Weekends are often treasured leisure time for some of us. Time for us to catch up on the things we missed, forgot, or flat out neglected. Time for us to collect ourselves just enough to take on another Monday through Friday slog. Well, the attendees, volunteers, vendors, and musicians who all took part in this past weekend’s 3rd annual First Festival all had a different plan. Their plan was to put on and support the premier inaugural festival in Sacramento for the summertime music festival season and make it an experience to remember.
Well, this writer got the on the ground experience of both days of First Festival. Many others did as well, earning their red Weekend Warrior wristbands and wearing them with pride. Upon arriving at Riverfront Park on May 6th, I immediately determined I should try and earn my own Weekend Warrior title. Whatever that may mean. I’m still trying to figure it out.
More importantly, I had been checking out the various mix CDs, videos, and line-ups in the days leading up this, so I was already super excited to just be there. From the first moment I stepped foot into that park, I was transfixed by the sheer variety of what was available. A huge variety of food and craft vendors were splayed out all over the expansive park. I took one look again at the line-up for the next 2 days, and was blown away.
Was it always this big? What in the name of God am I supposed to do to see them all?
Lacking hypersonic flight or a time machine, I was forced to make the realization I should have made in the first place.
Roll with it.
Like a mantra in the back of my mind, this was my core operating function as I dove headfirst into First Festival, chronicling everything I saw. What follows is said chronicle, presented in the highest quality list format:
Saturday, May 6th
12:05 pm: Arrival with Christian Winger, of Humble Wolf, expedited by coffee and radically convenient parking.
12:07 pm: Race To The Bottom hit The Docks stage, the first act of the day. This didn’t deter them from bringing their hard rocking energy to all who were there to see them. Lead vocalist, Art Barrera blasts you back with his soaring vocals, while effects-driven guitar wizard Joe Whitworth throws rich musical layers of rock across his vibrant and crisp guitar sound. Backed up more by bassist Jim Peoples and drummer Sean O’Leary, they bring the thunder in a very Audioslave and Queens of the Stone Age style that is uniquely their own. Their original “Destiny” mimics this sound very well, and their cover of “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus shows their musical ability in a very headbanging, crowd pleasing way.
1:02 pm: Beer. Specifically, the Race To The Bottom IPA, provided by Oak Park Brewery in conjunction with the band themselves. Very hoppy. Not too heavy. Yes, please.
1:10 pm: Venture over to The Porch stage, near the legendary Ziggurat building. A smaller stage nestled in its own nook, there is ample table seating, and even a dance floor set up. As I walk up the stairs, local emcee KaiLord is laying it down. His beats are richly layered and super chill, but his flow is sharp and his lyrics drip with a story drawn from real life. The Ziggurat looms large in the sky as I bob my head, beer in hand. Off to the left stands the Tower Bridge, glowing bright in the emerging sunlight.
1:30 pm: Make my way down through the various food, beer, craft vendors to the other end of the park where The Factory stage is nestled. Meeting up with Jayson Angove, himself a First Festival performer today, we watch three piece band, CaliforniaRiot Act as they rock the house with their high energy hard rock. It sounds like punk rock at first, but then it changes in a way I wasn’t expecting. Fronted by guitarist and singer, Ben Herte, I am getting a weird hybrid of Soundgarden and Dead Kennedys as their source of their sound. Backed by Travis Houston on bass, and Nate Fadelli on drums, California Riot Act brought the power with their hard edge, fast rock. The rusty, graffiti smeared I Street bridge in the background really helped cement the aesthetic for their set, complete with poorly timed horns from passing trains. They roll with it, though, and finish out their set with a hard-edged cover of “Have a Cigar”, by Pink Floyd, that hit me and Jayson right in the chest. Awesome set.
2:21 pm: Got a Tri-Tip Sandwich from Cowabunga BBQ and sat on the grass with Christian. I inhale it. Delicious.
2:23 pm: Continue to sit on the grass, possible food coma setting in. In my oncoming lethargy, though, I note the scenery around me for the first time. The vendors and infrastructure are all super well organized. People of all ages are wandering around, having a great time. The looming downtown skyline off in the distance, with the Delta King and Old Sac in the foreground, provides an excellent backdrop for the day’s festivities.
2:25 pm: Rise from grass. Secure another delicious Race To The Bottom IPA. Just as good as I remembered it.
3:05 pm: I am back at The Porch, ready to check out Jayson Angove play his solo acoustic set. Playing songs off his latest album, “Queen of the Beginning and the Magnificent End”, he brought his own brand of minimalism to the stage that was different than what I had seen so far today. It was just him, his guitar, and an array of awesome effects. To fill out his songs, he used a looper, and built the beats and melody of each song himself. He also utilized a brand of distortion that, as he put it, turned his acoustic into the angriest acoustic guitar you’ve ever seen. Very mellow, and very well put together set of his own original stuff, plus a melodica-driven version of the delightful “Cantina Theme” from Star Wars. It was just the departure from the day the crowd and I were looking for.
3:50 pm: Stop by the Burly Beverages soda bar and get the best Orange Soda I have had in recent memory. Perfect on a warming afternoon like this one.
4:00 pm: Wander down the walkway, glancing at the trees and taking in the changing scenery a the un begins to set. The CALTSTRS building towers over us, like an evil supervillain’s headquarters. I point this out to Christian. He seems unsurprised. Must investigate further.
4:05 pm: Look out across the river, checking out the buildings of Old Sac. Make awkward eye contact with a guy fishing on the other side. We both wave, and all seems right with the world.
4:25 pm: I find my way back to The Porch as OneLegChuck and The Hustlers take the stage. With chuck seated right up front on guitar, he is backed by a solid grip of musicians as they take you through a whole array of original material. Everything from reggae, to rock, to country, and even a little bit of the blues is covered. Definitely a sight to see, and quite the gathering of people did a The Porch was full, yet again. Everyone had a smile on their face, as they took you through their set, and they didn’t let down.
5:05 pm: Load up with a witbier from the beer garden near The Docks stage. Crisp and refreshing, as it should be. Yay, verily.
5:10 pm: Drop Dead Red, First Festival veterans, take the main stage. Fronted by Carly DuHain on vocals and guitar, they launch into a raucous set that screams of power form a bygone era. With Stephen Hendry and Gabriel Aiello on guitar, Joe Castro on bass, and Coday Anthony on drums, they drilled the audience with hard-edged, old-fashioned rock that complimented Carly’s powerful vocals very well. It was like Janis Joplin was fronting Led Zeppelin. At one point, during a break between songs, Carly simply exclaims, “It’s way too hot up here!”. Then whips off the wig she was wearing like it was nothing. The crowd went ballistic with well-deserved cheers as Carly outlined her baldness as a side effect of lupus from a young age. This didn’t stop the band though, as they kicked it back into overdrive from there on out. I mean, I was literally getting blown back from the sheer force of their sound. As they exited the stage at the end of their set, Carly got all sorts of love from the crowd as she gathered her things. It was truly an incredible sight and spoke volumes about the crowd and their love for this band.
6:05 pm: I make my way down to the Factory Stage, yet again, but I notice that splayed out under a tree are a bunch of individual painters, just painting away. All sorts of stuff getting made, and all sorts of fun vibes permeating the air around me.
6:15 pm: I have made it to the stage right as Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers take the stage. Hobo Johnson’s stage presence is the first thing I notice as he launches into “Romeo and Juliet”, and original that speaks of lost and past loves. He has a toothy, awkward grin on as he flows relentlessly through his set. It draws you in as his heartfelt storytelling lend itself to the perfect combination of interest and endearment. If that makes sense. Either way, I was grooving right along with the rest of the expansive crowd. Soon enough, he took a seat behind the piano and was joined by his eponymous backing band. With the whole picture now complete, his set finished in a full bash that helped amplify the energy he was already bringing on his own. Very creative, very well put together.
7:00 pm: I wander over to the sound of heavy duty guitar emanating from the main stage. I am catching the latter half of ONOFF’s set. A three-piece rock outfit, they are giving off a sound that sounds like the combined fury of The Offspring, Metallica, and Volbeat. With Paulie on vocals and guitar, their heavy hitting brand of rock is punctuated by his soaring vocal prowess. With David Hurrell on bass and Stevie 10 Bears on drums, these guys preside over a roiling crowd, complete with mosh pit, even! Very thunderous and very well put together.
7:25 pm: One more witbier. Because why not.
7:45 pm: Some Fear None emerge on The Docks stage, bathed in multicolor light as the sun has now disappeared. This slamming four-piece dominate the stage with their heavy duty hard-rock/metal sound that can’t help but just get you pumped. With Randy Highsmith on vocals, Gina Salatino on bass, Chuck Carrasco on guitar, and Jason Weisker on drums, they set out to bring as much energy out with them as their music will allow. Gina is jumping around like a fiend. Chuck is blasting away on 7 and 8 string guitars throughout the set. Randy is screaming like he’s soaring on a cloud. And Jason’s kit is giving me heart palpitations. It’s all gravy. Their original song “Monster” also serves to show the variety they can pick through as a band, delivering a song that sounds like the perfect fusion of Black Sabbath and modern metal. As their set ends, a more heartwarming image emerges. Gina hangs out on stage and gives out autographs, many of which go to energetic little girls and other young women in the audience. Inspiration is a hell of a thing, and a rare right to see. I am thankful.
8:49 pm: Darkness has fully set in. The lights on the Delta King are set against the inky sky, while the far off downtown buildings glow under their own individual lighting array. The Tower Bridge glows bright, while I St Bridge does not. Oddly fitting, but still cool.
9:00 pm: The headliners. Oleander. The big time. This hard rock outfit is a staple act among rock bands who had their start in Mid-90s and into the early 2000s. Oleander was a radio mainstay when I was a young and growing musician/music fan. Fronted by Thomas Flowers on vocals, they kick into their set with the same kind of punch they have had from the outset. With Doug Eldridge on bass, Ric Ivanisevich on guitar, Steve Brown on drums, and Art Padilla (of Hero's Last Mission fame) filling in on guitar for Rich Mouser, Oleander meandered through their set full of heavy hitting, richly layered rock tunes. Soon enough, the staff of First Festival introduced some inflatable emoji balls into the crowd, the king among them a giant winking emoji. Needless to say, they wound up rolling across all parts of the energetic crowd tuning in and rocking out to Oleander’s fury. Rolling through their hits “Are You There?”, “Why I’m Here”, and “I Walk Alone”, I’m thrown back to the times I would hear them come cross the radio in my dad’s truck or in the garage. It’s a wonderful time warp, really. As if by divine providence, fireworks erupt from behind the Ziggurat building, glowing in the night. It was really all I could do to not stand there, mouth agape at this amazing turn of events. But I did anyway. With the same beauty and fury they began with, Oleander put the end cap on a fabulous night of music in the most perfect way possible.
11:30pm: Arrive back at home. Collapse into my bed. My ears still ringing, like some badge of glory.
11:30pm: Arrive back at home. Collapse into my bed. My ears still ringing, like some badge of glory.
Sunday, May 7th
12:05 pm: Arrive. Make a bee line for the beer tent, in true festival fashion. Get a Lagunitas IPA. All seems right with the world.
12:15 pm: Make my way down the sunny sidewalk to The Factory stage where URD-OM is blasting into their set to start the day off here. An eager crowd has gathered to watch this band of youngsters wail on their instruments. For the record: I use the term youngsters in a non-demeaning way. The level of musicianship demonstrated by these kids is out of control. Alterntive/punk/rock/grunge/metal is what their Facebook page says, but these guys are metal as all get out, in this writer’s opinion. Most importantly, URD-OM brings stage presence and energy that is often lacking in bands with younger members. Be it stage fright, or whatever. Not in this case. They are a hair flailing, growling, thumping whirlwind that is a ton of fun to watch.
1:00 pm: Order some Tot’Chos from Drewski’s. Tater-Tot Nachos. A whole pile of them. We got tots, nacho cheese, pulled pork, barbecue sauce, jalapenos, something called an ‘aioli’, and cilantro. One bite and the next thing I know they are all gone. I can’t explain.
1:10 pm: At Both Ends hops up on The Docks stage and I am immediately interested. They are all in suits, and there is a trumpet player. I am so in. They immediately kick into a brand of Ska that is very reminiscent of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish, with the guitars having a bit more of the musical forefront than everything else. They are all over the place, and it’s quite the sight to behold. The trumpet player is pin-wheeling his tie. The lead singer/guitarist is practically flying around the stage, while the bass player also plays trombone, somehow. It was dynamite, and I couldn’t help but laugh and cheer at the same time.
2:00 pm: Grab myself a Cream Ale from the beer stand and wander over to the River’s edge, near The Factory Stage. Boats are ambling by, bumping their own tunes. I sit in the dirt and enjoy my beer, the slight breeze playing with my now sunburnt neck. It’s oddly refreshing. The I Street Bridge rotates out of the way as a tourist laden boat comes on by, tooting its horn. I raise my glass out of instinct. Nobody saw. Oh well.
2:40 pm: I am back at The Factory stage as I Am Strikes takes the stage I am struck by the dynamic I see. Kelly Rosenthal is a girl with tightly cropped, blonde hair, backed by a drummer, who is just finishing smashing the crap out of his cymbals. The song echoes and lingers, as she switches from guitar, to bass, then back again. Molding her ambient, post-rock, alternative rock sound with looper pedals and effects that I didn’t even know existed. I stand, oddly transfixed by this full sounding band that only has 2 people in it. Eventually, she hops on the keys and still delivers that full sound that she started with. Color me impressed.
3:11 pm: Beer, here and now. Hop Canyon this time. Super smooth, yet hoppy.
3:25 pm: I amble up to The Porch, where Erica Ambrin & The Eclectic Soul Project are jamming out on stage. Erica’s voice lends itself to an interesting blend of singer songwriter delicateness, but has a soulful edge to it that is hard to pin down. Backed up by Christopher Crimson on bass, Joshua Dale Krage on guitar, and Keywan Ryland on drums, they jam out with a unique blend of reggae, soul, and rock that is just infectious on its own. The dancing crowd was also a good sign, and it was very clear they dug their vibe though the whole set. Perfect “kick back in the sun” kind of music.
3:45 pm-4:25 pm: I lounge out on the grass, an ice cold water bottle in one hand, and a blood orange soda blend from Burly Beverage in the other. I drink both of these in the shade of CALSTRS as I count the boats go by. I only get to three, before I am off again, rehydrated and ready to go.
4:30 pm: I return to The Porch. I sense a theme here. Oh well. The real reason I’m here is because of Skyler’s Pool. Not the one from Breaking Bad, but an actual band. I post up on the fence in the shade and check them out. The first thing I get from lead singer Kitty O’Neal is a Blondie-type vibe, which draws me in immediately. With Kurt Spataro on guitar, Rob LoRusso on bass, Ben B. Harvey on Drums, and Lori Sacco-Nelson on keys/synth, they give off a Fleetwood Mac/John Mayer combo, and it makes for very pretty music. All the band members are also backing vocals, which makes for a very harmonic, tight experience of their own unique rock sound.
5:15 pm: As I descend the stairs of The Porch, I hear some heavy-gauge shrieking coming from the main stage and stumble into the middle of Standoff’s set. I’ll be upfront and say it. Lead singer Charli Lockheart was what caught my attention off the bat. Decked out in all black, with flipped over hair that was reminiscent of The Cure, this guy was wailing away in a very Jack White/Wolfmother way. Like he was trying to out-do all other singer like him. And he was succeeding. Backed by Mitch Avery on keys, Julius Ceasar on lead guitar, Dallas Winfield on bass, and Grey Janowski on drums, these dude threw down their own blend of Black Keys and Black Sabbath-ish blues rock that was a sight for sore eyes.
6:10 pm: I have chugged another couple bottles of water as I plop down on the top of the grass near The Factory stage, eagerly waiting for The Moans to take the stage. With Matt Crap on lead vocals/bass, Danny Secretion on guitar/vocals, and Jeff Reset on drums/vocals, they set out to melt your face and terrorize you with horror-themed punk rock, that is nothing but a great time. To begin with, they have a high energy blend of NOFX, Dead Kennedys, and The Ramones in their music as a whole, which already has my attention as just good, solid, punk rock. Then they launch into songs like “Graverobbers From Outer Space”, which serve to underscore the horror aesthetic. Then, from out of nowhere, a man emerges dressed as Mike Myers, complete with over-sized kitchen knife and starts “killing” various members of the band. Then the audience. Its horrifying! Then, as the set is trucking along, it’s a guy with a hockey mask doing the killing! GASP. He soon disappears and a pizza delivery guy emerges, with a box of CD’s for everyone who survived. This man? Ryan Reliable. Easily the most fun I had watching a band. Holy smokes.
7:39 pm: Get a Caesar Chicken Wrap from Drewski’s. Just as good as it sounds. 11/10 would stuff in my face again.
7:45: DLRN (pronounced like DeLorean) takes the main stage as the sun has set, at last. A duo spearheaded by Sean Lamarr and Jon Reyes, they teamed up for this set with PRVLGS (pronounced like Privileges) which is Zack Hake on keys, Melissa Garcia on bass, and Omar Gonzalez-Barajas on drums. What unfolded in the flashing green, red, and purple light was the most dynamic and effortless hip-hop shows I have ever seen. The members of PRVLGS held it down while Sean and Jon unfolded their whole repertoire of thumpin’ good time music. Hands were waving all through the crowd and people were really enjoying themselves. They were also joined by fellow rapper, Soosh*e, who helped them bring the house down as I just sat back bobbing my head. I’m pretty sure I had a goofy grin on my face, but when the bass makes your ribs tickle, you can’t help but smile some.
8:35 pm: Make my way back to the car, cool night wind on my back, as if I am being whisked back home in preparation for the return to everyday life. My ears still ring as I cruise home. Worth it.
First Festival this year was an experience I won’t soon forget. It was so well put together and the entertainment was so top notch it was rather hard to leave. It was a truly remarkable experience and I hope Sacramento has taken notes from them. Danielle Vincent did a dynamite job organizing everything, and all the volunteers I interacted with were super nice and helpful, too. It was amazing to see out whole community come together and experience everything local for a whole weekend like this. Weekend Warrior or not, at this point I just know I’m going to do it again next year.