First City, First Rate

In the hierarchy of California summer music festivals, Monterey’s First City Festival still isn’t getting any respect.

Best Coast loves the Central Coast
Best Coast loves the Central Coast

Maybe it’s still too young to be taken seriously. This is only the second annual FCF, but these County Fairgrounds are no stranger to music festivals. And just about every mainstage performer made reference to that fact. “First City” for a reason. Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast was excited to tell her dad that she was playing on the same stage as Jimi Hendrix. She also said she was retiring to Monterey. Next week.

It was also widely suggested that much of the Bay Area was headed to the Nevada desert this past weekend for Burning Man. Or, at least, trying to get to Burning Man. Muddy flats and 100-degree sandstorms sound fun, but it was t-shirt & jeans weather all day long, all weekend, in Monterey.

photo 2 (1)
Blind Pilot

Maybe the number of performers wasn’t on-par with other festivals, but what percentage of bands appearing at Coachella or Outside Lands do you actually get to see? Or was there a problem with the headliners? I don’t care how many times you’ve seen Beck; he always puts on a great show, and he knows how to make a crowd happy (only two songs from his latest snoozer of an album). And The National was fantastic.

Or maybe there were some intangibles I had overlooked. On Sunday, sitting down in the shade by the Vaudeville Stage with my crab garlic fries, two college-age girls sat down next to us and talked to each other about the weekend. At one point, one of them said to the other, “This is probably the worst summer festival.”

My ears perked up. An explanation as to why it hadn’t come close to selling out? Why I never had to wait even ten seconds to use a restroom, or to order a beer? Why I had vantages during virtually every set that made the VIP section jealous?

“I mean, I got so much free stuff at Outside Lands. And here there’s like… nothing to buy here.” The other girl concurred: “I know. I can’t believe they don’t even have a comedy tent.”

Then they had to make plans for the rest of the day. Who are we seeing tonight? “I don’t know. Cults? Aren’t they like really old?”


If they missed out on Cults, they missed out on the best performance of the weekend. They would have also missed out on Brian Oblivion telling the crowd, in all earnestness, that this was “the most peaceful and beautiful festival” he’d ever been to. And in addition to killing it with their own material, they blew me away with a cover of The Motels’ “Total Control.” If you’ve read any of this blog, you know I’m partial to covers. It’s not just a way of sharing music with a band, but a way of sharing a love of music as well. You also know I’m a big fan of that song. The experience was sublime, and the night and weekend could have peaked right there and it would have been a perfect sendoff. But, like I said, The National was fantastic.

Mr. Little Jeans was fun and adorable (“This is my first festival!”). Tokyo Police Club found a way to keep the fervor of the early-aughts alive. San Fermin showed off an impressive horn section. CocoRosie was schizophrenically dynamic. Blind Pilot came out of nowhere (literally; great fog machine action) to land among my new favorite bands. Geographer basked in the adoration of multiple people competing for biggest-fan honors. And the bits and pieces I caught from folks like Tanlines, Quilt, Speedy Ortiz, Lake Street Dive, Phantogram, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., and Future Islands were pretty great too.

this was meant to be a selling point, I'm sure
this was meant to be a selling point, I’m sure

I didn’t give a shit that there wasn’t a PayPal booth giving away plastic sunglasses. And so what if Patrick Stewart wasn’t there, or the cast of some HBOnly sitcom. We had a great time, and between the tables of used vinyl and the free carnival rides, found plenty of ways to amuse ourselves when not leaning against a fence, downstage left.

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