Dancing in the rain: Treasure Island Music Festival 2016

Crystal Zhong/Staff

Last weekend wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for Treasure Island Music Festival, its 10th anniversary and last year on the island. Instead of Coachella couture-style bralettes and sunhats, the best-dressed were adorned in flower crowns over ponchos and mud-soaked Wellies. Those who braved an outdoor musical festival during the first rainy weekend of the Bay Area fall are a tougher breed than the summer festival folk: In the absence of order and sensibility, these people were really, truly there for the music.

Even the most dedicated festival-goers tested their resolve when the sky opened up Saturday afternoon. After early sets from Kamaiyah, Honne, Sofi Tukker and Mura Masa, festival organizers announced that Young Thug’s 4:30 p.m. set would be pushed back an hour because of weather complications. But even an extended DJ set from the Polish Ambassador in an attempt to appease the masses couldn’t redeem the delay as a light drizzle quickly transformed into torrential downpour.

Madeline Wells/Staff

Festival attendees ended up waiting in the rain for hours with little information as to what was going on. Only the forced enthusiasm of Young Thug’s hypemen and a mid-rainstorm surprise second set from Kamaiyah could keep the masses moderately quelled. People began to flood out of the festival grounds in droves.

Those who somehow stuck it out finally got the music they were promised about 8 p.m. How To Dress Well, Glass Animals, Zhu and Ice Cube brought a second wind to the shivering, delirious crowd. Still, Duke Dumont and Flight Facilities cancelled their sets, turning what had been an EDM-heavy day into a disappointment for rage-ready ravers.

On Sunday, while still considerably drizzly, people learned to dance in the rain. Festival-goers were greeted with a hopeful apology first thing Sunday morning.“We plan to push through any weather-related issues today,” said a statement from the Treasure Island festival organizers. “Our team will make every effort possible to elevate the festival-going experience for all attendees.”

The Seattle-based Car Seat Headrest brought the first burst of energy to the Sunday crowd. Unassuming in a rumpled cardigan and thick-rimmed glasses, frontman Will Toledo broke through the mist. In set opener “Fill in the Blank,” his vocals cracked with frustration. “You have no right to be depressed,” he crooned. Later on, angsty, sprawling anthem “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” launched a cathartic sing-along in the rain. Determined moshers were undeterred by the mud; rather, the liquid sloshing in their boots only added to their punk-infused rage.

Sunday festival-goers truly began to get their money’s worth when Christine and the Queens appeared on the Bridge Stage. Bandleader Héloïse Letissier filled the stage with her goofy theatricality and fanciful dance routines. Mugging expressively to the crowd, she made her queer sensibilities clear from the jump. “The whole world feels really straight, doesn’t it?” Letissier bemoaned, face in an impish grin. “And I don’t.”

“The whole world feels really straight, doesn’t it? And I don’t.”

— Héloïse Letissier, of Christine and the Queens

Letissier never wavered in the warmth in her stage presence. As her dancers threw pre-cut flowers into the keen festival flock, Letissier revealed the reason for her ebullience. “Something wonderful happened to me last week,” she said. “RuPaul tweeted me!”

Not long after Christine and the Queens bounded off stage, who else appeared to personally orchestrate the Bridge Stage set change for Mac DeMarco’s performance but DeMarco himself? Mugging to the audience in an entirely more mocking way than Letissier, DeMarco picked up an abandoned flower from the previous set and unhurriedly tucked it in his shirt pocket.

When the band finally did take to the stage, it launched with a chuckle into opener “Salad Days.” Mac DeMarco and his band reveled in their own ironic glee. When one fan chucked a stuffed pony onstage, the whole band launched into a stand-up routine bit about the guitarist’s late pet pony Buckles’ “tragic car accident.” The show’s most sincere moment came with an unsurprising cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years,” as both DeMarco and his adrenalized guitarist shredded their guitars above their heads.

As evening cast over Treasure Island on Sunday, so too did the rain. After an elegant ambient post-rock main stage showing from Tycho, fans began waiting eagerly for James Blake. But in the meantime, the festival had a true treat in store: Sylvan Esso.


Madeline Wells/Staff

The synthpop duo’s rapport was immediately infectious. Singer Amelia Meath — bouncing around on the Tunnel stage in dangerously high platform boots — and producer Nick Sanborn turned the drizzle electric. Sensitive synths and complexly inflected vocals cast a purple glow over the crowd; everyone moved to shout odd lines like “my baby does the hanky-panky” with urgency. Mid-set, a school of white glowing jellyfish appeared in the crowd, seeming to throb in time with the bass. “What a perfect last show of the year,” beamed Meath, promising a new album the next time they came to San Francisco.

Festival-goers, wary from Saturday’s rainout, grew tense as concert screens announced an hour-long “wind delay” for Blake’s set. An hour passed, and the unsurprised but dejected crowd was informed that Blake’s set would indeed be canceled.

The air was let out of the Treasure Island balloon. Even through a strong, high-femme showing from Purity Ring, singer Megan James snaking through a jungle of delicate string lights, and a sunken and atmospheric performance by Sunday headliner Sigur Rós, festival attendees appeared let down.

The following day, Treasure Island organizers announced on Twitter that James Blake would be performing an impromptu set at the Fox Theater on Monday night with friend and producer Airhead opening. Treasure Island ticketholders received free admission, and non-ticketholders could still attend for a cheap $25.

An hour-long Sunday set turned into two hours Monday, and James Blake’s show became the unscripted, unofficial headliner of the weekend. With fewer than 24 hours notice, fans lined up early around the block at the Fox Theater, quickly flocking in at 8 p.m. and filling the ground floor to capacity.

When Blake and his band members entered onstage, the draw that Blake had for festival ticket sales became very clear. He was taken aback, vocalizing his awestruck gratitude too often to count.

Treasure Island Music Festival’s final year on the island might have felt like a bit of an unceremonious goodbye, but James Blake’s performance was its redemption.

He worked through a great deal of The Colour in Anything in his set, with enough room for early deep cuts, lengthy deconstructed instrumentals and slick dubstep dance breaks. The highlight of the jewel-filled set came at the end with his shimmering encore: performances of his famous Joni Mitchell cover “A Case of You” and the delicately looping “Measurements.”

Treasure Island Music Festival’s final year on the island might have felt like a bit of an unceremonious goodbye, but James Blake’s performance was its redemption. Again, that depends entirely on the ticketholders. “Not sure that I would do Treasure Island again,” said one man in the 19th Street BART station after Blake’s Monday show, clutching his vinyl copy of The Colour in Anything. “But this…”

Even past the question of what Treasure Island organizers’ obligations are to disgruntled festival-goers, the weekend revealed one key truth: Californians absolutely cannot handle the rain.


Justin Knight writes the Monday arts & entertainment column on building identity by consuming culture. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @jknightlion.

Contact Madeline Wells at [email protected]. Tweet her at @madwells22.