The Fresh & Onlys, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Dominant Legs, La Sera, Sea of Bees, Mwahaha
Phono Del Sol Festival
July 21, 2012
Potrero Del Sol Park
Better than: Your average crowded, overpriced outdoor festival.
Phono Del Sol Festival is such an eminently charming summer event, it's both a mandate and a shame to tout it here. A mandate because there's no doubt this was the best place to wile away an unseasonably warm Saturday in July, with lovely sunshine-y people, smart, summery rock, fresh food truck'd grub, and the family-friendly ambiance of Potrero Del Sol Park. And a shame because while there was plenty of elbow room, we're sure more people will attend next year and, well, it would suck if there was TOO much of a crowd.
A joint venture between John Vanderslice's Tiny Telephone recording studios (many of the festival's acts have tracked records there), local music blog The Bay Bridged and maybe a couple corporate sponsors (free Vitamin Water!), this felt like a truly San Franciscan event. It was the anti-Outside Lands: low-key, reasonably priced, and homegrown. Tickets were a mere $7-10 sliding scale, and, as mentioned above, there were no lines getting in, or crowds within, though a celebratory quorum was maintained. These stats bear repeating because this type of outdoor festival is so often done wrong, transmuting a fun day of music and sun into a stressful, cattle-driving experience in your struggle to stay hydrated, use restrooms, and oh yeah, be entertained.
Phono Del Sol thankfully breathed: hip young Missionites sunned in the beer garden and ate boutique burgers in the shade, families frolicked on the playground and on the cool grass, and apropos of none of the above, the totally bitchin' skate park at stage left was in full swing, filled with 'boarders and BMX-ers alike, showing off for anyone who cared to watch. People were just hanging out, and it was, well, nice.
And, oh right, there were bands. Really good ones, in fact, and totally appropriate for the day what with their sunny dispositions, and upbeat -- though not saccharine--sounds. It's just that, well, it was kind of a secondary aspect of the afternoon. There was no enraptured segment of the audience, and frankly the vibe from the stage was extremely mild on charisma, albeit heavy on talent. This wasn't a bad thing. The bands seemed really into being the background music for this large outdoor party. As MC Broke-Ass Stuart pointed out, San Franciscans have a duty to enjoy warmth and sunshine when it comes in such abundant unqualified doses. Lord knows that S.F. crowds are not known for their rapt attention at concerts, and will kick and squirm to maintain their right to "hang out," and "Hey man, I'm talking to my buddy here; what, there's a show?!" Put everyone in a literal playground with young pretty things bedecked in their summer finest and, well, it's hard to make the show the focus. Everyone accepted their role as "the entertainment" with grace and panache, though, turning in lovely sets that may not have won too many converts but certainly associated their sounds with quite a bit of joy.
Mwahaha opened the afternoon with some fairly sophisticated, synth-inflected dance rock that was quite a bit better than the group's early slot suggested. Sea of Bees (being the project of golden-voiced Julia Ann Bee) set the stage for the kind of charming lush pop that would fill our ears as the afternoon sun pleasantly roasted on. La Sera (the project of Vivian Girls' Katy Goodman) continued in this vein with a slightly less personal and more garage-y feel. Dominant Legs brought back the dance vibe from earlier, and graciously accepted that no matter how hard they rocked, no one was, in fact, going to dance.
Gardens & Villa were the first of the three psyche-infused art rock bands to close the afternoon, bringing an austere tinge of darkness to the proceedings -- a totally welcome dynamic. Unknown Mortal Orchestra may have been our favorite performance of the day, with an eccentric charisma that attracted flies of attention in that good way. Probably the weirdest and most infectious and yet perhaps the poppiest act on the bill. The Fresh & Onlys closed out to the peak amount of attendees with their lush cinematic psych-rock, somehow elegantly encompassing all the disparate rivulets of skewed rock presented before them.
The audience at Potrero Del Sol Park left spent, roasted, and full, still with a few hours of sunlight to kill and more than a few smiles on their faces. Phono Del Sol is an eminently well-run and simply entertaining experience that we'll will be more than glad to return to next year.
Seen and heard:
Two boys, about 10 years old, daring each other to sit on a skateboard and hit the ramps. "Don't be a scaredy-cat!" (They both did it.)
The mysterious interception by the Nestle Quik bunny by the admissions stand. In the words of one choco milk recipient, "nothing beats lukewarm milk on a hot day."
Broke-Ass Stuart dropping an F-bomb on the all-ages crowd (s'cool--everyone seemed too chill to mind).