San Francisco’s Treasure Island Music Festival, which marked its tenth and final year on said island this October before, as is rumored, heading to Oakland, has long made a point of generously accommodating its audience: music never issues from its two stages simultaneously, giving you the chance to savor every last act on the bill; its terrifically-curated lineup is divided between more dance-y acts on one day and more rock-centric acts on the other, making one-day tickets practical; even though attendance hits 20,000 over the course of the weekend, the event creates a sense of intimacy that contrasts starkly with the soullessness of the #EvilCorporateFestivals of the world. So by the end of the first day of this year’s festival, then, why did it seem like Treasure Island had abandoned their fans, and like their fans had abandoned them as well?
The answer was, in a word, rain. Cold, horizontal rain that blew off the Pacific Ocean and sent many festivalgoers scrambling for the exit before the sun had even set, rain that caused artists to show up late (or not at all) and made stages unsafe to play on. Yet as sets were delayed and cancelled, it was the festival’s lack of communication that was most frustrating. As a result, much of the information the crowd got came from social media. And it wasn’t pretty. Before the rain had even begun to fall, Twitter had become a warzone as disappointed festivalgoers (and a few artists) began hurling their fury – with a degree of vitriol typically reserved for shit-for-brains Trump fanatics – at the festival’s organizers, Noise Pop. While some of the accusations, like the DJ Duke Dumont’s claim that the festival threatened to not pay him, may never be verified one way or the other, you would have generally thought, reading the comments online, that the festival had commanded the rain to ruin everyone’s weekend. The event was advertised as rain-or-shine, and we got rain. Why did everyone expect a refund?
While the second day was reportedly a large improvement over the first (this writer chose to sit it out), it was still not without a big hitch: excessive wind forced James Blake to cancel his set. And so, it wasn’t until the day after the festival ended that it found its grand finale: a free James Blake show (free for Treasure Island ticketholders, that is, with attendance clearly marked as first-come first-serve) at the glitzy old Fox Theater in downtown Oakland. The performance was breathtaking, in part thanks to a sumptuous light show that would have been either lost, or non-existent, on a festival stage. The sound was immaculate and huge; the throbbing bass of “Limit to Your Love” invaded every inch of your body and shook the room; “Retrograde”’s climactic blast of synth crashed into you with the force of a Mack truck, accompanied by flashes of light that hit the heartstrings as strong as the eyes. The show ended with the understated “Measurements,” largely sung a cappella and met with a perfect silence that no festival could ever conjure. It was in that moment that we were reminded of the magic that Treasure Island has given us for the past ten years. It was in that moment that we became excited for what comes next.
Photo James Blake: © Kelly J. Owen