On June 26, 2017, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers caused thousands to swoon with a 19-song headlining set at Arroyo Seco Weekend in Pasadena. Little did anyone know they were actually witnessing history—no one ever does—as Petty died just a few months later. June 23 and 24 marks the second iteration of the festival, and this year’s lineup boasts a string of rock gods including Jack White, Neil Young + Promise of the Real, and Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters. But if last year taught us anything, it’s that the great beyond is within reach for many of the icons who contributed to rock & roll’s rich legacy.
Of course, death can happen to anyone at any age. But that doesn’t dismiss the reality of having limited time to revel in the soundscapes that made these people legends. That’s partly why Arroyo Seco is unparalleled: It creates an opportunity for generations born long after the movement—and those who’ve been on the bus for the entire ride—to unite under the music that defined rock & roll for the past half-century.
When Jack White headlined Coachella in 2015, he led 100,000 people in chanting, “MUSIC IS SACRED.” In many ways, Arroyo Seco honors that mantra. Unless you’ve been hiding in a bunker in fear of nuclear war (which is totally fair in this political climate), almost every festival lineup is identical. If you didn’t catch the Weeknd headlining night one of Coachella, for instance, you can see him close out night one of Outside Lands in San Francisco. If you missed St. Vincent, Eminem, Odesza, Post Malone, Portugal. The Man or Tyler the Creator at Coachella or Bonnaroo, you can catch them all (like Pokémon) at Lollapalooza.
It’s like this for almost every mainstream festival—and this is what many of the smaller music festivals are striving to become. Arroyo Seco breaks the chains of repetition. Aside from the rock headliners, it provides a platform for an array of other genres and artists. Kamasi Washington, the Inglewood-born modern-day psychedelic-jazz demigod, and Pharoah Sanders, the expressionistic tenor saxophone hero who played with John Coletrane in the ’60s, have set times on Saturday afternoon. That evening brings Belle & Sebastian, the Pretenders, Jack White, and the Specials. Sunday opens with bluegrass’ Trampled By Turtles, followed by the Violent Femmes, Los Lobos, Gary Clark Jr., Alanis Morrissette and Robert Plant. It’s far from your average lineup.
We’re not saying these performers haven’t played some of the mega-fests. Paul Tollett, the CEO of Goldenvoice and mastermind behind Coachella, is the one throwing this event after all. But Arroyo Seco breaks the mold Coachella and festivals of the like crafted by highlighting different genres and musical geniuses, appealing to a new demographic.
It also counteracts the burgeoning trend of music-festival tourism, in which people float from stage to stage, not staying for the whole set, knowing but a single artist on the lineup, not really there to see anyone, and at the fest simply to say they went (or to take drugs). Not that there’s anything wrong with this concept, but these attendees (read: tourists) are not there for the music.
But if you’re going to Arroyo Seco, you’re going for the music and likely nothing else. It’s not often a weekend of Neil Young and Robert Plant happens within an 80-mile radius of OC. And who knows? We may never get the chance to see either of them again. But we do know we can count on Arroyo Seco to give us the opportunity to experience music history with people who understand its significance.
Arroyo Seco Weekend, featuring Neil Young + the Promise of the Real, Jack White, Kings of Leon, Robert Plant and the Sensational Shapeshifters, and more, at Brookside Golf Course, 1133 Rosemont Ave., Pasadena, (626) 585-3594; www.arroyosecoweekend.com. June 23-24, noon. $154 -$1,699; children aged 10 and younger, free. All ages.