It’s an enlightening experience, attending your first music festival as a parent after a lifetime of untethered fandom. Turns out you have to plan things.
Do not improvise Baby’s debut festival, as my wife, Jenny, and I did Saturday when we took our toddler daughter, Liza, to the first day of Arroyo Seco Weekend, a two-day event featuring upscale food and drinks, and acts such as Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Alabama Shakes, Broken Social Scene, Roy Ayers and .
Pitched by AEG Presents-owned promoter Goldenvoice, which also produces the massive Music and Arts Festival, as a family-friendly Pasadena alternative, the event is the first since Goldenvoice signed a 10-year contract in 2015 with the Rose Bowl Operating Co., which manages the city-owned stadium.
Held on the twisting grounds of the Rose Bowl-adjacent Brookside Golf Club, Arroyo Seco went after more of neighborhood feel than that of a raucous music fest. Upon entering, guests were greeted by an archway riffing on the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture of Pasadena City Hall, but here done in the style of a parade float.
Adding to the domesticated feel were the mini-craftsman-style houses that dotted the grounds, which became the adopted homes for local breweries. Food was generally on the higher end of the spectrum (think $18 crab rolls) and one could take a break from the music to listen to a podcast from Paul Petrunia, founder of architecture and design site Archinect.
Arroyo Seco also featured a roster that led some to refer to it as a “dad rock” festival. That was partially true, though there were a lot of moms too. Marketed to a 30-and-up crowd no longer able or willing to abandon life and drop a few thousand bucks on Coachella, Arroyo Seco promised ease and convenience, and children 10 and under got in free.
While representatives for Goldenvoice declined to share attendance figures, Pasadena officials were said to be expecting somewhere in the range of 25,000 people, a far more modest figure than the 100,000-plus who flock to Coachella.
Early Saturday, attendees could sample the rootsy country rock of Jade Jackson, veteran bluesy bandleader John Mayall and longtime jazz ace Bennie Maupin. Arroyo Seco also delivered some multi-generational nostalgia, but even that was relatively genial, such as Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra quoting the score to “Jurassic Park.”
While there were thousands of child-free adults making split-second decisions of little consequence to anyone else, parents pushed strollers or tried to calm wandering, terrible 2-year-olds.
It was a fascinating experience, being challenged by life, but I know at least one mom who thought otherwise.
Asked whether she enjoyed the experience of taking her daughter to her first festival, Jenny was curt. “Not particularly. It was too hot.”
She added: “We needed a map.”
Yes, it’s true that most adults carried free festival maps, which were easy enough to find. But I’ve always preferred to do a quick lap or two across the grounds of a new festival to get my bearings. Wander. Absorb the vibe at each of the three stages — in this case, the Willow, the Oaks and the Sycamore.
Sooner or later, we’ll stumble across the area where the Kidspace Children’s Museum is housed, I said.
Turns out that is terrible idea when you’re three people with fair skin, one of whom is tired of being in her stroller and the other of whom is not a fan of either standing in the hot sun or being serenaded by Goldblum’s jazz outfit. You need to find shade and something to entertain the kid.
The Kidspace tent (and a cocktail) was that respite, one that we’d actually missed the first time we passed it. Inside, thank God, organizers had set up a so-called instrument petting zoo that was generating lots of chaotic sound.
Kidspace educator Daniel Ramirez, who was overseeing the tent, called the noise “a beautiful cacophony” and described the museum’s philosophy of hands-off, experiential learning. Lessons, Ramirez said, “need to be more open-ended and need to be more focused on inquiry.”
The sound of inquiry certainly rang. A girl clanged bells. Someone strummed a zither on a long table. Both a banjo and a bass were available for exploration. An electronic theremin whinnied and moaned. A boy on a drum kit raged.
As the din continued, festival-goers Melissa and Johnny Rundell were shoeless and hanging with their 10-month-old son, J.R., in the “Little Jammers” area of the tent. Since J.R. was born, the couple has been introducing him to “road trips, sporting events, music festivals. Anything we can do as a family, we bring him along,” said Melissa.
She added that she can get stressed about such big adventures but, pointing to her husband, “he helps me mellow out.” For his part, J.R. “is more go-with-the-flow. He’s gonna take a nap when he’s tired, and usually, it all works out.”
Liza and her mom left about 6 p.m. Freed from the shackles of fatherhood and fine with grabbing a Lyft home, I bought a beer and headed to see soul singer Charles Bradley.
The phone rang about a half hour later. Parking lot No. 7 was way bigger than it seemed when we first parked, and we hadn’t snapped a just-in-case reference photo to help jog Jenny’s memory.
Could I come out and help find the car?
In the background, Liza was screaming.
Someday, we’ll laugh about it.
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