When a festival bases its namesake, lineup and motto on the idea of compiling the strangest amalgamation of music possible, delivery is defined by splitting a bill between an Oscar-nominated heartthrob, New Orleans’ funk-rap rising stars and an elementary-age Abraham Lincoln.
Los Angeles’ FYF Fest (the FYF used to stand for F-ck Yeah Fest) describes itself as “a mix tape of bands that would never play with one another.” The seventh year of the festival would have fulfilled this promise simply by putting Ryan Gosling’s folk/baroque group, Dead Man’s Bones (featuring the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir dressed as deceased historical figures) and New Orleans’ Big Freedia on the same stage in the Los Angeles State Historic Park. Instead, they went about 10 steps further, adding San Diego lo-fi scuzzball Wavves, L.A. favorites Local Natives and many more to a diverse cast of rappers, rockers, folksters and other performers.
A modest crowd of sunglasse-clad early birds beat the long lines and caught the first acts to play: mostly local groups well-known to and beloved by L.A. scenesters. Abe Vigoda, The Growlers and Warpaint, although familiar, all turned out typically decent sets, though none were especially remarkable. As the sun beat harder, the bands got better. Vetiver, a San Francisco quintet, played a lackadaisical, quietly playful show. It was the first band to gain noticeable interest from the growing crowds.
As the heat became considerably less bearable, so did patience for the buzz bands that occupied the middle of the billing. Though lead singer Nathan Williams’ antics soured much of the blog-heavy goodwill toward his earlier work, Wavves has been back in the limelight because of the improved studio sound of its third album. Live, however, the baby-brat antics, along with the poor scuzz-rock sound, made for a boring, insincere performance. Ariel Pink, also riding the positive buzz of a cleaned-up studio album, played a similarly faked-raucous vibe.
The more-established headliners and the dependable festival regulars were an admirable cleanup crew, dispelling the negativity of the disappointing bands that preceded them. Local Natives, a last-minute addition to the top of the bill, was predictably poised in front of the large, pulsing crowd in front of the breezy, grassy area near the Redwood Stage. On the same stage, Ryan Gosling’s not-just-a-side-project horror-themed Dead Man’s Bones was a very pleasant surprise earning more than one “Hey, he’s actually pretty good” from fairly tough customers.
Doom-metal outfit Sleep did its thing admirably, an act audience members call “shredding.” Animal Collective frontman Noah Lennox’s solo act Panda Bear closed the show, also just doing what he does — something along the lines of intense, guitar-deconstruction with dreamy lyrics. It was great for what it was, a meandering cool-down from a long, hot, exciting day. Still, it was nowhere near as exciting as the festival’s highlight, courtesy of the unparalleled folk-rockers Mountain Goats.
The trio, led by singer-songwriter John Darnielle, has a “If you hold it, we will come” festival philosophy, and every single set is unique and thrilling. The wry stage banter is unmatched (“If and when you get divorced, you’ll remember this song. When you think of divorce, think of the Mountain Goats”), and the impassioned delivery eclipsed the blasé bologna of Wavves and Ariel Pink.
The well-cast top billers were the stars of the show, and besides a couple sourpuss snark-rockers, the rest of the lineup was, as promised, highly satisfying and uncommonly diverse. The downside, the real drag on the whole shebang, was the poor planning for what was sure to be a crowded, popular and important show for the people in charge.
A terribly offensive dust cloud plagued the pit of the first stage, named the Oak Stage. Fans emerged from this mess covered head to toe in dust, with a fair share of it in their mouths, eyes and eyes. Some fans seemed to enjoy the chaos, but others were coughing and spitting and sneezing up dirty, brown mucus that is certainly better out than in, however visually off-putting. The obvious health concerns this miniature rock ‘n’ roll dustbowl posed, as well as the desire not to be coated in an inch-thick layer of earth, were potential deterrents to fans coveting a front row spot for their favorite artist’s performance.
The dusty nebula surrounding the Oak Stage perhaps wasn’t entirely avoidable — it comes with the middle-of-a-barren-field territory. However, glaring hiccups abounded at the festival. Outside food and drink were not allowed inside of the festival (two sandwiches prepared by this writer’s own hands fell victim to a thorough bag search), and the overpriced food trucks and stands were plagued by long lines and the jacked-up prices. OK, many festivals (not all), turn away sack-lunchers and rob blind everybody willing to pay, but most of those festivals grant some access to water. Somehow, in planning an increasingly popular festival in the middle of Los Angeles, near the peak of summer heat, someone thought that one drinking fountain would be enough to prevent dehydration. The apparently ruthless planners had $4 water bottles on-site for anyone not willing to wait in the two-hour-plus line for the fountain (though, the stands hawking H20 were often sold out). Point is, you can charge $10 for a crummy burger, you can take $8 for terrible beer, but you just can’t dehydrate people.
That being said, the FYF Fest folks never promised a thought-out setup. They promised great, disparate tunes and in this regard, they delivered. From out-there, funk-fueled hip-hop to buzzy indie-pop, all the way to ear-blasting doom-metal, FYF Fest really had something for everyone. This is the festival to keep tabs on in the future. Once somebody gets the logistics down pat, well, they’ll definitely need more than a few more drinking fountains.