The Inaugural Catalpa Festival in New York | Review & Photos

Article Contributed by andrew_stclair | Published on Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Festivals are always welcome in the NYC area that don't involve traveling to New Jersey (All Points West), electronic dance music (Electric Zoo) or taking a crowded ferry (Governors Ball, HARD Fest, Rock The Bells). So, it's a shame that NYC was not as receptive to the inaugural year of Catalpa, which was held in the convenient location of Randall's Island. According to the NYTimes, Frisky, the organizer of Catalpa was expecting around 15,000 attendees on day one of the fest. But, by the looks of it, it I'd be surprised, if it reached half of that.

Pouring rain may have a factor. Or, maybe it was the fact that the headliner for day one have seemingly played every festival in the United States this year (If you haven't seen the Black Keys in 2012, you most likely never will). But most likely the main reason was the very high admission fee.

The biggest issue was the lineup. A solid one, if slightly lackluster. Yes, Umphrey's McGee jammed through two sets (It's been almost a year since their last NYC show), Matt & Kim played their first show of 2012 and Girl Talk (hasn't played in the area in at least a year). The Big Pink made a live return after a hiatus. But, as a whole, it wasn't as special as it could have been. And not nearly worth the $100 per day asking price. In comparison, Lollapalooza charges up to $230 for a 3 day pass and 8 stages.

Not counting the rain and weak attendance, the festival had additional problems. The Fire Department didn't approve the construction for the 'Arcadia' stage, which was to be dedicated to EDM/House music. Unfortunately, The organizers didn't communicate with the attendees that the stage no longer existed, nor was anyone informed that the displaced Arcadia artists were now sharing space on the High Times stage, where reggae artists played throughout the day.

But enough about Caltapa's problems. Let's talk about the music.

Best of Show: Snoop Dogg

Mr. Dogg (now Lion, if you are keeping with current events) has been performing his landmark G-funk album, Doggystyle off and on for the last couple of years. It's always a crowd pleaser and the chill, yet charismatic Snoop Dogg performs flawlessly. Shockingly, Snoop took to the stage on time. The set, which is littered with video skits featuring Snoop & Dr. Dre, that replace the skits that appear on the album. The crowd was at it's largest during Snoop and was the fest's biggest draw.

Runner-Up: Zola Jesus

But even though Nika Roza Danilova (who performs under the moniker, Zola Jesus) performed on the larger of the two stages, it felt surprisingly intimate. And while it poured rain through her entire set, she proclaimed to the crowd, "You guys must really like music." Eventually, she also joined the audience in the mud from the earlier rain.

I Guess I Should Talk About: Umphrey's McGee

I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of Phish or DMB. Crunchy jam bands are not my cup of tea. However, I do like pro rock and found Umphrey's McGee to be be quite enjoyable. They played 2 sets about to about 1000 people. Most of which seemed to be at Catalpa specifically for the band.

The Best of the Rest: TV On The Radio, The Big Pink, The Demos, The Black Keys, Matt & Kim, Cold War Kids, Girl Talk

Honorable Mention: Bury Me A Lion

It can be tough performing the opening spot on the biggest stage at a festival while there are less than 100 people in attendance. But they brought enough energy to fill two Catalpa fests.

The Bad: A$AP Rocky

A$AP Rocky made an appearance, only after the 24 other members of the A$AP Mob took the stage. Okay, there aren't that many members, but it sure seems like a lot. None of which are anywhere near as talented as Rocky. It was a mess.

The Boring: AraabMuzik

Admittedly, the dude is pretty talented, but watching a guy behind a table banging on an MPC drum machine for an hour without any visuals to complement the very rapid melodies. You can't even really dance to it either. It's just really impressive that he can create such rapid-fire like beats. But it's nothing to look at.

Why you want to go next year (if there is a next year): Location, location, location: Catalpa was located on Randall's Island, which is super convenient to get to. Take a subway to 125th street and an MTA shuttle bus awaits, which cost $5.50 for a round trip. There was an optional ferry ride, but with only one dropoff location on the east side of Manhattan, it wasn't worth the $20 per round trip. And since the pickup/drop off was all the way on the east side, you would most likely have to take a train or bus to get there. Save your money and skip the ferry. The island itself is a nice little getaway the hustle and bustle of the city.

So, even if Catalpa wasn't a financial success, it was a memorable experience to the attendees. Hopefully, Frisky can work out the kinks and come back better and stronger next year.

On a side note, Catalpa's weekend marked the 3rd anniversary of my very first writing/photo assignment not only for The Grateful Web, but my first anywhere. It started my music photography journey and I'm very 'Grateful'.

Check out more Catalpa photos from Saturday and Sunday.