Or perhaps many people realized that the festival grounds at Tanzanite Park was a bit too cumbersome to get to since the park was not remotely close to downtown or midtown. Maybe it was because there was no on-site vehicle parking.
Or maybe the festival just needs a big makeover.
It’s worth noting May 5 also happened to be Cinco de Mayo, another holiday that Americans have excused as a reason to imbibe and party hard.
Now in its fourth iteration, First Fest has had its fair share of growing pains, the biggest continually being attendance. There doesn’t seem to be enough interest to warrant a dedicated, closed festival that features only local artists and musicians. The Sacramento region has plenty of talent but asking people to pay $20 a day to listen to and see these local acts seems to be too much.
The more popular Concerts in the Park and THIS is Midtown spring/summer concert series are both free, and you are welcome to wander the streets exploring neighborhood restaurants and stores whenever you want. You’re not stuck if you’re not truly feeling it.
If First Fest is going to survive another year, I suggest organizers transform it into a free block party-type event where attendees can wander, engage, and just enjoy the neighborhood without being trapped in one location. This would involve getting a lot more sponsors, but I think it would be the only way forward without bands having to perform to sparse crowds. (NOTE: I only attended Saturday’s festivities, so Sunday, May 6 might have been different.)
Saturday featured an eclectic mix of genres – although the day could’ve benefited from more electronic music, especially at the Bigelow Stage near the booze garden. Imagine if Rossy and her electronic beats were there instead of the far-off Main Stage—probably a lot more boozing and shaking going on.
Progressive acid jazz rock trio PRVLGS (pronounced Privileges) had the day’s best performance, as the trio featured guest instrumentalists and rapper Poor Majesty. The set worked so well—and being unfamiliar with the band—I incorrectly assumed the entire band was a septet. This was actually the first time this ensemble performed together. More please.
Full disclosure: I was actually unfamiliar with every music act I saw except for garage rock duo Dog Party and hip-hop legends Blackalicious. The truth is that there were a lot of great performances, and First Fest provided me, and hopefully every attendee, an opportunity to get to know these local acts better.
I was quite surprised by the advanced stage presence level most musicians displayed. Stage presence is a very difficult thing to do well, especially at festivals, because it really is a skill you need to practice and develop.
Ska-like urban folk band Worthy Goat had great energy, even on the solo “Diamond in the Rough” when a couple of band members left the stage to waltz in the crowd to lead singer Bryce Mondul’s serenade. The most poignant moment was the band discussing the deceased cat that inspired the set closer, “Mobile Bill.”
Auburn trio Shotgun Sawyer brought back blues rock and the requisite defiance that comes with it. Indie soul pop trio Madi Sipes & The Painted Blue, fresh off its recently released debut album Privacy, brought a bit more jazz and soul to the park. The self-professed jazz nerds covered the bossa nova classic “The Girl from Ipanema,” in addition to The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”
A daytime set was probably a bit too early for indie quintet Skylis and its bedroom rock vibes, unless someone else wants to make nooner jokes. The sounds of garage rock band Flight Mongoose, pop rock quartet PointDexter, and alt-country vets The Nickel Slots were a bit more appropriate for the early afternoon scene.
Columbian pop duo Georgina mixed up original Spanish songs and English pop covers (e.g., Britney Spears, David Guetta, No Doubt). Even though the pop hits were a welcome change from the otherwise predominately rock affair, the performance was much stronger when the sister vocalists (named after their beloved grandmother) sang in their native tongues despite my inability to understand any of the lyrics.
Rapper Elijah Jaron also provided another welcome genre change. The Bay Area native had an incredible positive attitude as he called out the haters and encouraged people to follow their dreams. I think he also name-dropped the San Antonio Spurs legend Manu Ginobili in one of his songs, but I wasn’t sure. “Ride Your Wave” was a highlight.
Singer-songwriter Jonah Matranga took the time to not only perform his solo material but some ensemble stuff with a few guest artists as well. The set also featured a Prince cover. Matranga paused briefly to invite a Black Lives Matter activist on stage to raise awareness to some of the recent local and potentially racially-motivated police-involved incidents.
Saturday was a special day for punk rock sister-duo Dog Party, as it happened to be guitarist Gwendolyn Giles’ 22nd birthday. To celebrate, the band performed 22 songs during the hour-long set, which still felt like too few for some reason. It can hard to keep track of so many brisk punk songs. There was “Peanut Butter Dream,” an Agent Ribbons cover, and many songs off the band’s upcoming LP, Hit & Run.
Blackalicious closed with an hour-plus back-and-forth between longtime music partners Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel, and a few extra guests. Hit songs were performed such as “Blacka,” “Top Billin’,” and the great “On Fire Tonight.”
It still stings that so few people bothered to show up on Saturday, especially considering the weather was pleasant for a spring day. Worthy Goat‘s Mondul said it best: “It’s a hot but not that bad [kind of] day.”