Sunday, July 23, 2017

FYF Fest! Day Two - We The People!

 * Reprinted from story for Juice Magazine!

FYF Day Two!

It was another hot and sunny day for Day Two of the FYF Fest, and we got a bit of a slow start after the raging of the night before. Three day festivals are not for the weak, that's for certain. We remembered to start with food this time, so that was good, and then set out for Exposition Park. We drove this time because Paul was going to have to leave early for a long-planned double gig of his own in San Pedro. With BOTH of his bands playing. AFTER a long day of shooting bands and rocking. I was already praying for him.

We found a spot easily enough a couple blocks away. Once at the site, we discovered the Day One learning curve had not been straightened out, and once again received a slew of disinformation. We went through security three different times on the simple mission of trying to get inside to the Media Tent without waiting in the GA line. No one has a clue as to what they're talking about, including the Staff Manager. One would direct you to the entire other end of the grounds, while another would say you can go in "right there" and point somewhere, only to have their co-"worker" dispute it. It's really frustrating when you're missing a bunch of good music because event staff doesn't have their shit together. Like, I'm grateful to be there, but I've been to a lot of festivals and have never encountered such blasé, non-helpful staff. Ever. I wish we'd seen more. I wish the staff would have a meeting. Or walkie-talkies. Anyway. Once finally inside, we raced over to the Club stage to catch the tail end of the Princess Nokia set, which was going off. She has a lot of fans, and all of them were all the way into it.

                                                                                                                       Photo: Goldenvoice Media
There was a very cool Vans pop-up happening in the Nightmarket area, where people got to pick up some Vans merch, like a hat or bandana, and sit down in the tent to take a break from the heat and customize their Vans stuff with sequins and whatnot while they were at it.

Vans had a photo exhibition from Thrasher Magazine's Editor In Chief, Michael Burnett on display, that were all awesome shots of skate history, as well as the latest videos playing from skate brands like Girl, Plan B, Blind, World Industries, Toy Machine, and Vans' first feature length video, Propeller. It was a rad little break, made even radder by the Vans swag we got to take home. Thanks, Vans! We love you.

We didn't have the luxury of dawdling for very long, as every minute you're not somewhere else at these things, you feel like you should be. We wanted to catch some MGMT, so took off in the direction of the Main Stage. We wanted to hit up some Thundercat on the way, but it was too packed to get close, so we listened as we walked - something you do a lot of with all this ground to cover.

MGMT isn't that much my thing, but it was the thing of a lot of screaming girls. The singer came out in a sequined tank top, which felt a bit extra in the broad daylight, but then I looked down at my own sequins and zipped my mental lip.

The synth heavy pysch-pop band got under way with their "Pieces Of What", which was very well-received, and I realized they do get down with guitars more than I thought. "Brian Eno" was next, and cartoons played along on the screen behind them. Seems like you pretty much have to have a screen show as well now days. The crowd wasn't moving too much, which I attributed to the intense heat and very close quarters. The Q-Bert sounding opening bit to their hit "Time To Pretend", and the crowd went predictably wild.

I was happy for them, it was enough for us, and off we sped to the entire opposite side of the world to the Trees stage to just barely catch the last bit from Noname, a tall, female rapper that was brand new to me, and seemingly brand new to this, as she commented, "I didn't expect this many people!" All of whom she repeatedly told to "Make some motherfucking noise!" Again, I think it might be time to retire that term ... it's SO played out. I noted that pretty much all anyone has to do is yell "L.A.!" (or wherever they are) to get the cheer they want, so that is also employed a lot. I get it. Hometown pride, and all that. Noname ended with "Yesterday", and that's where I saw the talent in her lyrics. "When the sun is going down, when the dark is out to stay, I picture your smile, like it was yesterday." I will explore this young lady's work more at a later date. I enjoy the discoveries you make on days like this as much as (or almost as much as) the big deal headliners. Learning is fun!

We knew we liked Built To Spill already, we just didn't know how much. They were also playing the Trees stage, and as they were next up, we decided to sit on the curb and wait for them versus traipsing across the Universe somewhere else, only to come right back. Saner heads (Paul's) prevailed. There was once again the confusion about where and when photographers could go for the photo pit (HAVE A MEETING!), but the sun was in its golden prime and Built To Spill was ready to throw down, so lameness was quickly forgotten.

These riff rockers also need to be better explored, as I don't remember thinking of them as being as heavy as they are. Heads were banging. Most anyway, one dude was flat on his back with his eyes closed right down front, not at all bothered by the rock exploding from the speakers a few yards away. I couldn't blame him. It's exhausting even if you're stone cold sober, and this cat clearly was not.

Built To Spill was one of the rare guitar rock bands in this year's FYF lineup, and we loved it. I wish I could get down with all the dance tent stuff going on, but it's just not my jam. Because I like actual jams. Like the ones Doug Martsch and his bandmates were laying down for us in this woodsy space. They kicked off with "The Plan", "Center Of The Universe", "Carry The Zero", and "Sidewalk", all of which were fist pumped and head banged along with. These guys are from Idaho, and I'm so happy they were included among all the Hip Hop and R & B acts this year, because sometimes you just need to rock.

We had to keep on trucking, but still got to hear "Bad Light" and "Time Trap" and the sweet guitar solos within them as we were walking out, because I ran into some friends I'd met at a Ganja Goddess Getaway (you've never been?), and we needed to have a quick badly needed sister session. Golden hour was in full effect and all was well at the FYF Fest in that moment.

This helped everything, because now was the time that Paul had to split off to the San Pedro spaceblanket/Shotshell Press gigs, so I was on my own now. Which if I'm honest, I kind of dug. I was forced to be much more of an observer in the crowd, and I saw a lot. There was no way I was going to leave and go with him, because A Tribe Called Quest was still to come, and I LOVE them. So, Bye Paul, have a good gig! I got to hear a snippet of King Krule on the way to the Main Stage, which was cool, but also because they force you to go the long way to get to the Main Stage. It's absurd how they have things set up at this thing, which we'll get into more after ATCQ.

                                                                                                    Photo: Goldenvoice Media
People were scrambling in droves in my same direction, and it was like being in a super-packed airport, with people just walking right into you. It was already jam packed by the time I got to the Main Stage VIP area, which to be honest, is not that VIP. It's just a section off to the left side that is closer to the front, but half blocked by the giant screens and amps. You're just as packed in as everyone else, with an semi-obstructed view that you pay extra for. These were the observations I was overhearing by everyone around me, I was personally just happy to be there for these Hip Hop legends that were about to take the stage for what we were to find out would be their final Los Angeles show ever. Whoa.

                                                                                                                      Photo: Goldenvoice Media

Excitement was HIGH, as was most of the crowd, it appeared and smelled like. The sun had just set and the picture was perfect for the awesome show that was about to go down. The screens filled with a big photo of the late Phife Dawg, and the crowd reacted with loud love. When Q-Tip, Consequence, Jarobi, and DJ Ali came out, the ovation was thunderous, and I had full-on chills. They got started with "Space Program" from We Got It From Here ... Thank You F Your Service, which was the best album of last year, in my opinion. The whole place was jumping, smoking, pumping fists, and generally thrilled. As we should have been. These guys are the realest deal, and gave as much of themselves as anyone I've seen perform yet this weekend.

                                                                                                                       Photo: Goldenvoice Media

Stalking the lengths of the stage, going out into the crowd, dancing, and rapping without ever a break other than to let recorded tracks from Phife Dawg have solos at times had us all impressed. I was tired from just standing there, and these legends were going full non-stop cardio. And they played about 30 songs! Thankfully. All of the band mates were decked out in ATCQ gear, which I think is funny sometimes, but with them I wanted them to wear even more of it. Q-Tip's distinctive voice carried the majority of the rapping, and he looked like he was having as much fun as we were. They played the new jams, the old school jams, pretty much all of the highlights of a decades long career, leaving no one dissatisfied.

Some of the best social commentators from the very beginning, you could get a very good sociological education just from listening to the ATCQ catalog front to back. And everyone here seemed to know every single word, shouting along to even the little "Woo Hahs!" that came up. "Excursions" from 1991 found Q-Tip asking, "Can I talk to my generation?," yet it sounded as fresh as if he'd just written it in the green room. I was scribbling in my notebook then (I too am old school), and a lady walked by and said, "Whatever you're writing down must be really important." I replied, "It is." Because it IS.

                                                                                                                       Photo: Goldenvoice Media

The set varied from social consciousness tunes to get down with the ladies jams like "Bonita Applebum" that featured Q-Tip executing some impressive limbo type moves, and all of us doing the side to side dance together. "Phony Rappers" was rad, as was "Steve Biko (Stir It Up)" that had us all doing the stir motion with our fingers. We were all having a blast, the ladies yelling "AAAAH" and the guys yelling "OOOH" and all of us yelling, "Do that shit, do that shit, do it!" And then Q-Tip got real real ...

                                                                                                                       Photo: Goldenvoice Media

"Is it a long day? Good day? ("WOOOOO!") Smoke day? Drink day? Pill day? (I hope not, they'll kill you.) Music day? GOOD DAY, LA!" Then ... "Thank you for fucking with us for a long time. This performance is our last one in L.A. (What?! NO!"), Phife Dawg has been called to another mission, but we wanted to do one more show for you." He took a pause, then said, "Losing someone comes in waves, this experience is cathartic and helps, thank you. Phife was my best friend I had, since I was four, and we're gonna play a favorite of his." They then gave up the stage to Phife Dawg alone as his recorded track for "Butter" played, and the guys probably got a sip of water. It was touching, and I felt for all of them.

They were all back, this time joined by a straw-hatted Raphael Saadiq playing a brightly painted stand up bass for "Buggin' Out". That was real cool. The last three jams were a frenzy of action, with all the guys running all over, into the crowd, out on a runway, giving their all on "Electric Relaxation", "Vivrant Thing", and "Check The Rhime". Then all of a sudden it was all "Thank you, we love you, L.A.! You know you're our second home!" And they were gone, just like that. Bummer! I was still waiting for my favorite from the new album, "We The People"! - but they said they had to clear the stage. Everyone started streaming for the super-slow exits, then WHAT?! They were back! A near stampede happened in reverse, as everyone tried to get back and jockey for a now-better spot. ATCQ gave us "Can I Kick It?" ("Yes, you can!"), "Award Tour", and finally, "We The People"! We shouted back the chorus, "We the People! We are Equal!" - and that never felt more true. Thank you, ATCQ. You gave every bit of yourselves up there, and over your career, and we love you.

                                                                                                                       Photo: Goldenvoice Media

That everyone is equal was all the more apparent when the cattle herding from the Main Stage to the "VIP" area near the Lawn stage began. It was a nightmare. Ask anyone who tried to get into VIP after ATCQ what that was like. Every soul will tell you it was a completely dangerous, ridiculous, shit-show of an ordeal that took forever, and as a guy next to me (like NEXT to me, nearly cheek to cheek) said, "I'm so glad I paid extra for this." The VIP area features nothing special, nothing included (Oh, hang on. Complimentary coat check. Who in God's name was wearing a coat in this weather?), and is as far away from the stage where Erykah Badu was about to perform as you could possibly get. Absolutely not worth it, AND they make you queue up to get scanned OUT of there as well. Why? If the music line-up wasn't so excellent and diverse, you would never bother. I'm happy to help you iron out some logistics for next time ... but we'll see how Day Three goes ...

Erykah Badu! I've never seen her live, and was very excited, but also very, very far away. I saw her take the stage from the big video screen, and the massive crowd blew up in applause when they saw Badu appear in her giant Pharell-type hat and coat of many colors. She's a stand alone in style, both fashion and musically, that's not debatable. "Rimshot" was her intro, and she got right into it with "Hello". "Out My Mind, Just In Time", followed by "On and On", and "...On" were eaten up by her superfans. Jazzy, sultry, powerful, clever, sexy ... Badu has it all. People were dancing all the way in back, and straight-seeming white boys were singing along with every word. Impressive.

                                                                                                                       Photo: Goldenvoice Media
"Where's my 80's people? My 90's people? You know the Baduism language better than anyone. Who's having their first Badu experience? (Me!) "I'm happy to accommodate you." (Thank you!) She's just so dang cool. "Love Of My Life (Ode To Hip Hop)". "Apple Tree". "No Love". "Annie (Don't Wear No Panties)". All awesome. I got to hear "I Want You", and then had to make my way back over to the Main Stage for Frank Ocean, as some people had been lining up in front since the last note from A Tribe Called Quest. I heard one lady said, "Frank Ocean is the only reason I'm here." I could not say the same, but was eager to see what all the fuss was about.

                                                                                                                   Photo: Goldenvoice Media
By now, the Main Stage zone was beyond packed, and I knew that there was no point in trying to get close, so I settled in to content myself with the giant screens. People were beyond excited. I just felt like an outside observer. Ladies were panting.

Ocean took the stage and it was bedlam. Screams for days. He had an "Instant Karma" shirt on, and went and set himself up at a little home studio type thing on the stage runway. He basically let everyone in on his way of creating when he's by himself, only in front of a massive crowd. Like many of the acts in this year's FYF, Ocean is a true artist, doing exactly his own thing.

                                                                                                           Photo: Los Angeles Daily News
I don't really know the Ocean songs yet, so titles mostly escape me (because he wasn't doing any direct talking to us either), but I do know his album was called Blonde, so I can get on board with that. There had been a booth in the Night Market area earlier hawking "Blonded" things that I didn't realize were Ocean related. This blonde blew it. And the more I listened, the more I got it. When I heard a lady saw he's like a modern Michael Jackson, I didn't know if I'd go that far (dancing?), but Ocean certainly has that extra something.

Ladies were singing their hearts out, and I felt like a bit of a loser for not knowing a single word, but I always get a kick out of watching people seeing their favorite music. It's a rare joy that only comes from your own heart. That's the good part about this festival. Los Angeles is SO diverse, and this FYF Fest captured that beautifully. People would be walking in speedy droves in opposite directions (creating walking havoc, but still), because THEIR favorite band was the other way. Fans equally excited about completely different things. The Main Stage area might be overflowing with mainstream-ish listeners, but at that same moment, there's a dance party of a lifetime going on across the Coliseum. There is truly something for everyone, and it all works in harmony - musically. Logistics still need some real thought and implementation. But back to Frank Ocean ...

As I was spacing out thinking about all of the above, Ocean was busy making people want to take off their clothes. That happened to me next when out of nowhere comes an unannounced or acknowledged Brad Pitt on stage to act out a phone call of Ocean singing a cover of The Carpenters' "Close To You"! What?! Well, now I like Ocean even more, because clearly he's kind of weird. I didn't know how that could be topped, and wanted to avoid the mega-crush getting on the train, so I split, hearing Ocean's croon as my escort on the long, long walk to the exit. He made at least one new fan.

I reflected more on the ride home, and felt infinitely fortunate that I live in Los Angeles, where you can hear absolutely any kind of music you could ever want to live, you learn about other cultures through the music, and that's how you can help build the bridges to peace and understanding. That was a sweet dream to think about as I finally fell asleep, plotting my Day Three ...

                                                                                                                       Photo: Goldenvoice Media
To be continued!

*Photos by Paul Gronner Photography (unless otherwise indicated)

**No photo pit allowed for Frank Ocean

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