madison Square Garden headlining dates in March.
Brooklyn indie-rock collective TV On The Radio played a set that combined their noise-rock influences with an anthemic quality that brought U2 to mind. They dedicated “Second Song” to the late Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys, an artist who surely would have appreciated many of the artists on Catalpa’s eccentric bill.
Earlier in the day, Umphrey’s McGee honored the jam band tradition of playing for a long time by doing two sets; other acts included roots-rockers The Sheepdogs and dance music group Hercules and Love Affair. In addition, High Times magazine sponsored a stage that featured reggae artists all day.
Single-day passes are still available for Day 2. The lineup includes Girl Talk, Matt & Kim, Cold War Kids, Matisyahu and headlining the show is Snoop Dogg, who will perform his debut album, 1993′s Doggystyle, in its entirety.
Were you at the festival yesterday? What did you think of the performances? Sound off with your thoughts and comments in the section below…