The large, white VIP tent next to the Bridge Stage shaded those who paid a premium to get into the Treasure Island Music Festival this weekend, but who couldn't have felt like a very important person on the ride over from the AT&T Park parking lot in the spacious, luxurious Bauer limo buses. I'm not sure how much this cost the festival organizers, but what a brilliant way to get fans in a good mood for the music.
My photographer and I sat at a table at the front of the bus and enjoyed lunch purchased just minutes before from the Happy Donuts by the ballpark. The plush seats and fancy music system on the limo bus was rivaled only by the views of the city as we drove along the shore of Yerba Buena and then through the old military base at Treasure Island.
Once at the gates of the festival itself, people stepping off the shuttles found no lines -- at least earlier in the afternoon -- and were handed a guide that featured an easy-to-decipher schedule and a useful map of the facilities.
From all indications, the festival was very well planned and went off very nicely. A few sound problems aside, Sunday afternoon and evening were graced by the sun, a nice breeze, some incredible views of Alcatraz and the City, and some great sets from Trainwreck Riders, Sea Wolf, M. Ward and Built to Spill.
Local folk-rock duo Two Gallants pleased the afternoon crowd with material largely drawn from their second album, What the Toll Tells, including "Las Cruces Jail," "Long Summer Day" and "Steady Rollin'." Though the drums sounded bass-heavy and muffled and the show didn't have the intensity it has in a smaller, indoor venue, it was still quite satisfying.
M Ward's raspy folk went down very well in the festival setting as he brought along a full band, complete with two drummers. He played soulful and stirring versions of "To Go Home," "Magic Trick," "Poison Cup" and "Chinese Translation," all from his latest album Post-War, as well as some material from previous albums like "Four Hours in Washington."
Los Angeles' Sea Wolf turned in the surprise set of the day, taking the stage with a cellist and what sounded like an accordion and cranking out an intriguing set that skipped confidently from gypsy to folk to indie pop.
Overall, the festival was surprisingly free of hitches, given that it is in its first year. I have created a festival report card, really only to honor the upstart festival, because I was so encouraged by some of the organizational flourishes that Noise Pop and Another Planet pulled off. So here it is:
Location: A-. Heading back over to the Bay Bridge, festivalgoers asked themselves, "Why am I not always out on Treasure Island?" The views of the Bay Bridge, the Eastern span construction and the city are nothing short of spectacular. Some of this was obscured by the tents, fences and stages that, well, made the festival possible, but the setting was inspiring nonetheless.
Music: B. The lineup for the two-day festival was impressive for the caliber of acts and sheer number of quality bands, but could have used a jolt of energy from some up-and-comers and bands that perhaps haven't played the Bay Area dozens of times. On Sunday, some acts turned in surprising and memorable sets, particularly Sea Wolf and Trainwreck Riders on the smaller stage and Built to Spill and M. Ward on the larger one. Others struggled with sound problems, sickness and a lack of energy, but overall fans had little about which to complain.
Transportation: A+. This was maybe the most memorable aspect of the festival. The previous week was full of whispers about the parking situation and the shuttles, as well as concerns that there would be gridlock and lines. Who could have imagined how easy, comfortable and breathtaking the ride to the festival would be? We even got to listen to some classic Offspring on the limo bus sound system! And if that wasn't enough, you could boat over and take a dinghy in to the marina. Now that's rock 'n' roll.
Organization: B. Bands went on like clockwork. You could set your watch by the schedule. The alternating stages limited the number of bands, and may have prevented some of those up-and-comers from making the lineup, but it gave everyone a chance to see every band and there was none of that stage-to-stage interference you might get at Coachella or when there are shows at both Café du Nord and the Swedish-American Hall. That said, the VIP tent and grandstand didn't seem to have much to offer. The only exit, at least at mid-afternoon, was through a break in the fence by the entrance. I'm not sure what the larger patrons had to do to squeeze through there.
Timing: B+. What? It's a sunny and beautiful weekend in early September, one of the nicest weather months in the Bay Area, and there's no big music festival? There is now. Sure Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is only weeks away, but this did seem like a welcome and much-needed festival for both the time of year and its proximity to the city. No driving or BARTing to Shoreline Ampitheatre for your indie rock or hip-hop.
Food: C. Did I fall asleep in the limo bus for nine months and end up at the Marin County Fair? There was a wide selection of food booths, but it was the usual fairgrounds overpriced fare like kebabs, knishes and gyros. I thought I smelled funnel cake too at one point. Oh, and the Heinekens (or Heineken Lights) were a pricey $7. But the ice cream truck that greeted departing music fans at the end of the night was a big hit.
Facilities: B+. There were plenty of errr... portable toilets situated in a few different locations around the festival. A good amount of seating in front of the stages, though it did get crowded toward the end of the day. Heck, there were even some small trees to the left of the main stage for shade and branch seating.
Diversions: C-. The Ferris Wheel seemed a great way to enjoy the view and look down on the festival crowd. But you had to choose between that and a beer unless you had deep pockets. Seriously, $5 for a carnival-sized rollercoaster? Some festivalgoers browsed through the shopping area, which featured several local clothing stores, pirate shops and... I don't know how you describe Paxton Gate. A few even made it over to the tents promoting recycling and environmental causes.
Overall: B. A great showing for the first-time festival. We hear a second is in the works for next year. Bring back the limo busses!