Created out of fill from the San Francisco Bay, Treasure Island was originally built to host the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, celebrating the completion of the world’s most famous bridge, our Golden Gate. Some say the island is named after a novel by long-time S.F. resident, Robert Lewis Stevenson, while others (i.e., T.I. festival organizers) claim the name is inspired by alleged trace amounts of gold found in the materials dredged for its construction. In any case, the island was seen as military gold during World War II when it was seized by the US Navy and utilized to house and process troops for battle in the Pacific.
In 2000, control of Treasure Island was returned to San Francisco, though its ownership remains under eminent domain with the Navy. Military housing bunkers have evolved into apartments for nearly 2000 civilian renters; and the city plans to fully develop the island by 2013—the first expansion S.F. has seen of its 49 square miles since the island was first scooped up in the early 40’s.
Capitalizing on the majestic beauty as well as the burgeoning emergence of the piece of man-made land, Another Planet Entertainment has hooked up with Noise Pop—the little, multi-venue S.F. festival that has rowed its proverbial boat around the city every winter for ump-teen years—to embark their united pirate ship for the first time by organizing the Treasure Island Festival. They have booked 26 bands to play over the course of two days to capacity crowds; and are about to seriously surprise themselves with their own success.
Noise Pop General Manager, Chris Appelgren, former head of Lookout! Records, is spotted walking through the amassing crowd on the morning of day one, and he looks determined, if not frazzled. “It’s a lot to handle. I mean, a LOT,” he tells us, and quickly gives a bat of the hand and runs off to his next task.
With a peering focus on environmental considerations, the festival asks that no one drive to the island, but rather take alternatively-fueled shuttles from S..F—which most attendees do. This also prevents hundreds of people from driving drunk half-way across the Bay Bridge to their respective homes. Further environmentally conscious efforts culminate in organizers offering biodegradable beer cups and offering prizes to people who gather and turn in these and other recyclables. Several environmentally related art displays have also been curated for the event. The ecological positive vibe is moving, to say the least.
The initial roll-out of the festival’s flawless planning strikes with surprise, as we find absolutely no holes in security in our attempts to access bands backstage or in the VIP area; but this mild annoyance turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as what will become a full capacity festival is perceivably drama free.
Organizers have employed two-stages so that one band sets up while another plays. There is one main stage and one side stage, each booked based on the expected draw of the bands; and the two days are segmented into a distinction of one electronic day and one indie rock day, which seems divisive at first—as many artists and groups blur those lines anyway; but it appears to have worked, proving by the number of attendees both days that tastes have developed right along with the evolution of music itself.
Weather conditions top off the day’s perfection as the traditional San Francisco morning fog layer burns off just in time for the first bands to take the stage. The majestic view of the city and its gilded bridge reveals itself, and a tangibly breathtaking energy develops across the gathering crowd.
Oakland locals Zion-I take the main stage and rip into an eight-ball’s worth of furious indie rap. Early-arrivers are awed by the speed of their flows and their enthusiastic utterance of “Fuck George Bush” as the duo pops it off until the lights go out—literally. An early glitch cuts the entire power supply for about five minutes, but this presents an opportunity for Z-I. They command the audience—much of which is spread out across the grounds on blankets—to gather closer. And they do. Z-I continues their performance un-phased and un-amplified, with an audience now totally engaged and giving up shout-backs on command. The electrical power is soon restored, but the uninterrupted power of Zion-I has magnetized its audience—a crowd that remains dense in front of the main stage for the remainder of the day.
Across the field, San Francisco’s Honeycut are assembled and ready. They bust off an electrifying set of eclectic electric funk-soul. Keyboardist RV Salters leaps higher than Michael Jordan while maintaining a relentless, ass-shaking control of his vintage Hohner Clavinet keyboard. Singer and showman, Bart Davenport belts out Stevie Wonder disco howls looking like the gaunt Ric Ocasic in classic Ray Bans, while Tony Sevner keeps the 8-bit electro beat live on an MPC drum machine. The crowd is mesmerized right up to the closer, a cover of “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life”—on which Davenport nails the rap bridge and provided harmonica backing.
Immediately following, Ghostland Observatory shells out an onslaught of Austin, Texas rock and roll and other stuff. A two piece consisting of a keyboardist in a floor-length baby blue cape, and a braided pig-tailed vocalist with the energy of a gun-toting postal worker, the set is riveting even for those completely unfamiliar with the band, belting out the best aspects of Bowie, Daft Punk and Iggy Pop combined. There’s no debate: these dudes have had their Sparks…
Kid Beyond takes his turn, stripping the instrumentation to its least with an entire set of beatbox. While this is an impressive ability, Kid is very intimidating on stage. He’s like the housemate that always makes you feel on edge. Like, you can’t even get baked and zone out to Gilligan’s Island cuz this motherfucker is sitting on the other couch watching you watch TV. Creepy, like if Henry Rollins was on speed and doing human beatbox.
As a comforting alternative, MIA gets her huge smile and hurricane of energy onto the main stage and kills it—despite a few sound issues that she doesn’t seem to notice and the crowd doesn’t seem concerned with. She rifles through crowd-pleasers and utilizes every inch of the stage for her entertaining antics, including a session of climbing 30 feet up one of the stage supports before becoming visually aware of her self-inflicted peril and quickly (and carefully) getting herself back to the solid ground of the semi-trailer-turned-festival-stage.
As the sun makes its descent toward the shining S.F. Bay, mix masters, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist roll out their set with a pre-recorded PSA-style tutorial on the seven-inch 45 RPM record—which is the only material they will use for tonight’s performance. Stage mounted remote control cameras capture the DJs’ techniques and display them on the backdrop screen as the sonic scientists display their wares, ending with a remix of Metalica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” mixed on a pair of portable 45 players worn with straps, which simulated a backpacks-worn-in-the-front style trend. They ended their set with a final PSA: “The party’s over. You’ve had too much to drink. You’ve been doing cocaine. If you think doing more cocaine is going to help you stay awake for the drive home, think again. Think again. Think again…”
In the ‘can’t follow that’ category, DJ duo Flosstradamus show off their mixing and matching skills with an onslaught of hipster-vibing wax classics, immediately garnering the biggest crowd of the day at the fest’s side stage. Having trudged off a bit early as to not miss a beat of Gotan Project, the vantage point of Flosstradamus’s crowd from the main stage area leaves the distinct feeling that a very important party is being missed.
As the sun sets perfectly centered behind the Golden Gate, Gotan Project takes what seems like an eternity to set up. The stage consists of a grand piano and a massive wall (behind which the DJs will perform). Both objects are covered in white canvas to act as a screen for projections. Finally the band emerges, all in white suits and dresses with maroon accessories. The sun is just about to kiss us goodbye as Gotan kicks off their melding of tango and electronica. After a long day, this is just the sonic massage everyone’s is in dire need of.
Day one closes with a signature serving of hip-hop-y, acid jazz-y ness from Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, AKA Thievery Corporation, bringing a runway entourage of guests, as TC is known for doing. This star-studded performance ends the first half of the festival, and revelers gaze up at star-studded sky that is normally obscured by the city lights as they file back to the dozens of shuttles waiting to return them from whence they came.
And The Next Day
Day two is daunting, given the exhaustion delivered by its predecessor. It’s tempting to head over a bit late, but Two Gallants are playing early, and missing them is simply foolish. The dynamic duo takes the stage to a roar of early birds and coolly sparks off a southern-bluesy rock thunderstorm. As if Thin Lizzy was from the panhandle of Texas, TG is a fire-side chat of a band, telling stories at just the right pace to keep attention, yet swelling with sound when a serious point needs to be made.
Finally, a band that really makes no impression: Street To Nowhere lives up to its name at the side stage. Honestly, the only more perfect description of this begged, borrowed and stolen tripe would be if the band renamed itself Null Set. Some things just have to be said.
In the ‘anything can follow that’ category, M Ward takes over and lays down a chill set of indie rock the way it used to be. It’s twee. It’s a bit shoe-gaze. It’s a bit space-jam. In fact, it’s a bit Grateful Dead (yikes). But after establishing himself in the band Rodriguez and making cameo appearances on albums by Beth Orton, Bright Eyes and Cat Power, M Ward can pretty much do as he pleases. Find your blanket, sit down and act accordingly.
Afterall, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is up next, and that’s a thrill! Except that they aren’t that much fun to watch… As expected, David Byrne summoning frontman Alec Ounsworth sounds just like David Byrne. He also, apparently, never opens his eyes. (What does his world look like??). A Williamsburg archetype in tight jeans and white Vice ‘Do’ sunglasses plays keys masturbatorilly—as they do; and CYHSY sounds exactly like CYHSY. But that’s good enough. As the low blood-sugar ‘Oprah hour’ of the day settles in on exhausted festival attendees, another opportunity to sit and listen is more than welcome. Not to mention, we can’t all be showmen.
Rested and ready to commence the jiggling, the crowd ebbs slowly toward the side stage where Devil Makes Three are assembling. As soon as Clap Hands get their hand-claps, they country blues explosion ignites their jiggy, twangy, folksy set, delivering the visible energy that has lacked for the last two hours. Facing the west as the sun drops toward the ocean, the finality of this festival is finally palpable, and a last wind of inspiration and participant energy is summoned.
Built To Spill brings notable focus from the crowd, and a line-up of band-leader Doug Martsch’s finest soldier. Classic BTS-ers, ‘the Bretts’ (guitarist Netson and bassist Nelson)—with drummer Scott Plouf—provide studio-sounding renditions of hits like “Time Trap,” “Strange” and “Car”, as well as a killer cover of Brian Eno’s “Third Uncle.” The audience energy is back, and shit’s about to blaze!
Martsch bids farewell to his audience, saying, “I guess Spoon’s up next,” but, in fact, Film School is already set up on the adjacent stage. Nonetheless, a good turnout corrals. The band takes the stage and introduces itself, “Hi. We’re Chopped Liver.” With dark ambition like theater lights setting for a classic film, Film School uncaps a twist of Jesus And Mary Chain/Church droning dreaminess. Chopped liver our nuts!
Spoon gives the crowd what they want, which for many is simply something to smoke weed to. Nonetheless, Frontman Britt Daniel is a natural entertainer—and admittedly easy on the eyes at his age. When he straps on the Bass, you know he’s got that showman in him.
Modest Mouse rounds out the night and the festival, performing with both ‘replacement’ drummer, Ben Weikel as well as the ‘once-replaced’ Jeremiah Green, and adding former guitarist for the Smiths, Johnny Marr where Dann Gulucci once stood. Along with a list of guests, the Mouse proves its staying power as a revolving door of a band; but this doesn’t necessarily infer instability. In fact, the band remains interesting both live and on studio recordings thanks to their willingness to constantly change it up. They roll easily through an hour and fifteen minutes worth of a set tonight, keeping an engaged crowd rocking to the 48th hour.
As the festival unwinds, there’s clear debris, but remarkably not what one would expect. Stumbling across Appelgren for a wrap, he’s looking relieved—even revived—and even seems a bit care-free. “We got one noise complaint from Telegraph Hill; but I think that was a hoax. I mean, it’s two miles away! Overall, it’s been great. We had a last minute surge in ticket sales and hit capacity. Everything’s been smooth.” Capacity, incidentally, is 10,000 tickets: a remarkable showing for this newbie of an event.
Security tells us that the show has been completely hitch-less. No one has been ejected, there have been no fights, and the whole event has unfolded with a sense of calm. This is coming from staffers who are trained to see trouble, and often do so where it’s not.
And thus, first time’s a charm for Treasure Island Fest; and given the buzz circulating in its wake, next year is probably going to be another success. Hopefully development of the island itself doesn’t swallow up the grounds, and this picturesque, majestic weekend will become an annual retreat.
photos: Jef Hoskins, except for Thievery Corportation by Erik Hoagland