David L. Garcia
Last weekend, I and a marching band’s worth of Bay Area hipsters were driven by charter bus halfway across the Bay Bridge to slog through the day-long, muddy musical nightmare that was the 2016 Treasure Island Music Festival.
Held every year on Treasure Island, that man-made, pill-shaped isle halfway between SF and Emeryville, this festival is known for its diverse lineups, which often feature lesser known indie artists, and a more restrained, laid-back atmosphere (especially compared to the three-day juggernaut of Outsidelands, the other yearly Bay Area music fest). This was the 10th anniversary of the festival, but Mother Nature was clearly not celebrating it: thick gray clouds rolled in late Friday night, and by midday Saturday, they had cracked open, unleashing a frigid deluge of rain. Wind followed, chilling the bones and forcing the rain to fall sideways.
School obligations forced me to stay on the mainland until late Saturday evening. I had planned to rush downtown to the Civic Center (where the festival buses were waiting), but had left my house much earlier in the day, before the rain truly began to fall. The downpour overwhelmed my flimsy hoodie within minutes, and realizing the weather was probably worse on the island, I admitted defeat and headed back home. It was already past 8pm, and according to the schedule, I had missed everyone except headliner Ice Cube. I figured it was a lost cause; by the time I got to the island, there’d be nothing to cover.
As it turns out, I was wrong and right. The weather had forced extreme delays; Ice Cube didn’t even take the stage until midnight, and crowds were left milling around in the rain without getting much info from the festival about what was going on. The pier, home of the festival’s ferris wheel and silent disco, was closed. The wind pushed a vending machine on top of a girl; she had to be taken away on a gurney. Truly sorry I wasn’t there.
When I arrived Sunday afternoon, the sun was trying to peek out behind the clouds, and most of the grass was simply damp, not soaked with rain. Indie rock darlings Car Seat Headrest were the first stand out act of the day, offering a tight set of songs from their recent, well-received album “Teens Of Denial.” I enjoyed about 20 minutes of the band’s set before the rain returned. Although a short while later, just as sunlight burst out from the clouds, charismatic French singer Christine and the Queens took the stage on the other side of the grounds. The sunlight radiated from the puffy white billows overhead like holy rays from the head of a saint, warming chapped faces. Across the festival, concertgoers breathed sighs of relief. Perhaps the worst was over.
The mud. The sun did nothing to get rid of it. It was everywhere, all-consuming, inescapable. The rain that had been sprinkling throughout the day had run into the wide, shallow depressions that riddled the festival grounds, creating coffee-colored lagoons of muddy water. Blades of grass poked their way through, disguising the fact that if you put your foot down practically anywhere, your shoe would sink, frequently to the ankle. People walked by with plastic shopping bags rubber-banded around their shoes, mud splattered up their pants past the knee, and festival employees broke out bales of hay and sawdust to pave over the mud in the VIP section.
Mac Demarco got the most sunlight, which was appropriate; his mellow slacker rock was the perfect complement to the warmth of the sun. It was around the time SF ambient music project Tycho took the stage that I made the mistake of ordering a Ramen Burger, the food equivalent of the French Bulldog or the fixed gear bicycle, an object with inherent flaws beloved by hipsters for no discernible reason. Whoever decided to put a cheeseburger between two “buns” made of fried noodles clearly never tried to eat the thing; it falls apart faster than mud soaks through an old pair of Chuck Taylors. I t was also around this time that I wandered over to the Pier, where I learned the ferris wheel, which was now glowing cheerfully against the purple sky, charged for a ride.
Austin-based electronic artist Neon Indian took the stage just as the sun was setting. His luscious 80s-style synth was a great transition into the evening, and Sylvan Esso, an acclaimed North Carolina indie pop duo, were an energetic follow-up, spurned on by the fact that more rain was threatening to cut their performance short. James Blake wasn’t so lucky. By the time he was scheduled to come on, the wind was getting insane. Blake ultimately had to cancel his performance, and I don’t blame him; the heavy stage lights, hanging from thin metal wires fifty feet overhead, were swinging wildly in the wind.
By the time Purity Ring took the stage, I had reached my breaking point. My shoes were muddied beyond recognition, my camera felt heavier by the second, the damp strap was chafing my neck and the crowd was getting fuller, louder and drunker. I snapped a few pics, enjoyed the duo’s unique stage lighting and then bailed. Apologies to headliner Sigur Rós; skipping out on the acclaimed Icelandic band probably got me put on some kind of blacklist over at Pitchfork.
I walked towards the exit gate, the rain clouds finally gone, but my socks resoundingly soaked. I caught one last look at the Bay Bridge, the eastern half connecting Treasure Island to Oakland. It had been partially invisible all day, blending into the gray clouds, but now it was beautiful, starkly lit against the night sky, white as a new sheet of paper, cheery and buoyant. I snapped a picture of it, proudly looking down on the rain-soaked festival. It looked like it was laughing at me.
Photo Credit: David L. Garcia, Foghorn