I’m making it official. Treasure Island Music Festival is my all-time favorite music festival. Of the 10+ music festivals I’ve gone to in the past two years, nothing tops TIMF in its overall combination of location, atmosphere, music, and crowds. Seriously, it’s that good, and my second year back at this festival exceeded my expectations once again.
With a nice selection of big-name acts (Outkast, Zedd), living legends (Massive Attack), indie rock, electronica, and everything in between, Treasure Island has it all. The festival is located on a tiny island overlooking the San Francisco skyline, and because of the smaller venue and fewer performances, it attracts roughly 10,000 people, a sixth of the typical Outside Lands crowd.
It’s easy to see that smaller crowds are the key to this festival’s amazing vibe. Fewer people means fewer headaches getting through to favorite bands, less waiting time at the food stands and restrooms, and a sense that all is well and good in this amazing wind-swept and sunny location shared with fellow music lovers. There are only two stages with no overlapping sets, so there are no tough calls and missing out on anticipated sets because of conflicting times.
Basically, TIMF is all that a music festival should be, without the inconveniences and drawbacks that typically come with attending music festivals. But enough raving for now, let’s talk about the actual festival this year!
Saturday was a beautiful and sunny day in SF, so I knew that the weather would be similarly great at Treasure Island. I met up with Jay and Michael for lunch and we arrived at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium to catch the free shuttles running constantly from the city to the island. The lines weren’t very long and soon enough we were at the entrance of the festival.
After a quick security check and ticket scan, we were in! The scene before us was like that of any other music festival, with crowds of people milling about, food and merchandise booths, cool art installations, and activity areas. But one thing was immediately apparent – everything seemed miniaturized. The Ferris wheel was a smaller version of the one at Coachella, the only two stages were practically right next to each other, and the entire grounds could take 5 minutes to speed walk across. It was what Gloria and I later dubbed “Minichella,” and it was great.
Sure enough, the weather was amazing on the island, with the sun shining out over a lively group atmosphere. We spent the first half hour or so just walking around the festival grounds, checking out the various merchandise and activity booths (including the new Wearhaus headphones, Go Bears!) and dancing in complete and utter silence at Silent Frisco (but only to outside onlookers not listening to the amazing music from the wireless headphones).
We met up with Gloria and checked out our first set of the day, strolling right up to the front part of the crowd to see Ryan Hemsworth play a memorable electronic hip hop set. The overall mood was really chill, and Ryan seemed like such a down-to-earth and cool dude, constantly thanking the crowd for the support and repeating how awesome it was to be playing at the festival. A sublime moment came near the end of his set, when the heavy bass from one of his tracks took over the crowd and cricket noises played in the background. The combination of sounds was so beautiful and peaceful.
The next performance by Janelle Monae was one I’d been anticipating ever since she dropped her excellent Electric Lady LP last year. Despite the technical difficulties at the start when her mic didn’t work for a song, she bounced right back and certainly gave an electric performance, complete with backup singers, a live band, lots of 50s/60s rock dancing, and even a James Brown cover. From oldies but goodies such as “Tightrope” to newer tracks like “Electric Lady” and “Dance Apocalyptic,” the set was fun and got the crowd dancing.
The sun was setting as we caught Classixx’s electronic nu-disco set. The scene before us was absolutely breathtaking – chill, Daft Punk-like beats playing with the golden rays of the sun setting behind the stage. As the setting sun gave way to the night, we walked over to the perfect night time performance by big room house/EDM producer Zedd. Call it what you will, but the set was high energy, theatrical, pop music heavy, and absolutely over the top, with fireworks and fireballs thrown into the crazy light show. We were exhausted by the end of the set from all the dancing, but it was lots of fun and I had an entertaining time counting how many Zedd logos were incorporated into the screen graphics (way too many, if you have to know).
After a quick dinner at the food trucks while enjoying parts of St. Lucia’s set, we went to our last performance of the evening, the much-anticipated Outkast set. After a rather disappointing Coachella weekend one performance, the group had a lot to prove in my eyes. But even before Andre 3000 and Big Boi launched into “Bombs over Baghdad,” I knew I didn’t have to worry one bit. After all, the Coachella set was their first in a decade, and they’d just spent the past half year touring festivals worldwide. Long story short, I was blown away by Outkast’s performance. They were absolutely on point, launching into fan favorites (“Ms. Jackson,” “Hey Ya,” “Roses”) and easily transitioning over to older tracks from their debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. It was the perfect ending to day 1 festivities.
We got into the festival earlier on Sunday because I wanted to catch Banks, who was phenomenal at Coachella. She’d just dropped her debut album Goddess, and despite the chilly weather did an amazing job conveying the emotion in her R&B/electronica tracks. About halfway through the set, the sun broke through the clouds and everyone seemingly took in the energy. Sunday was starting off real nice.
We met up with Chris, who came to the festival today, and grabbed some beers while listening to The Growlers, then went over to watch The New Pornographers. The indie rock band has been around for quite some time, and I loved how pretty much all the members took on lead singer roles during different songs of the set. I especially enjoyed Destroyer’s track “War on the East Coast.”
Once again we took the Bridge Stage with the sun setting in the backdrop, this time for Chet Faker’s downtempo electronica set. The chill beats and cool instrumentation and singing were perfect for the nightfall, and the crowd bobbed and jammed with the music, constantly cheering on the group. TV on the Radio was the next set and the first of the evening performances. I describe them as the indie rock version of The Roots, and the group didn’t disappoint with R&B, punk, and rock-inspired songs. Also, singer/guitarist Kyp Malone’s beard was epic.
We enjoyed another food truck dinner at the food area, watching the spinning heart on fire and catching occasional glimpses of the silent disco still going on. We didn’t waste any time getting to alt-J’s set. The indie rockers are probably too hip for their own good, with a name that’s computer shortcode for a triangle and albums that are too cool for Pitchfork. This was the band’s first performance of their new tour, and they put on a fun show, with the crowd rocking out to “Fitzpleasure,” “Left Hand Free,” and more catchy nonsensical tracks.
By now we were nearing the end of the music festival and desperately needed a break from all the standing and dancing. We’re not as young as we used to be, after all. So we strolled over to Washed Out’s performance, found an open spot near the back, and sat down, resting our legs while enjoying the set. We needed to conserve all the energy we had left to watch Massive Attack, a real treat from some living legends.
Sure enough, Massive Attack’s performance rolled around and was extraordinary. The trip hop duo from Bristol, England, formed in 1988 and essentially pioneered the genre. I loved the darker, industrial sound that was at the same time very beautiful with ethereal female vocalists and slow bass beats. The screen graphics were also very interesting, with computerized news headlines, flashing logos of big companies, and binary numbers giving off a futuristic dystopian vibe. Overall the set was nicely paced and ended the festival on a high note.
We left this year’s Treasure Island Music Festival feeling like we were once again part of a special experience – I’m already counting down the time until next year. Treasure Island, see you soon!