This Ain’t No Picnic Wraps Enchanting Weekend in LA with Eclectic Mix and Impossibly Good Vibes (Recap)


Adrian GarroCategories:Latest News

Rock Cellar Magazine

“I learned to drive in this parking lot,” cracked Phoebe Bridgers from the Fairway stage of This Ain’t No Picnic on Sunday night, the final night of the two-day festival from Goldenvoice that went down at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., this past weekend.

It was indeed a homecoming for Bridgers, who added that she grew up “about 8 minutes from here” prior to becoming an acclaimed, Grammy-nominated breakout star of the indie/rock world, a headliner-worthy act who delivered a crowd-pleasing set with her band mates, still out on the road touring 2020’s Punisher (her breakthrough second studio record that had its rollout stunted due to the pandemic).

That she wasn’t actually headlining the festival’s final night was representative of the deep lineup assembled by Goldenvoice across two days of festival programming. All corners of the music world were represented, from hip-hop to metal, indie to dream-pop and everything in between, as well as Despacio — an immersive and overwhelming 50,000-watt sound system/makeshift nightclub put on by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and Stephen and David Dewaele that had lines out the door much of the weekend.

This was probably the first music festival for many in attendance in a few years. Sure, Goldenvoice just put on another Coachella this past April with two sold-out weekends in the desert, but across its two days, This Ain’t No Picnic was more affordable and easier to get to — and, judging by the overall feel of Sunday, everybody was just happy to be back in such a setting.

This Ain't No Picnic (Photo: Juliana Bernstein)

This Ain’t No Picnic (Photo: Juliana Bernstein)

Walking across the spacious Brookside area, otherwise a golf course adjacent to the massive Rose Bowl stadium, you could sense that organizers put a ton of effort into the whole thing. While the abundance of stages and busy schedule of performers meant there were inevitable “sound bleed” issues that created the sensation of hearing music from two areas at once, the festival wasn’t so crowded that you couldn’t just walk closer to your preferred act to get a better vantage point.

That was perhaps one of the best elements of Sunday’s experience. You didn’t feel the crush of people everywhere, the sea of people that kept you what feels like miles away from a key act on a main stage. Everything had a relaxed and laid-back feel, which was definitely appreciated.

It was also, perhaps, a mistitled festival; despite its name, This Ain’t No Picnic featured an excellent array of food vendors, from typical festival fare (pretzels/ice cream, hamburgers) to more curated, Los Angeles-focused food trucks and local restaurants (such as Monty’s Good Burger and Homestate) offering tasty snacks to the masses (at slightly inflated festival prices, but that’s to be expected).

As for the music, the variety of scheduled performers made for a very enjoyable Sunday, from start to finish.

ZULU (Photo: Sun Quinn)

ZULU (Photo: Sun Quinn)

Shortly after doors opened at noon, ZULU — a Los Angeles-based hardcore/metal band formed in 2019, took the Greens Stage amid the afternoon sun. Though a slight delay caused by (presumably) technical issues forced a late start, the group wasted no time winning over the crowd with its pummeling sound, interspersed with vocal samples and references to key moments in Black culture.

They’re definitely a band to keep an eye on in the scene.

Over on the Fairway (main) stage, young Mexican band Margaritas Podridas (Rotten Daisies) performed to a still-arriving audience, their grungy, alluring energy — and occasional pained screams from Carolina Enriquez — serving as a wake-up for those stumbling into the venue or browsing the food options nearby.

Margaritas Podridas

Next up on that same Fairway stage was Chrystia “Tia” Cabral, otherwise known as Spellling, a Northern California-based artist with a pop sensibility steeped in experimental tones and undeniable style.

Cabral and her band performed songs from her 2021 record The Turning Wheel and more.

Spellling (Photo: Blair Brown)

Spellling (Photo: Blair Brown)

Back at the other end of the venue, Mike Watt and the Missingmen charged through a set of songs from throughout his career, one of undeniable influence that has earned him the respect and admiration of legions of musicians that came to prominence in his wake.

It was perhaps a bit of an unfortunate circumstance that Watt’s set was so early in the day, but those who did make it to the Back Nine stage just before 2 p.m. were rewarded for their early effort.

Mike Watt (Photo: Rachael Polack)

Mike Watt (Photo: Rachael Polack)

King Woman, otherwise known as musician Kristina Esfandiari, took charge of the Greens stage with her performance, most of which was spent up close in the front of the mosh pit. Brooding, heavy, angsty dark rock was the theme here, and it was delivered with authority by Esfandiari and her band, a definite highlight of the afternoon.

Taking stock of the programming to this point in the day — roughly 3 o’clock — one had to appreciate the depth of the music offered at This Ain’t No Picnic. There was a little bit of everything, which sometimes isn’t the case at festivals of this nature.

King Woman (Photo: Tyler Borchardt)

King Woman (Photo: Tyler Borchardt)

This trend continued at the Fairway stage with Girl Ultra, a.k.a Mexican R&B/soul artist Mariana de Miguel. Though some sound issues plagued her set, cutting out her mic entirely on a few occasions, she powered through with her mix of energetic indie/pop and slight punk leanings, joined by Pablo Sotelo of the band Inner Wave for a delightful rendition of her 2019 single, “Damelove.”

Girl Ultra (Photo: Blair Brown)

Girl Ultra (Photo: Blair Brown)

London-based post-punk band Shame wasn’t able to tour in the U.S. for a few years thanks to the pandemic — and that meant the group had plenty of energy to let loose at the Greens stage, which it did to a strong crowd. The band’s 2021 record, Drunk Tank Pink, asserted the group as one of the most intriguing in the scene, and at Brookside the band played songs from both that and 2018’s Songs of Praise, as well as tracks from an in-the-works follow-up.

Shame (Photo: Nicole Lemberg)

Shame (Photo: Nicole Lemberg)

“We’ve never played to a crowd of 50,000 before,” joked vocalist Eddie Green, presumably making reference to the anticipated attendance throughout both days of the festival. Wearing a fishnet shirt, Green asked “are there any bodybuilders in the audience?” before climbing onto some hands and riding his way through the crowd.

Shame was far and away one of the strongest sets of the day, a resilient showcase of the buzz the group has built and will no doubt continue to build in the years ahead.

At this point, things started to really kick into gear. The festival grounds grew noticeably more packed — though still not Coachella-level packed by any means — and the acts taking the various stages leveled up.

Wet Leg (Photo: Rachael Polack)

Wet Leg (Photo: Rachael Polack)

Wet Leg, who experienced a breakthrough with this spring’s self-titled debut led by their viral smash-singles “Chaise Longue” and “Wet Dream,” tore up the Fairway stage with an energetic set of quirky indie rock to probably the biggest crowd of the day so far. The band is definitely still riding high on that early buzz, and it makes for a fun show.

Other highlights came fast in the subsequent hours. Deafheaven, despite a 19-minute delay caused by technical issues, showed why they’ve earned such praise with their genre-shifting mix of death metal/prog in an abbreviated but well-attended set, a stark contrast to Caroline Polachek over at the Back Nine stage.

Caroline Polachek (Photo: Juliana Bernstein)

Caroline Polachek (Photo: Juliana Bernstein)

Her glossy, shimmery indie/pop packed the yard, Polachek jumping around the stage in a spandex-like outfit and performing songs from her buzzed-about records, including 2019’s Pang (and its SiriusXM hit “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings”), as well as new material.

IDLES has amassed a reputation as a can’t-miss band, having turned heads at many festivals in recent years supported by a series of singularly powerful albums of charged, socially conscious and politically aware post-punk, led by the seemingly always-shouting Joe Talbot. Commanding the stage with a resolute focus and intense, steely glare — and those aforementioned shouts — Talbot was the ringleader for the Bristol-based outfit’s set, which included four songs from 2021’s CRAWLER, their most recent acclaimed record.

IDLES (Photo: Tyler Borchardt)

IDLES (Photo: Tyler Borchardt)

Anybody who caught IDLES’ set won’t soon forget it.

The next hour and a half was enough to give you whiplash, stylistically — but that’s a compliment.

Los Angeles art/pop/glam-rock band Sparks took the Greens stage by storm, albeit to a slightly smaller crowd that one might expect at a hometown gig, brothers Ron and Russell Maer showing just why they’re so revered in the music scene (as captured perfectly by filmmaker Edgar Wright in his 2021 documentary film, The Sparks Brothers).

From “Angst in My Pants” to “When Do I Get to Sing “My Way” and, of course, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us,” Sparks is a must-see for anybody who hasn’t yet experienced a show.

Sparks (Photo: Nicole Busch)

Sparks (Photo: Nicole Busch)

Also a must-see is Turnstile, the Baltimore-based rock/hardcore/funk/indie band with a sound as undefinable as it is undeniably engaging. Fully knowing this, thousands of fans flocked to the Back Nine stage for the ensemble’s performance, which touched mostly on 2021’s Glow On, the record that pushed Turnstile from “underground band” to an in-demand force of nature with sold-out headlining gigs around the world.

Turnstile (Photo: Sun Quinn)

Turnstile (Photo: Sun Quinn)

The buzz inescapable, the energy abundant, Turnstile turned in one of the day’s best and most well-received sets.

Toward the end of Turnstile’s set, you could sense many moving away from the stage and toward the Fairway, where Phoebe Bridgers and her band of skeleton-suited band mates were getting ready to make wishes and dreams come true for many sporting her t-shirts throughout the day.

Phoebe Bridgers (Photo: Rachael Polack)

Phoebe Bridgers (Photo: Rachael Polack)

But not before a little of Bridgers’ trademark dry humor, provided by an introductory stage-taking to the sounds of Disturbed’s nu-metal anthem “Down with the Sickness,” set to a flaming image of Bridgers’ logo on the backdrop:

The set, which was mostly the same as her ongoing Punisher reunion tour — with the addition of her older track “Waiting Room” and most recent single, “Sidelines” — was a victory lap of sorts for the singer/songwriter. At one point, she even jumped down from the stage to run around the center area, taking flowers and gifts from fans and generally just having a great time:

Phoebe Bridgers (Photo: Rachael Polack)

Phoebe Bridgers (Photo: Rachael Polack)

Wet Leg came out to accompany Bridgers for the show-capping “I Know The End,” which concluded the performance — which, again, had a definitive headlining feel to it.

Headlining the Back Nine stage was Beach House, and the beloved indie/dreampop/shoegaze band letting the music speak for itself. Shadows swathed the stage, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally blending in an intense live show to offset the shadows to great effect. The vibes, as they say, were very strong.

Beach House (Photo: Nicole Busch)

Beach House at This Ain’t No Picnic (Photo: Nicole Busch)

“Thanks for coming and watching us at this not-picnic,” joked The Strokes front man Julian Casablancas during a break early in his band’s headlining performance at the Fairway stage. Following Bridgers to cap the night, the iconic NYC indie/rockers strutted their stuff accordingly. Casablancas wore a black sleeveless vest and sunglasses — because of course he did, at 10 p.m. — powering through 16 songs from their lengthy catalog, leaning most heavily on 2006’s First Impressions of Earth.

The Strokes (Photo: Tyler Borchardt)

The Strokes at This Ain’t No Picnic (Photo: Tyler Borchardt)

As the Strokes demonstrated in early August with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Las Vegas, the band remains a strong live act, its songs sounding fuller and freer live than they sometimes do on past records. As a front man, Casablancas can be endearingly offbeat as the focal point, flanked as always by guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti. The chemistry is still there, 20+ years after their 2001 arrival with Is This It, and based on the number of Strokes shirts spotted throughout the day around the park, they were also obviously one of the most anticipated bands of the day.

Putting Canadian post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor as the final act on the Greens stage may have been one of the best decisions organizers made for the entire festival. Leaving the grounds and making way for the parking lot/bus pickup, the Canadian post-rock ensemble’s ambient/instrumental soundtrack was the perfect comedown from an excellent day all around.

The crisp — and dusty — night air adding a special note of finality, the band’s more ominous selections served as a reminder that just as fun as this weekend was, the work week and all of its demands were lying in wait, just around the corner.

That’s the mark of a strong music festival experience: The escape factor. This Ain’t No Picnic definitely had it from start to finish, Sunday’s proceedings a refreshingly enjoyable experience that wasn’t marred by any of the usual festival issues. The crowd was respectful and not overwhelming, lines weren’t too long anywhere, and everybody seemed to have a fantastic time.

Here’s to the next one!



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