Goldenvoice’s second year of hosting their rock, family friendly filled event, Arroyo Seco, made their welcome once more to Los Angeles’ backyard and the beautiful terrain that is the Brookside Golf Club. Seeing cooler temperatures during the kickoff, the event’s initial presentation oversaw a sea of thorough organization compared to last year’s inaugural hiccups, and reassured the power of signage. Appreciating the new rearrangement, this year’s coordination shifted the stages and allowed more breathing room from the three stages, as well as more accessibility to the many bridges on the golf course; that is a heaven sent when avoiding a burdensome traffic jam.
Designated “sitting only” areas were strewn across the lawn and added to the ease of traffic control for festival goers who wished to lounge for the festivities, as other show goers bounced between the acts. Each day stood out and added to an overall successful event, down to the last pupusa, smile in the crowd, and of course, a well curated lineup — Neil Young, Kings of Leon, Jack White, and Robert Plant — to name a few. With Coachella now seen as a heavier EDM, fashion event that is somehow catered to a younger generation, Arroyo Seco aims to be the revival of rock music that bridges generations and embodies the nostalgic flavor of what a music festival should be about: music.
Day one saw a strong amount of talent back to back, with Maxim Ludwig opening up the event at the Sycamore stage and breathing life into the warming rays. With an odd bluegrass, classic contemporary styling, Ludwig’s onstage presence was that of a true performer. The Los Angeles artist dipped into slower tempos midway, and grazed between the folds of his coat pocket for a harmonica to further entice the crowd. The threads of his ensemble were of easy listening and Ludwig even provided his new single, “The Swimmer,” which he boasted before hand was an “incredible new story I made up.”
The Willow Stage began the day with Portland’s Typhoon, who brought out all the feels with their orchestral-rock ballads. Startling, longing voices were beautifully harmonized and played off the soft strings from the violin. The band’s set shifted from explosive moments, to ambient, darker tones, always swimming against sharp compositions. Frontman, Kyle Morton filled spaces in between talking to the crowd, noting how they finally went to Venice Beach for the first time whereas a man’s “over rated” response that echoed from the crowd brought a smile to Morton’s face. “You’re underpaid or overrated,” Morton replied, and carefully returned to the throes of symphonic blends.
One of the best moments came from Austin crooner, Shakey Graves — Alejando Rose-Garcia — who made us all appreciate not only Garcia’s genre melting oddities, but his sheer grace that welcomed all. The sun was at its highest at this point but worth the wait. Running down to the last second of his start time, Garcia assisted alongside tech crew and adjusted, tuned, and added the final adjustments to his set as the crowd yelled “Shakey” awaiting his official arrival. Garcia simply smiled and and held up his finger, indicting one more minute.
Starting with his signature one-man band pose, grew to a full ensemble, weaving back and forth with commentary, and of course closing with “Roll The Bones.” Shaking off any drops of sweats on his head, Garcia took control of the audience hanging on every last drop and cut into guitar chords with his riveting vocals. Upon playing “Word of Mouth,” Garcia began to comment that the track was becoming more relevant today more than ever due to the events in the world, noting that “shit’s confusing.” Commenting between chuckles, Garcia smiled between thoughts and announced a name change for his tour, “‘The shit’s confusing tour,’ because everything is confusing.”
Pharoah Sanders and Hurray for the Riff Raff each brought something special to the Willow Stage. Sanders had the melting wisdom of brass, and gentle execution of instrumentation, it lulled the audience in awe. Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff weaved between folk stories, life, and powered through strings and keys with care. Kamasi Washington took his latest offering, Heaven and Earth, to extraordinary heights, cruising his signature tenor sax to a soulful, jazz presentation.
Another highlight for the first day came in the form known as Jack White, who took the extra amount of time to polish the smallest of details and had the most interactive and inclusive set of the festival. A montage counting down to the last 9 mins kept the audience entertained as they stared in excitement. The montage featured White himself, peaking out and messing with the time, knocking off 5 mins, as the crowd went wild, to re-adding time on the clock. Every single second counted and the band emerged on stage perfectly in sync to the last to the portrayal being shown.
White and his ensemble created an insane atmosphere that could only be appreciated live down to the scuzzed effects and blue filters. Featuring singles from his latest album III, “Over and Over and Over,” “Connected by Love,” as well as “Lazaretto,” there was never a dull amount or lack of energy being exuded from White, who was doused in blue trimmings and paired cleanly alongside his custom guitars, whose accents and hardware echoed the same shade of blue. Wrapping towards the end of his incredibly long set came classics from The White Stripes such as, “We’re Going to Be Friends,” and “Seven Nation Army” as well as a cut from The Raconteurs, “Steady, As She Goes.” The breathtaking Carla Azar, mirrored White’s scathing and imaginative guitar chords on the drums, easily spinning the set into a blistering wormhole of blues rock.
Nearby, closing the second main stage, The Specials revived the rude boy and girl in all of us and took us to the blends of punk, ska, dance hall, and of a righteous conscious. Guitarist, Lynval Golding spoke of his Jamaican roots and the joy of meeting No Doubt’s, Tony Kanal’s “beautiful children” and thinking of the somber current events. The two-tone melodies soon took form to “A Message to You Rudy” as Golding steered the track and dedicated it to Donald Trump.
Closing night one, Neil Young and The Promise of the Real took to the stage and jammed through a two hour set, boasting of an unplanned set-list. With long, protruding tracks such as, “Like An Inca,” and “Cortez the Killer,” Young & POTR held nothing back as they fed off the crowd’s, and each other’s, energy for their 14 track set. Regardless of time, Young’s vocals never once met the grains of sand, and brought every fan to their knees in amazement and pure bliss.
Coasting into day two, Pasadena brought a heavier dosage of sun rays and people. The crowd’s diversity and range were more scattered for the second day, and nostalgia ran heavy as Alanis Morissette, The Bangles, The Revolution, and Violent Femmes, belted out classic after classic, as Tracksuit Wedding and Irma Thomas brought a contemporary rock n’ roll sound to the Willow, full of spirit. Third Eye Blind seemed to capture the essence of the 90s, and taking the lead of nostalgic days, closing the Sycamore Stage with their upbeat demeanor and dark, lyrical undertones.
Allen Stone‘s opening was a well needed shot of soul to get the day going. Fluid in motions and inviting the crowd to follow suit, there was an instant connective energy. Stone playfully and comically took strides as each melodious, groove was delivered alongside his gritty and powerful croon. Playing his most recent track “Brown Eyed Lover” and ending with “Voodo,” Stone’s light is something that is needed to be witness live. Smoothly, the artist plugged his show at The Fonda towards the end, sealing the deal for all.
A spectacle and noteworthy highlight came from Margaret Glaspy, who strutted on stage with a sort of confidence that burned slowly onto the crowd. The trio cascaded with an alternative grit sound, pairing well with Glaspy’s road worn, salmon Strat and silvery vocals.
Fantastic Negrito was equally wondrous to watch, and dripped of blues, R&B, and polished angst. Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz’s persona on stage is a sight to witness, not only for the banter in between, but the individuality that results in each track sticking out. Noting his travels and how everyone asks what is going on — due to the political climate — Dphrepaulezz’s wisdom emerged though the simplest response, “we stopped listening to each other.” Falling into worldly realms to playful lines about Southern California women, Dphrepaulezz and his charisma carried the set.
Gary Clark Jr. struck cords with everyone with his blues, rock, and soulful demeanor. Wailing on the ax like it was to become non-existence in minutes, Clark enchanted. As the crowd called him consistently throughout the field, Clark graciously answered, “If I knew all your names, I’d be chanting them too,” before continuing the blistering set.
Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters brought an envelope of people of all ages rushing to catch a glimpse of the legend, dipping into the past and bringing Zeppelin fans the closest thing to the historic rock band. “The Lemon Song” stirred an enormous wave of chants from the crowd, as a fan threw a citrus present on stage. Plant picked up the lemon, and laughed, asking “So, this is my prize after 50 years of coming here?” Not touched by time as well, Plant’s vocals riveted and carried classics, as well as notables from his solo career that focused more on a blues core.
Executing the finale of a glorious weekend, Kings of Leon closed the main stage with their southern-rock fusion. Full of rolling licks, progressive bass lines, and stirring percussion, KOL lit the fire and toasted any preconceived notions one might have had with their mainstream success. Playing welcoming singles from their recent album Walls, to instant hits, such as “The Bucket” and “California Waiting,” KOL bursted through their hour and half set with tracks from every album. Frontman Caleb Followill’s signature, rusty vocals, plowed the crowd’s hearts. Taking it down a notch to the quiet ballad “Walls” featuring C. Followill on an acoustic, and the heart filled Because of the Times‘ closer “Arizona,” KOL’s ever growing range of maturity will be a landmark in their career, down to their heavy, and potent live sets.
More photos by Martin Santacruz Jr.