The inaugural weekend of the Catalpa Festival on New York City’s Randall’s Island seemed to have the odds stacked against it. The rookie festival not only had to compete with a slew of other blossoming festivals in the mid-Atlantic area—Governor’s Ball which took place in the same exact location a month prior, Firefly Festival last weekend and Rhode Island’s Newport Folk Festival on the same weekend—but is also in itself is a gamble to see if it can last in a New York City area where festivals are known to fail.
However, to combat all of this, Catalpa founder Dave Foran delivered a fantastic line up stacked with a variety of musicians from the fuzzy two-piece the Black Keys to the up-and-coming Harlem rapper who sounds more like he’s from Texas when he raps, A$AP Rocky. While attendance seemed low (I’m not complaining) and the rainy weekend made a bit of a mess, the array of music to be heard made for an especially memorable weekend that I certainly hope will return in 2013. Here are a few of my highlights:
TV On The Radio – While seeing the Black Keys close the Saturday lineup with cool sprinkles of rain falling from the dark summer sky will be my favorite moment of that day, the most surprising was TV On The Radio’s set beforehand. The band blew up in 2008 with masses of praise for its album Dear Science. But after taking a year-long hiatus and losing bassist Gerard Smith to lung cancer early last year, TV On The Radio kind of fell off of the radar with relatively softer Nine Types Of Light. Yet Saturday when the band took the stage with its soulful blend of post-punk, laying down a stellar set, it seemed to be back in that 2008 form. After an intense set with hits like “Will Do” and “Second Song,” the band closed with their most-popular single “Wolf Like Me.” A mutual respect oozed back and forth between the worn out but honored Tunde Adebimpe and his adoring fans as he said his goodbyes, applauding the hometown New York City crowd as he left the stage.
Girl Talk – Nothing could sum up the last year in pop music better than Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” mashed up with Drake’s YOLO-induced anthem “The Motto.” Yet, I would have never thought to mix the two until Sunday’s Girl Talk set. Pop music mixoligist Gregg Gillis has a brilliance for mixing hits from opposite ends of the spectrum together in ways that nobody else would think of. And while his mixes are perfect for for the dance floor at any house rager, he proved Sunday that no party can equate to the atmosphere of a live Girl Talk show. He hit the stage in a full white sweatsuit with a hoard of partying fans blowing rolls of toilet paper with leaf blowers, plowing right into the intro track from the mixtape of the same name, “Play Your Part.” For a solid hour no one in the crowd or on stage stopped moving, anxious to hear what hit song he would slip into the set next. The beauty of it was that no matter who you were or what degree of music fan you claimed, you were bound to hear something you knew and liked.
City And Colour – Even if he was one of the most talented artists at the festival, playing the early crowd on Sunday hampered Dallas Green’s performance. The Canadian’s blend of folky ballads and solemn blues rockers was received by a smaller than normal crowd. While Green’s chill-inducing voice was present as always, the band was unenergetic and bothered by the atmosphere—a hissing noise from behind the stage apparently from someone blowing up inflatables distracted Green so much that during “The Girl” he has to stop playing the slow intro and move on to the uptempo half of the song. “Maybe not during the quiet ones?” Green said in annoyance. But when he traded in his acoustic for his hollow-body Gibson electric to play some newer hits form 2011’s Little Hell, there was nothing but steel pedal, raw blues guitar and Green’s harmonious voice to be heard.
Snoop Dogg – The West Coast rap vet Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. aka Snoop Dogg delivered a full dose of his classic Doggystyle with a few newer hits like “Young And Wild And Free” and “The Next Episode.” Just like he likes it, the bass was extra loud and the air thick with Dogg’s drug of choice. Snoop showed us a more cinematic side with hilarious segue films before each song, one of which featured Pharrell Williams before Snoop plunged into their 2004 number one hit “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” And even if he didn’t have the help of the fantastic collaborators that he’s recorded with for more than two decades, Snoop showed that at 41 he can still flow with the best of them all on his own. But in case you forgot, he was there to remind you—with a brown-bagged 40 in hand he emphatically bragged, “I’m still making mother-fucking hit records,” before closing the set.