For a region renowned for its temperate climate and picturesque scenery, the Bay Area has a surprising dearth of outdoor music festivals. Sure, there’s open-air amphitheaters (Shoreline, Sleep Train, the Greek), and civic-sponsored summer concerts, but no Coachella, no Pitchfork, no Vice. In short, there’s no excuse for the most salivated-over indie-minded bands to converge on the bay.
Until now. The organizers of Noise Pop, the annual indie fest and undoubtedly the only rock-oriented event big enough to actually draw in people from outside the region, decided back in the late ’90s that the bay needed its own massive outdoor fling. But it wasn’t until 2006 that Noise Pop had enough staff to consider pulling off such a feat. After a thorough search for venues (Pier 30/32, Golden Gate Park, Jerry Garcia Amphitheater), Treasure Island came up as an option. It was an obvious hell-yes. “I can’t believe how many people haven’t been there,” said Noise Pop’s Jordan Kurland. “It’s such an amazing view.”
Hence the Treasure Island Music Festival, which could well become one of those if-you’re-anybody-you-better-be-there events. This weekend’s two-day affair features an impressive debut lineup. Thanks to co-organizers Another Planet Entertainment, the fest has secured heavyweights including Thievery Corporation, Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, and DJ Shadow. Coincidentally, the two days turned out to be rather sound-specific — Saturday will illuminate the electro and danceworthy (M.I.A., Ghostland Observatory, Gotan Project), while Sunday (Spoon, Clap Your Heads Say Yeah) hovers closer to the indie-rock sounds that reflect Noise Pop’s past reputation.
It’s a lineup you could only pull off in the Bay Area, says Allen Scott, vice president of Another Planet. “DJ Shadow and Thievery Corporation came out in the late ’90s when that scene in San Francisco was the strongest scene,” he says. “Now it’s more the indie-rock scene. … So the Saturday is not a lineup you could do in many cities around the country. It’s very unique to the Bay Area, where some people around the country might scratch their head.”
True to Noise Pop’s style, the Treasure Island event aims to be intimate by booking fourteen acts and selling only ten thousand tickets per day. There’s also no shortage of homegrown talent. Zion-I, Kid Beyond, Honeycut, Street to Nowhere, Trainwreck Riders, Film School, and Two Gallants are among the locals performing. “It’s always been about the Bay Area music scene and the Bay Area music fans,” Kurland says.
If anything, the event reflects Noise Pop’s ever-expanding empire. No longer just an annual week-long event, Noise Pop now includes sponsored film and video screenings, readings, and shows year-round. Its latest endeavor is Talking Music, a series of discussions that started this week featuring Ben Gibbard, Bob Mould, and others, presented by City Arts & Lectures at the Herbst Theatre.
Those expanding horizons infiltrated the Treasure Island fest, too. In addition to music, there’ll be art installations, performance artists (stilt walkers, hula hoopers, skaters, puppetry), a vintage videogame arcade, a sixty-foot Ferris wheel, body airbrushing, treasure hunts, a “vendor village,” and a bunch of nonprofit booths and “eco awareness exhibits.”
Kurland promises other things, too, but won’t reveal what: “Either it’s a secret or I can’t remember what they are,” he says.
Turning the island’s grassy bayside knoll into a fully equipped venue wasn’t easy. There were issues with power, phone lines, DSL, fencing, and bathrooms to accommodate the masses. Transportation was the greatest challenge, since only people with VIP passes can park out there. The solution: Fifty zero-emission buses shuttling attendees for free from the parking lot at AT&T Park, aka Giants Stadium. Organizers even were able to score a designated lane on the Bay Bridge for the merry brigade. (East Bay folks won’t have it quite so easy, alas.)
It all seems rather ambitious, but Kurland says Noise Pop’s goal is just to continue to do things that people like. He cites SFJAZZ, which started with a festival, then included a spring season and classes. “Not that indie rock will ever have the same status as jazz,” he corrects. “But as our audience gets older and has a little more money, the idea of having a membership base or something like that comes into focus.”