In 2010, if someone told me that I’d be on an off-road track in a badass new Jeep with the intoxicating smell of new car just a few hundred feet from the East River, it probably would have elicited a confident look of sarcasm. Yet last weekend at Catalpa NYC on Randall’s Island, I found myself in just that situation.
Thanks in large part to the sponsorship of Jeep, July 28 and July 29 hosted a collection of well-known as well as up and coming artists on Randall’s Island as part of this year’s Catalpa Music Festival. Blessed with a press pass for this event, I was on the front lines for a few of these awesome shows.
Though Saturday’s events were a tad damper than expected, Sunday’s weather provided for an amazing New York summer day, and despite the brief shower during performances by The Dirty Heads and Cold War Kids, Sunday served to round out an incredible musical celebration.
Underestimating the walking time from 103rd and Lex to Ichan Stadium on the island unfortunately caused me to miss The Airplane Boys’ performance, but I was able to catch The Big Pink who provided an impressive exhibition of electronic sounds and energy. Coolest thing about The Big Pink? Their drummer is a chick, who now has my ultimate respect.
Between shows, Catalpa organizers and sponsors made sure that none of their attendees could complain of boredom or hunger. Food tents and vendor trucks lined the perimeter of the festival offering everything from vegetarian quesadillas to Jamaican grub to custom made ice cream sandwiches. Absolut vodka’s Art Bar tent commanded the center of the field, and Heineken, accessible in every corner, was in no short supply. Catalpa featured a sampling of craft beer as well.
Hand in hand with plentiful alcohol and cutting edge music, no festival goes down without a scattering of creative, entertaining activities serving the dual purpose of killing time between sets and marketing new, popular products. As a stage sponsor, Jeep wins the prize for coolest activity with an off-road obstacle course in the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Altitude featuring an out-of-vehicle competition involving sliding, slalom and timed gear loading. Aside from the main attraction, other promotional events included the Church of Rock confessional booths for got2b, quickie marriages at the Church of Sham and a Silent Disco during which attendees rocked out with their headphones out.
As for Sunday’s musical lineup, I was not disappointed. In addition to The Big Pink, I spent most of my time alternating between the Jeep and Catalpa stages to catch a great collection of artists, one of which was City and Colour. After hearing their newest album, Little Hell, I expected a good show from the guys, but I have to say I was blown away with their performance. Both from the photo pit and the middle of the field, I was impressed with their musicianship and collective sound.
The Dirty Heads left me with something to write home about as well. Surprised by their catchy blend of reggae and hip-hop, I found myself reminiscing about another band some like to call Sublime and moving to their grooves with no effort. When the rain made its appearance mid-show, I retreated to the media tent to protect my camera and was fortunate enough to catch the sounds from the Catalpa stage, where Cold War Kids and their fans were braving the weather. Though I can’t comment on visual effects, I found their music, which was new to me, to be quite pleasing and appealing.
Nothing quite puts a cherry on a Sunday like a Matisyahu show except being a foot from the stage during said show. As he casually strolled onto the stage like a cool kid walking into a party, camera flashes signaled his arrival. After posing momentarily for a few shots, he wasted no time getting into his show, which was high energy from the first moment. Matisyahu oozed stage presence and dance the length of the floor as though no one was watching. But we were.
For lucky festival goers who saw Snoop Dogg, word of mouth is that his show was just as dynamic, despite less than favorable reviews of the event as a whole. From small complaints like low water supply and attendance to rather significant issues, like the fact that the entire Arcadia stage was missing in action, Catalpa Music Festival definitely has a list of possible improvements for next year’s event, but as a festival pilot, Catalpa passes my inspection.
Originally published August 2, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com