Arroyo Seco Transcends L.A.’s Festival Game With a Food-Centric, Family-Friendly Experience

The inaugural Arroyo Seco festival delivered over this past weekend with two days of music and food. While attendees indulged in the favorite musical acts some of L.A.’s favorite restaurants, including Redbird, Republique, Broken Spanish, Wolf, Sumo Dog, Union and more offered up top-tier culinary options. Gourmet food at festivals is not a new concept, in fact it’s now expected, but combined with park benches, little libraries, grassy knolls and family-friendly areas where live jazz by the likes of Roy Ayres and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band are the soundtrack, it felt more like a classy day in the park or wildly upscale picnic than a music festival.

For much of the festival, despite the aforementioned jazz and killer sets from Alabama Shakes, Broken Social Scene, the incredible Charles Bradley and much more, Arroyo Seco Weekend felt more like a food festival with live music than a music fest. Part of the success of Arroyo Seco Weekend is that it was whatever you wanted it to be. If you wanted to pig out, there was that; if you wanted to drink, there were craft beers, good wines and superior cocktails; if you wanted to chill by the jazz stages and feel like you were in a jazz club, no problem; if you wanted to picnic, there were benches; if you wanted to feel like you were at a concert, you could camp out at one of the three stages.

The indisputable headliner of the weekend was, as Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes put it to us, “a cool band from Florida called Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. For any young band that wants to understand the romance of being in a band, they’re exhibit A.” That romance reverberated throughout the weekend, even outside of Petty’s classic-filled Saturday night show, as the Shins—toward the end of a terrific set—ripped through a verse of “American Girl” the following evening.

Though the festival only featured two main stages, the acts consistently delivered throughout the weekend, whether Andrew Bird’s whistling, guitar and violin virtuosity, the tremendous raspy soul of Alabama Shakes or the near constant stream of funk and jam bands inside the fest’s only tent. It was a true family affair, both on stage—with little kid cameos during Jeff Goldblum’s movie trivia-filled jazz set and Broken Social Scene’s welcome return—and off as parents picnicked with their toddlers or brought them by a boisterous music-making tent from Kidspace.

It was whatever you wanted it to be, until 8:30pm on Saturday night, when Petty and his Heartbreakers took the stage as part of their year-long fortieth anniversary victory lap. At that point there was no denying this was less of a concert and more of a coronation of Arroyo Seco Weekend. It could have been the spine-tingling moment when Petty, playing conductor, led the tens of thousands of fans in singing along to a slowed-down version of the brilliant “Learning To Fly.” It could have been the sing-along of “Free Fallin’,” or the simply aching beauty of the gorgeous and sublime “Wildflowers.” It could have been the epic guitar duel between Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell on “It’s Good To Be King,” the frenetic raucous energy of the whole band on “Don’t Come Around Here No More” or Petty’s hilarious slow drawl on one refrain from the song. It could have been the majesty of the brilliantly profound and moving “Crawling Back To You.”

One trait Petty shares with all of the other above iconic artists is a versatility and eclecticism that, like the festival itself, enables fans to make whatever they want of the show. Whatever you wanted the Tom Petty set to be, guaranteed you left transformed and reminded that, at his best, Petty is right up there with the greats.

Another fan favorite was Weezer’s performance on Sunday night. Frontman Rivers Cuomo performed the group’s five numbers while wearing a white leather jacket, white jeans and a long red wig wrapped up with a bandanna, just like G N’ R star Axl Rose. He made no mention of the get-up, but it became clear the band was poking fun at the Paradise City rockers when guitarist Brian Bell hit the stage dressed as Slash, complete with black top hat and shades.

Weezer belted out their hits in the late afternoon sunshine at the end of a sweltering day at the Pasadena festival, which was headlined by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on Saturday and Mumford & Sons on Sunday. Arroyo Seco weekend closed off as a successful festival, leaving fans wanting more and excited for years to come.

Arroyo Seco took place June 24-25 at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium.