Smallness is the main selling point of Treasure Island Music Festival. No, really. If you went to the enormously popular Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this year, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Actual sightlines, copious elbow room, and a set-up that actually feels — to use a cliché — “intimate.” Two days, two stages, 26 acts, 15,000-person capacity, and the possibility of seeing every performance. To founders Jordan Kurland and Kevin Arnold, and their partner company Another Planet Entertainment, that’s well worth the price of admission.
Kurland calls it a “boutique” festival format. “It’s the same way you’d look at a boutique store,” he explained. “There’s a big difference between that and Macy’s — you’re not going to have the same cross-section of artists, but it’s really well-curated.” That, and the idea of dividing the event into a “rock” day and a “dance” day, has been the basis of Treasure Island’s formula from the jump. Apparently, it’s served the festival organizers well, given that they’ve thrived for four years.
The fifth edition, which happens this weekend, will star Australian electronic duo Empire of the Sun on Saturday, preceded by fellow Aussies Cut Copy and a surprisingly varied cast of supporting acts: Chromeo, Flying Lotus, Brit grime rapper Dizzee Rascal, Portuguese dance band Buraka Som Sistema, soul baritone Aloe Blacc, and synthy San Francisco rock trio Geographer. There’s no glittering, traffic-stopping headliner in the vein of M.I.A. or Belle and Sebastian, but the lineup shows good taste and a fairly broad palette on behalf of the event producers. More importantly, it opens up space for simple, old-fashioned nostalgia music right in the middle of what would otherwise be an orgy of strobes and laptops.
Then there’s the Sunday rock show, which, Kurland admits, is geared more toward people who evaluate the lineup before going in. Washington alt-rock band Death Cab for Cutie headlines. Also on the lineup: Texas band Explosions in the Sky, known for putting on a wonderfully cathartic and visually arresting show, making good on its name. Kurland said he purposefully put the band on second-to-last, so they’d play right as the sun went down.
From his perspective, Treasure Island is a commercial music festival that doubles as an arts primer. The art and craft exhibitions and culinary programming serve to create a multidisciplinary experience for all who attend. There’s even a Ferris wheel.