Two minutes before the mishap, Forrest Day and his six-member army were nailing heavy funk into a sweaty, gyrating crowd at Mojito on North Beach's Grant Street. It was Day's second set at SF Weekly's inaugural All Shook Down Music Festival, and the band's supernatural energy had turned the club into a steambox. The crowd looked like tribal dancers on some nature channel TV show, as though some rhythmic power had taken possession of their limbs. Many looked as if they might expire of exhaustion — or transcendence — at any moment. But it wasn't the crowd we had to worry about.
"Do you know who this is?" a tall, bald guy in a denim jacket leaned over to ask. I told him. "I've never heard of him before!" he replied, eyes widening. "I've been in a few of the clubs around here today, and this is the best by far."
The man had a point. This fairly obscure funk-soul-hip-hop group — with a big white dude rhyming at light speed on the mike — was simply destroying expectations.
Onstage, Day was pouring sweat. "It's fucking hot in here, huh?" he yelled. The singer-rapper explained that his band had driven all night from Boise to play the festival — its fifth show in four days. That wasn't slowing them down.
But as the band reached the brim of another climax, and the crowd bowed and shook and withered, disaster struck: Day, the thick, black-T-shirted frontman, dropped. Fell. Crumbled. Hit the floor. In an instant.
The music kept going for a second — then it stopped. The crowd rushed forward to look.
Day had passed out midsong.
The metrics by which we measure music festivals are myriad and highly subjective. But by our stick, the inaugural All Shook Down Music Festival felt like a success. No one got seriously hurt (we'll pick up Day's story later). Several thousand fans wandered the historic streets of North Beach, encountering gems like Day among an eclectic mix of 31 top Bay Area artists from a wide variety of genres at eight clubs. (The groups were picked by music editors at SF Weekly and by a panel of experts on local music.) National acts Janelle Monae and Neon Indian threw down pulse-quickening performances on the main stage, as tourists gaped from buses rolling along Columbus Street.
I ducked into Columbus Café early in the afternoon to find it crammed with fans and the tall, hairy, perspiring figures of Oakland's Bare Wires, a garage-pop trio trimmed in long locks and a '70s vibe. Bare Wires deal in a frenetic, melodic, and friendly brand of garage-rock, with quick, agile songs about love and partying. Their set drove the audience closer to the band until those of us in front were staring mustached singer-guitarist Matthew Melton in the face. Bare Wires' music felt like a vehicle for some primitive rock 'n' roll energy. Their heated set was the epitome of a great small-venue show.
Janelle Monae and Neon Indian brought tremendous energy — and thousands of people — to the big stage during the middle of the day, with Monae bouncing along so hard to her futuristic soul-pop that she unraveled her robotic haircut. A single braid hung in front of her face through part of the show, reminding the audience that there was indeed a real person behind the immaculate performer. Neon Indian's thudding synth-psych later seemed to shake the neighborhood with its huge bass.
The party moved back into the clubs for the evening's performers: Boca Do Rio's Brazilian tunes, Tiny Television's warped Americana, Oakland Faders' ambling hip-hop, and, of course, Day, who threatened to steal the entire day's worth of memories later in the night with his ballsy funk and sizzling wordplay. The food booths and drunken hula hoop contests disappeared, but crowds still wandered the closed-off streets from club to packed club.
Inside Mojito at about 9:45 p.m., Day lay unconscious on the stage, hardly visible through the crowd after his collapse. A group of people rushed to him as audience members stared in shock. About a minute later, he got up, holding a cup of water. "Yo, you guys, I passed out," he said, wavering with the mike in his hand. "I'm not too drunk. I'm just very tired and really hot."
Day went outside to get some air, and his exhausted band called it a day. They, like so many other performers, had given a lot — even, for a moment, their frontman's consciousness — to help make the All Shook Down festival a success.