The three-day, multi-venue music and arts festival known as Heineken City Arts Fest successfully took over Seattle a few weeks back. The festival, in its second year, featured an excellent array of musical programming ranging from Blackalicious returning to Seattle to rare sets from Robyn and Ryan Adams.
Here are a few thoughts on my experiences with the 2011 edition of Heineken City Arts Fest, starting with the shows I was able to check out.
- While there were plenty of national names on the City Arts Fest bill, like every local music festival there were plenty of Seattle bands on the bill. The final night of City Arts Fest I made my way over to the Crocodile to see Kris Orlowski and Lemolo and both delivered excellent sets. Orlowski’s set was sparsely attended, mostly because he was the evening’s opener and his well-crafted, singer-songwriter guitar-pop sounded fantastic at the Crocodile.
- I had never seen Lemolo live prior to CAF so I was very excited to check out their beautiful and captivating music and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s easy to compare the duo to a band like Warpaint but that’s taking the simple way out. Their songs are fragile yet strong, delicate but also often times a little rough around the edges. Lemolo is a difficult band to categorize, which is a good thing, and they are definitely a band that must be experienced live to be fully appreciated.
- City Arts Fest’s buy-a-wristband-and-hope-you-get-in approach to a festival isn’t anything new, but it is new for Seattle. Unfortunately, this made it difficult to jump from show to show to see multiple bands and it forced me to rethink my approach to music festivals. Trying my traditional approach of bouncing between sets caused a problem when I left Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine at the Showbox to catch Pickwick at the Crocodile because when I got to the Croc I found out that Pickwick was sold out. The City Arts Fest organizers delivered the message of how the wristband access would work very well so missing Pickwick was my own fault, but it would’ve been nice to have a warning or some sort of sign to let me know that Pickwick was close to selling out. Hopefully next year organizers will have enough money to afford some sort of infrastructure to let festivalgoers know when a show is close to selling out. With Twitter, text messaging, email and other avenues of digital communication available it seems like something that can be easily done, costs permitting of course.
- A couple of new venues to the City Arts Fest fold made impressive debuts. The Fred Wildlife Refuge and Pacific Science Center’s Laser Dome hosted shows during the festival. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend events at either venues due conflicts involving other CAF shows (such is the curse of a music festival) but from what I was told both venues worked well for concert spaces. Hopefully next year there won’t as many conflicts.
- Quite a few local artists got big pushes at City Arts Fest but none got a bigger push than Allen Stone. The soul crooner sold out his show at the Triple Door, performed at the festival’s VIP opening party and filled in for Fences after that band canceled its headlining set at Neumos. Allen Stone made a big mark on City Arts Fest and it’s not a stretch to say you’ll see his stock continue to rise both locally and nationally in 2012.
With three-day wristbands for the festival selling out (they cost $69 and allowed access to any of the fest’s events as long as the venue wasn’t at capacity) and a top-notch lineup it’s difficult to not declare City Arts Fest a success. City Art Fest showed music fans in Seattle have enough financial wiggle room in their wallets to squeeze one more festival onto their calendars and if the Powers That Be over at City Arts keep bringing this level of quality music programming to their festival it will quickly become an event to rival Capitol Hill Block Party, Bumbershoot and the Northwest’s other music festival mainstays.