While other festivals can offer more stages and more free swag, this weekend’s Treasure Island Music Festival had a certain intimacy and local flavor that can otherwise be lost amid the national buzz of an event such as Coachella. Indeed, with just two live-music stages, concert patrons didn’t need to stress out, run to and fro and miss certain headliners. Instead, they gained the time to kick back, admire the city’s skyline and absorb the relaxing, hippy vibes of San Francisco.
So, after the summer festival circuit has long ended, it feels right for the Bay Area cool kids to come home to Treasure Island. Like an actual treasure island, it’s that final destination — what you’ve been looking for on this entire journey.
— Jason Chen
“Ignore the signs! Don’t listen to them! Drive, drive, drive! Whoo!” The shuttle erupted into claps and cheers, marking the enthusiasm of festivalgoers as they urged the shuttle driver to throw caution to the wind and drive into the artist/producer’s parking lot.
The excitement hummed in the background as Skylar Spence started his sound check and the ferris wheel loomed in front of the San Francisco skyline. Beards and boho-attire met rave and city fashion. Not even the obscenely priced food or crippling debt of buying festival tickets could wipe the joy and thrill off people’s faces as they watched their favorite artists perform before their very eyes throughout the day.
As people milled in, waiting for the festivities to take off, they explored the rustic decor and art installations. There was plenty to do while the music picked up — whether they were making $10 DIY flower crowns or checking out the telephone booth that encouraged people to “Talk to God.”
As the early birds scoped out the food scene, contemplating between crab garlic fries and the Chairman food truck, Bob Moses’ sensual vocals and rhythmic electronic beats drew in the new arrivals.
In typical Bay Area fashion, the chilly morning snuck in a few drizzles, but not even the overcast sky could overcome the anticipation.
The distinct pop of a champagne bottle could be heard over the tropical electronica of Viceroy, who started his set by fueling the guitarist with carefree vibes and fueling the audience with the elixir of summer. The lively concert was reminiscent of a juvenile pool party — fans brought out their beach balls, fist pumps, piggybacking and a bouncing inflatable monkey. Viceroy’s “summertime all the time” motto came to life, parting the clouds and infecting every corner of the festival grounds.
With the ability to heighten enthusiasm like a small venue but with enough room and space to bust out a few dance moves, Treasure Island brought together the best of both worlds.
The warmth of the sunrays dispersed the crowd, whether to the hammocks for a disco nap, to the ferris wheel line or to the silent disco tent. Others lay down on their blankets to bask in the sunlight to the tune of Baio’s alternative pop beats.
If the deep voice declaring Gorgon City did not lure back audiences, then the chemistry on the main stage’s screen did. Sultry and intense gazes were exchanged onstage while songs such as “Ready For Your Love” electrified the crowd. The booming speakers carried the energy of each song to every inch of the island.
The late afternoon lull was dismantled with Run the Jewels’ hard lyrics and brief interludes about corrupted systems, politics and Ferguson. The hypnotized audience threw up the typical gun-and-fist hand gesture for songs such as “Early” and “Close Your Eyes.” The rap duo’s energy transitioned to Cashmere Cat’s set, filled with hits such as “Mirror Maru” and a new remix of “Hotline Bling.”
Transfixed festivalgoers scrambled to the ferris wheel line and the double decker buses to catch a glimpse of the skyline, but the magic didn’t die with the sunlight. As the setting sun cast a golden spell over the grounds, the festival’s rave fans popped out their glow-sticks in anticipation of the night’s EDM headliner.
As the last rays died, the fog machine came back. People crowded in to catch sight of British experimental artist FKA Twigs. Her unique vocals, sharp beats, fierce expressions and profound stage presence mesmerized everyone. Frenzied photographers clicked away and audiences lost themselves to the mystical allure that Twigs brought with her to the Bay Area.
Not only is Treasure Island eccentric on its own, but each act had its own new and interesting sound. Big Grams’ blend of rap and electronica club-like hits were a perfect transition from the day’s hip hop and electronica music to the night’s rave finale. Phantogram and Big Boi’s fans were lost in the musical genius before them. As the artists welcomed Run the Jewels’ Killer Mike and El-P to perform the collaboration’s biggest hit, “Born to Shine,” audiences went wild with cheers.
But nothing drew people in like the anticipation of the night’s headliner, Deadmau5. Lit up Deadmau5 ears, kandi and glow gloves came out. People lost themselves to the mouse mania, climbing trees and pulling out phones. Every feeling of fatigue dissipated until the last song was over and the flickering lights of Deadmau5’s set faded out, juxtaposed against the San Francisco skyline.
— Gautami Sharma
Gone were the Deadmau5 ears, luminescent rave kandi and foggy overcast of Saturday’s electronica-driven set. Sunday at Treasure Island was sunny, splendorous and a tad more pastoral — a perfect setting for the folk and indie rock-leaning musicians set to perform throughout the festival’s second day.
Dust-covered blankets and beach towels were strewn on the patchy festival fields for much of the early afternoon — perfectly coordinated with San Francisco native Mikal Cronin’s breezy jangle-pop and the neon glam-rock of D.C.-based trio Ex Hex. Crowds ambled between sets without much purpose as the day launched in earnest, even with propulsive, lightning-bolt sets by the one-two punch of Ought and Viet Cong electrifying the island.
Even with the loose galactical concept that was strewn around the festival grounds, Treasure Island’s pleasures were distinctly earthly. Languishing in the balmy heat, festivalgoers double-fisted scoops of frozen custard from the Bay Area-based FK dessert truck along with their half-filled cups of Heineken.
Treasure Island’s smaller scope lent itself to its spirit as a glorified carnival for grown-ups.
With the 60-foot Century Ferris Wheel placed as the festival’s centerpiece, DIY beer bottle openers and mini cardboard rocketships that doubled as ground zero for the tired masses to chat, drink and smoke, the festival felt young and old all at once.
“Treasure Island: What a beautiful sight!” roared the typically demure Swedish folkster Jose Gonzalez. With his ambient, nearly-hypnotic guitar washes, his rollicking soundscapes served as the easy-listening companion for the unfiltered grandeur of the city’s view.
The placid, warm harmony of Gonzalez’s set soon gave way to Father John Misty’s sardonic affectations. Misty would have stolen a few laughs at the Fest’s “Blah Blah Blah” comedy tent had he not wowed with his tender, postapocalyptic orchestral tunes. “Should I go full bun or half bun?” he quipped as he styled his hair in a woefully tangled man bun to weather the oncoming gusts of wind.
Misty was a true showman — flashy pomp and all. His performance was impassioned, theatrical and hilarious. Halfway through the mournful diatribes of “Bored in the USA,” he leapt off the stage into the pit, reaching out mid-lyric to grab a fan’s iPhone and record a cheesy selfie video.
Only when the sun began to set — and the setlist began to rise in prominence — did audiences hoard onto the stage barriers. Looking to sneak a closer glimpse at the indie royalty that would check in at the stages, crowds waited in drunken excitement. The eccentric stylings of Deerhunter brought upon rainclouds, the fits of drizzles matching the tense audience reaction. As crowds watched, amazed and bewildered by the band’s steady, chugging drone, frontman Bradford Cox approached the crowd cautiously. He cajoled the audience, joking that he’d never played at a library before.
But with crowds packed like sardines at the Bridge Stage for the dual-headlining acts of CHVRCHES and the National, the night wasn’t lacking in anticipation.
The skyscraping pop of Scottish trio CHVRCHES competed with the enchanting glow of the Golden Gate skyline. Big hooks and even bigger synths drove the band’s ebullient, power pose-worthy anthems. Its triumphant tunes, however, belied the earnestness of the band itself.
“We were worried that the curse of San Francisco was actually going to get us,” CHVRCHES frontwoman Lauren Mayberry said as she approached the tail end of the set. Charming, relatable and confident, Mayberry was the perfect embodiment of CHVRCHES’ motivational poster paeans.
Based on the National’s fiery headlining set, labeling the Brooklyn-based band as “dad-rock” felt inappropriate. Kicking off with “Sea of Love,” the band jolted the crowd with a performance that belied its members’ older ages.
As he leapt off the staged and climbed past the barriers into the crowd, lead singer Matt Berninger — all tangled hair and unfussy charisma — revelled in the shared thrill of “Mr. November.” He high fived and shook hands with the adoring audience, president-style.
“I wish that I believed in fate. I wish I didn’t sleep so late,” goes the bridge of the disillusioned millennial dirge “Mr. November,” the penultimate song of the National’s festival-concluding performance.
Once droves of attendees packed onto the buses heading back to the San Francisco mainland, the lingering sense of reality embodied by “Mr. November” wafted over the crowd. Treasure Island was a momentary escape, an instant of youthful euphoria that would only return once the festival returned on the island.
— Joshua Bote
Contact Gautami Sharma at [email protected].
Contact Joshua Bote at [email protected].
Jason Chen is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected].