Catalpa NYC Debuted With Stormy Weather
Catalpa NYC made its debut on Randall’s Island this past weekend; and its reception was as mixed as its represented-genres and onsite attractions. With big-buck headliners like The Black Keys and Snoop Dogg in addition to a slogan, "New York City's Music Festival" (as if there was only one of any importance), the festival organizers obviously had big ambitions and high expectations for their inaugural event. Unfortunately, these aspirations didn't all come to fruition as cancelled attractions, wet weather, and poor attendance (the festival didn't sell out and was noticeably less crowded than Governors Ball, which took place in the same location only a month earlier) left me wanting more.
The main disappointment and confusion of the weekend was the lack of some of the listed attractions - like the Arcadia sculpture-stage hybrid – promised to spout fire as DJs spun on stage. Apparently a permit was never granted for the fire-breathing installation, but the weather probably would have prevented its realization anyway. A simple announcement or more tweets from @CatalpaNYC would've saved a lot of confusion and would’ve led to a bigger crowd around the High Times Stage, which was re-purposed each night for the DJs to play (sans fire).
However, despite the festival’s soggy start (both weather- and impression-wise), there were definitely as many upsides to the weekend as there were down. The artist's were on their game and the relatively small number of attendees made getting up close to the stage without much effort a breeze. Plus, although initially disappointed with the small size of the stages, particularly the pink-clad Jeep stage, their sound was the complete opposite – bands could be heard crisp and clear throughout the grounds. So if you were taking a break to get a Vegetarian Oasis avocado wrap during the middle of Girl Talk, for example, you could still hear his sample-laden beats well enough to dance and sing along with although he was no longer in sight.
Now, let's get down to the specific bands.
TV On The Radio
I admittedly had a late start Saturday due to my unwillingness to endure too much rain. But I arrived in time to get the lay of the land and catch the last three acts – TV On The Radio, Umphrey’s McGee (for their second set), and The Black Keys.
Brooklyn-based rockers TV On The Radio began their set by slowly building up suspense before erupting into "Young Liars." As my first live-experience of TVOTR, I was enthralled. I've always been intrigued by the group’s dynamic mix of post-punk and electronic elements, so much so I was nervous I'd be disappointed seeing them for the first time Saturday night. Thankfully, this was not the case. Their set, which showcased selections from their two most recent albums, flowed gracefully yet energetically.
Next up was Umphrey's McGee, a band I wasn't necessarily too eager to see but enjoyed nevertheless. The Indiana-formed band brought Catalpa momentarily back to the origins of big music festivals – jam bands. But Umphrey’s McGee is more than just a Phish-era jam band, the group also take their musical roots from progressive rock bands in addition to those of the funk, jazz, metal, and blues genres. Their eclectic mix of jam-genres have garnered them much respect - which their two back-to-back Catalpa sets stood testament.
The Black Keys
Last but not least on Saturday were The Black Keys. The fact that not even a full week had passed since I last saw the duo perform at Firefly nor the rain that again began to fall deterred from my enjoyment of their set. The crowd was noticeably less packed than the 30,000+ that had attended at Firefly, but this meant I was able to actually see the action on stage that matched what I heard, even when I left the photo pit for the crowd.
Cold War Kids
As I awoke Sunday, the day already seemed more promising. Not only where there more bands on the schedule I wanted to see, but the sun was out and shining. I got to the festival just before Cold War Kids took the stage around 4:30; just as the sun took a break and the rain came again – yet, thankfully, it didn’t last as long as on Saturday. CWK, like The Black Keys, were another band I only had to wait a week to see again. They were just as flawless the second time around proving I didn’t only enjoy their Firefly Music Festival set because it was my first time.
Matisyahu was next on the schedule over on the Jeep stage, where he gave me, as well as those around me, quite the surprise. I had previously only seen the reggae-rapper with his signature yarmulke, Hasidic Jewish side curls, and beard – but he came onstage Sunday with blue Nike kicks and a denim jacket. The only trace of his religion remained in his lyrics. He never mentioned his change of appearance, but he did have quite the diatribe regarding beach balls at concerts. Here's a tip: don't bring one to his shows.
Matt & Kim
Back over on the Main stage, which read Dance Bitches! across the top, Matt & Kim took the stage to a receptive and energetic crowd. Their Catalpa performance marked the end of a 6-month hiatus in the studio for the BK-based duo. Besides having to re-start "Daylight" after a brief mistake (you'd think they’d have that one down pat by now), the break seemed to have no effect on their ability to command the stage – even their live debut of "Let's Go" off their upcoming album Lightning was performed unhinged. In addition to their upbeat tracks, familiar covers were weaved in between songs, and their expected crowd engagement, banter, and jump-up-on-instruments acrobatics were present as well – Matt got Kim booty-shaking while the crowd held her up, and Kim exclaimed that she had been religiously kegeling so she could "fuck the shit out of you tonight."
Taking Matt & Kim’s lead, Girl Talk kept energies high on the main stage as he kept with expectations - he was clad in white and grey workout gear, had crowd members dancing on stage throughout, and impeccably chose songs to which somehow everyone knew the lyrics.
After a quick stop over at A$AP Rocky, I headed back over to prepare for the artist everyone had been anticipating and saving onto their last few joints for – Snoop Dogg. The icon who has been taking the hip-hop world by storm for more than two decades took the stage earlier than expected Sunday evening to perform 1993's Doggy Style in its entirety – with a notable addition from Dr. Dre's The Chronic and short videos and skits to keep the audience engaged (and laughing) during breaks.
Overall, I had a great time; but I think there were two routes the festival could've taken prior to the weekend itself that would've put Catalpa NYC up in the rankings alongside Randall's Island's other festival, Governors Ball, and this summer's other inaugural festival, Firefly.
Firstly, rather than a sole focus on attracting an NYC crowd by specifically giving the city possession over the event ("New York City’s Music Festival"), Catalpa could've reached out to surrounding cities like Boston, D.C, and Philly, all of which are within easy traveling distance. Firefly did just this by donning themselves with the title "The East Coast's Premier Music Experience." As the number plates in the campground and parking lot in Dover, Delaware, attested, almost all east coast states were accounted for.
Secondly, rather than catering to an "I like all music" demographic, a more specific genre-focus may have been better received. Or, if a wide array of genres was non-negotiable, perhaps a more strategic schedule could have been arranged (a la Gov Ball's DJs and Dancing Saturday and Indie-Rock Sunday).
For more photos of the inaugural event, head to our Catalpa NYC Facebook Album.