The Catalpa Festival Report Card


Location: Randall’s Island was an ideal enviroment for the festival grounds. The ferry ride provided ample time to pre-game before going bankrupt at the bar and the sway of the ocean encouraged naps on the ride home. Although the $40 fee for said transport all weekend seemed incredibly unnecessary, it sure felt better than riding my bike home would have been either night. I was thankful the dust bowl I knew Randall’s to be in high school had been transformed into a grassy oasis, however. There was ample padding for the Slip N’ Slides that emerged in the midst of the downpour Saturday, and more than enough room for blankets to sprawl during Snoop Dogg‘s rendition of Doggystyle with a beer, a joint, and some friends. 90 (A-)

Ambience: The crowd over the course of the weekend was mediocre. Between the rain and the more recognizable bands going on later in the evening, Saturday felt tame for the most part. Troopers that wanted their money’s worth were treated to Shinobi Ninja, the first act on Saturday at 1:00 pm. Edara Johnson (aka Baby G) was a powerhouse female vocalist/rapper who seamlessly meshed her personal narratives and contagious energy with her head-banging band. As the rainy day dragged on, it seemed like everyone was just biting their nails until The Black Keys came on. The Reggae Stage, on the other hand, beamed positivity despite grey skies. The lineup revolved around a steady offering of nearly fifteen bands, with Marcia Davis & Outro being the consistent facilitator of love. Davis and her three accompanying vocalists treated the crowd to reggae hits and originals, complete with costume changes for each of several sets played. The Reggae Stage kept it fresh to death and by far had the most desirable atmosphere. I do recall we were promised hammocks, however, which would have been the single cherry on that sundae. Sunday catered to those with a desire to shake a leg, see a few contemporary buzz bands, and indulge with Snoop, the High priest himself. Herds of wayward listeners trekked back and forth on the island, usually wearing neon, lace, or American gear. It felt like the kind of crowd that wanted to tell the story of Catalpa, but wouldn’t have seen A$AP Rocky in Harlem or AraabMuzik in a dark room where they might not even be sure who he was. 85 (B)

Nourishment: For a gal with food constantly on the mind, grubbing options are important. I appreciate the sheer variety, which included everything from oven-baked pizza to several vegetarian offerings, and even a section of dessert options. It was a goldmine until you looked at the prices. A $7 milkshake? A $9 beer? A $7 side of fries, without cheese?! Oh Catalpa, you surely know how to take advantage of the trapped spectator. Is this how festivals have always been? If so, we absolutely don’t need one in New York. It reminds me why I’ve stayed away so long, settling for smaller venues with pizza down the block and only moderately expensive juice. New Yorkers must make a lot of money, and boy does it show. 75 (C)

Music: Now here’s where the real nourishment comes in! Glorious live music, we imbibe you even though you make our brains ring and eyes bleed from extraterrestrial light shows. Shinobi Ninja made an impact with their hybrid rock, while Hercules & Love Affair blew my socks off with their sexual energy and Vogue boys. Kim Ann Foxman channeled a youthful Debbie Harry with her screeches and seductive taunts. Perhaps everyone was too stoned, or Foxman too hypnotizing, but the only people I found dancing in the front row were from Mexico City here on holiday. The raucous, driving dance music was completely lost on Saturday’s crowd. The nearly 3-hour double-set by Umphrey’s McGee had all the attractive New England boys sucking their thumbs and drooling. After all, you can’t have a varied music festival without at least one jam band, it’s almost protocol. I was immediately drawn to how tight Umphrey’s instrumentation was despite being long over my Dave Matthews Band obsession. In the wake of so many emergent bands, they had a comfort with improvisation and each other that had them speeding on the riff expressway to GnarlTown.

On Sunday I was overwhelmed by transition seen in the artists I thought I knew musically. Matisyahu resurfaced with uncanny sex appeal, freed from his payots and rocking a white T and jeans. His hour set revolved around ballads where he could bop around the stage effortlessly, stealing hearts with his melodic croon. HE comically and bluntly damned the crowd for demanding the classics such as "King Without a Crown," which he played eventually. He raised the bass like a tyrant throughout the set, and filled the R&B void for the weekend. The Cold War Kids also reaffirmed my confidence in Nathan Willett’s killer vibrato and playful inflection. Although the religious bent of lyrics from more recent songs might repel the secularist, the band’s sharp pronunciation of notes with Willett’s guarded recklessness is a joy to watch.

AraabMuzik and A$AP Rocky satisfied both ends of the hip-hop spectrum. Araab’s effervescent MPC tapping was mystical. He is incredibly controlled and simultaneously a live-wire, dropping beats around every corner and building an enveloping matrix of womps. A$AP Mob spearheaded the set, smoking blunts and drinking Henny for three songs before A$AP even emerged. When Rocky appeared, he dropped hits from his mix tape including "Wassup" and "Palace" between praising the crowd and addressing the jiggy ladies. He played every song the baked wankstas around me demanded as we waited for that first beat to drop. After A$AP everyone sprinted to the main stage for Snoop Dogg. I have never witnessed such frightening magnetism to anything except a fly to the slaughter on a campground. Flocks of attendees bounced to "Gin and Juice" and were scarred by remembering the teddy bear Snoop we know today as the gun-totting gangsta he was back in the day. The video accompaniment provided more narrative content to the album and some comically awkward PIC renditions of murder. Snoop sounded tight as ever, laying on the molasses that is his voice real thick. 80 (B-)

Hook-Ups: Damn, Catalpa! For it being a stormy weekend, completely void of an entire Arcadia Stage we were promised, how could you be so cruel? On hour four of the festival, water was provided in the measly media tent. But no grub and, more importantly, no beer? Has anyone ever told you first impressions make or break you? 50 (F)

OVERALL: Catalpa receives a final grade of 74 (C)

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