Benny Dayal performs at the Gaana Music Festival in Mountain View. He says his musical influences are Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire and Bruno Mars, "but we try to keep it as Indian as possible," he says. (Caroline Champlin/KQED)
Promoters said the first-ever Gaana Music Festival in Mountain View was supposed to be the Indian version of Coachella.
The two-day event at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, billed as the largest Indian music festival in the U.S. ever, delivered on all the festival standards: food trucks, pricey alcohol and corporate sponsorship.
"This is the first time corporate America has supported an Indian festival in such a big way," said a spokeswoman for The Times of India Group, which presented the show.
She noted that Toyota, Cox and Kings, ICICI Bank NRI, McDonalds, Sling TV and State Farm were among the sponsors.
Beyond that, though, the Gaana Festival made the venue completely its own.
Instead of tank tops or flower crowns, some of the 13,000 fans at the Shoreline Amphitheater on the first night of the festival wore saris and bangles. Conversations jumped between English to Hindi to Telugu, sometimes mid-sentence. Work friends came together and daughters brought their mothers. Most of all, it was about love for Bollywood.
“My influences are Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Imagine Dragons, Snarky Puppy, Bruno Mars,” said funk-fusion artist Benny Dayal, “but we always try to keep it as Indian as possible.” He sings in Hindi but sometimes sprinkles his lyrics with English phrases.
Most of the 14 acts, including Dayal, have produced songs for Bollywood movie soundtracks. Performers like Dayal, Armaan Malik, Arijit Singh and Akriti Kakar -- considered some of the biggest stars of India -- flew all the way to California for the festival.
"In American movies there’s less of a concept of background songs,” said Microsoft engineer and festival-goer Vatan Aggrawal. “In Indian culture each movie will have six or seven songs going on, and then people will be dancing or at least acting like they’re singing.”
Manu Singh brought his family to the show and said he especially wanted to see Mika Singh and Gippy Grewal. "I have my cousins here, who've been raised here [in the United States]. So, everybody likes it," he said. Singh says the "peppy beats" of Indian music can appeal to anyone.
Silicon Valley, home to one of the largest Indian-American populations in the United States, was an ideal location for the festival's promoters, with many people like Aggrawal working in the surrounding tech offices (the Google campus is a block from the venue).