Let me start out by saying I am not a big music festival person. I prefer small venues and intimate crowds, but festivals do offer the chance to see a lot of great bands at once, so when I heard about the Be The Riottt! festival, I thought I would check it out. The manifesto (yes, even large music festivals get to have their own manifesto these days) stated that they were trying to create "a quality culture expo," which would feature "the most cohesive representation of music, street fashion, and art in the nation." This sounded like an interesting idea, if not a somewhat lofty goal, and it made me curious to see how it would be executed.
I had never been to the Bill Graham Civic Center, but knew from the words "civic center" alone what kind of a large format venue to expect. There were roughly thirty acts spread out over three stages, so being the nerd I am, I printed out and brought a copy of the set list from the website, which made it much easier to navigate the giant space that is the Bill Graham. I arrived around 4:30 and I immediately made my way up to the balcony of the main room to sit and catch the last few songs of the Wrens' set. I was glad I did. They were so excited to be there you couldn't help but get a little excited yourself. It was a great way to start out the evening.
I have never seen more white girls awkwardly trying to keep rhythm than during the Zion I set.”
Zion I took the stage next and I have to say that they were probably my favorite act to perform on the main stage, and not only because one of my less sober friends stood up and shouted "It's Nelly!" when The Grouch took the stage. The lyrics were fluid and the beats were all live. As I was watching from the balcony, I had a chance to really study the crowd as well as the performers. I have never seen more white girls awkwardly trying to keep rhythm than during the Zion I set (not that my white girl head bob is anything metronomic, mind you). I also found myself entranced for a moment by the movements of one of the crowds' more lively dancers, though I am not sure if it was his dance moves or his neon orange hoodie that caught my attention.
Let me pause here to make a few comments about the fashion at Be The Riottt. Outside of about six girls who were inexplicably dressed alike in matching screen-printed hoodies, I saw no evidence of the street fashion mentioned in the festival's manifesto. Perhaps the reference to fashion was meant to infer that of the concertgoers, and not some more organized display. Speaking of fashion and the concert goers, I saw everything from knee high knitted moccasins (on a guy) to a woman dressed like the missing member of Jefferson Airplane. In general, the fashion was one of three choices - hip-hop head, hipster of all varieties, and a few extreme fashion risk-takers, pretty common faire for a large music event. Also, the amount of boots I saw was staggering. Apparently I didn't get the memo, but it seems that footwear that conjures up images of Pocahontas or some kind of futuristic pirate are all the rage these days.
By far the biggest draw and crowd pleaser on that stage was The Presets.
Returning to the music, I spent most of my time in the "indie room." By far the biggest draw and crowd pleaser on that stage was The Presets. People were going absolutely crazy for them, especially the younger girls in the crowd. Between one girl running on stage and hugging lead singer Julian Hamilton, and another girl practically knocking over the stage barrier while trying to perform her sexiest dance moves, I had a hard time remembering that it was not 1984 and I was not at a White Snake concert. Luckily, the Presets music took care of that, and soon I had forgotten all the chaos that was going on around me and danced my ass off. I'm a sucker for electro pop, especially when done well, and these guys do it well.
I also caught Asobi Seksu's set in the smaller room. I had never heard of them before that evening and was grateful to have caught their set, which concluded with a great cover of "Then He Kissed Me" that perfectly blended pop with noise rock.
Deerhoof was the last band to play in that room and they put on a solid performance. They are one of those bands that I have heard nothing but good things about and have been on my mental list of "bands I must check out," so I was excited to get the chance to finally do just that, and they did not disappoint. Both noisy and abruptly silent, they had a certain disjointedness that I found extremely appealing.
As a result of staying mainly in one room, I missed a lot of the acts that were playing in the other two, which is too bad because my friends who caught Busdriver said that they had an amazing set.
Overall, the Be The Riottt festival was a fun event, and a good first effort from the promoters. I don't know that they lived up to the goal of cultural expo, but they definitely exposed me to some bands that I may not have been exposed to otherwise, and there was a free photo booth in the VIP room. You can always win me over with a photo booth, especially if it's free.
By Jessica Zak