>Those of us with festival experience – or should I say real festival experience – were wary about what to expect from the inaugural “All Points West Music and Arts Festival” in Jersey City, NJ. The venue was promising enough: Liberty State Park, the proverbial welcome mat for millions upon millions of immigrants during the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, has iconically timeless views of the Statue of Liberty and New York City skyline, which make up for what the park lacks in natural beauty (there are virtually no trees at all, and the grass runs from plentiful stabbing crabbiness to thin and balding). The “festival,” which did not involve any sort of camping option and had beer drinkers relegated to only five beers at three nonsensically placed tents from which no music could be seen or heard, was plagued by long transportation waits (the only viable options for 30,000 on each of the three days were the ferry from Manhattan or the Light Rail from Hoboken), and even longer entry lines of up to an hour once the more big-name bands started playing in the evening, giving the entire event the vibe of a crowded concert rather than a bustling festival.
Bands were given only one hour to play (plus or minus fifteen minutes), with a half-hour between acts for breaking down and setting up, which was more than enough time for the lower-tier of performers (see examples below). For the better bands (Radiohead aside, whose set ran for over two hours, but was still over in time for the early bird special at 11:00pm, whereas most festivals run until 3:00am), the set times were ludicrously short. Treating The Roots like an opening band by putting them on stage during the waning daylight hours of 7:15pm to 8:15pm is simply inappropriate. The Roots open for no one! They were barely warmed up by the end of the hour and seemed to have at least two more hours of performance left, since that’s what their normal shows entail. They are one of the premier musical performers on today’s scene and are widely accepted as the greatest live hip-hop band EVER. And All Points West relegated them to one hour, which led immediately into the 8:30pm Radiohead set. I was just as excited as anyone there to see Radiohead play, but making them the only band that plays for longer than one hour is just disrespectful to the other worthy acts. A more apt name for the APW would have been “Radiohead featuring the All Points West Music and Art Festival,” and not the other way around. They rightfully received top billing, but at the expense of a longer Roots performance. If acts were overlapping all day, as they are bound to do at festivals, why not give people the option of staying an extra hour with The Roots and cutting down the crowd for Radiohead? I still would’ve gone and paid homage to the musical gods, but many would have opted to stick with the kings of hip-hop.
Despite all of the unfestive logistical nightmares, the arts part of the “music and arts” festival was a smashing success. The tone that organizers were going for (AEG Live of Coachella and Rothbury fame) was one of environmental responsibility, a theme that I didn’t even know about until after the festival was over and Nate Chinen of the New York Times revealed that All Points West was “expressly full” of “environmental selling points.” All bitterness aside, that green goal, while virtually invisible and unpromoted, is what led to the relaxed and entertaining atmosphere inside the festival. There were water games and modern abstract sculptures galore, and before 5:00pm rolled around, when thousands of people started filing in, there was room to play frisbee and walk calmly from stage to stage. And it’s a good thing, because it was impossible not to want to wander.
The music was the most perplexing aspect of the entire affair. Saturday consisted of a few great acts (Radiohead, The Roots, Animal Collective, Sia) interspersed with a majority of mediocre-at-best artists (K’Naan, Nicole Atkins, Chromeo), which were all painfully bogged down by some that were simply unbearable (The Felice Brothers, Exit 105, Your Vegas). The former musicians were all saved for evening slots, which explains the mad rush to get in. The latter two groups, however, were arranged in ascending order by quality (because first is the worst), leaving that calm and pleasantly festivalish part of the day filled with lots of background music, but essentially devoid of any band truly worth sticking around for…hence my gratitude at the plethora of activities (frisbee, photography, art exploration, etc.) at my disposal. In true “festival” form, the pre-evening day was a lovely refuge from the usual hustle and bustle of living in or just outside of Manhattan.
Day and night at All Points West were polar opposites. They were like…well…like night and day. Once the front runners showed up — that is, those who paid $110 to go to a festival and just show up for the headliners — All Points West went South. Not musically, of course, because Radiohead and The Roots were in the line-up, but the calm, happy-go-luckiness of the first five hours vanished in a flash of Prada bags (did I just date myself, or are those still popular?) and Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses. Call me cynical (I am) or just plain bitter (I am NOT, you son of a bitch), but those New Yorkers turned my festival into a jam-packed concert, complete with requisite dirty looks, pushing, rubbing, yelling, and “fuck-off”s.
At other festivals, the crowds exude positivity (see my posts about Rothbury) and consideration for each other. Just by attending a festival together, all those in attendance foster a sense of community and belonging that only music can create. I did not find this at All Points West, and I would argue that any festival held in New York City (even via Jersey City) will be hard pressed to maintain that positivity. Most people who live in the greater New York area will counter that All Points West wasn’t like other festivals because Manhattan isn’t like any other city. I quite agree, but this time it wasn’t for the better.