Catalpa Music Festival: Randall’s Island 28-29 July 2012

The main reason that rtb, violaleeblue, and I bought tickets for the Catalpa Music Festival is that we wanted to encourage more music festivals in NYC. There hasn’t been one since All Points West in 2009 and that was in Liberty State Park, NJ. As far as the scheduled acts were concerned I wanted to see The Black Keys and Girl Talk. Snoop Dogg would be interesting because he’s not an act that I’d go to see on his own. But other than that there wasn’t anyone special I wanted to see.

The festival didn’t sell out, which wasn’t surprising since the tickets were $100 for each day. The weather didn’t help – it rained on and off all weekend. They pushed taking the ferry (assuring us that there would be a ferry every 10 minutes) but then only had one small ferry for both days. Getting there wasn’t too bad since the crowds were staggered. Coming back there was a very long wait since most everyone was leaving the island at once. Some people opted for the bus. The 103rd Street bridge closed at 9pm and I don’t think a lot of people wanted to walk across the Triboro RFK Bridge.

This was also the weekend of the Newport Folk Festival. On Saturday I was home listening to Newport online and rtb was watching the Olympics. violaleeblue was sick. rtb got the island about 4pm and I was there about 5pm. The festival had started at 1pm.

From the pier the weather did not look good.



It started raining very hard once I was on the ferry. It stopped by the time we docked at Randall’s Island and I met up with rtb. At one point we checked out the High Times stage, which was reggae all day. The Cannabis Cup Band were doing a tribute to Bob Marley.


Behind us was the silent disco.


Later rtb and I went to the disco. There’s a DJ and everyone is wearing headphones so if you aren’t wearing headphones you can’t hear the music. I was having a great time dancing and then the DJ went into this song that was all white noise and no beat and by the time the beats came in I wasn’t into it anymore. Something I’ve noticed about DJs nowadays – they don’t match beats and let the songs flow seamlessly into each other. Too often there’s an abrupt change from song to song. How do you dance to that?

While I waited on the long line for the bathroom I noticed everyone at the Silent Disco throwing their hands in the air and dancing happily. There must have been a better song playing.

Next we stopped off at the Jeep stage for Umphrey’s McGee, who violaleeblue had earlier described to us as Zappa/jam band. That pretty much says it all. And says why I didn’t care for them. We didn’t stay long.

There were only a few vendor tents – and they looked like they belonged at a jam bands festival. One selling weird art, another had t-shirts, and one with glass pipes. There was a glassblower so that was cool to watch for a while. The general store had sunglasses, earplugs, etc. There wasn’t any store selling band t-shirts or festival shirts, which I thought was very strange.

The food tents weren’t much better. Pizza. Falafel. Tacos. Vegetarian. At least I was able to get my root beer float. We also stopped in the Absolut tent where I had an okay Greyhound. From there we watched a bit of Hercules and Love Affair, a DJ, singer, and dancers.

We sat on a stone marker for TV on the Radio, close enough to see them but far enough away that the sound didn’t totally overwhelm us. One of the biggest problems was the sound. The two big tents (Catalpa and Jeep) were so loud that you could hear them everywhere. Getting close to a stage was murder on your ears. I’ve seen TV on the Radio before and I like them but I’m not crazy about them. They put on a good show albeit a very short show.


While we were sitting on the marker I noticed a bird fly by. Then again. I knew since it was dusk that it was possible it wasn’t a bird but I didn’t want to think about that. Then the bird flew by again and rtb made a face that confirmed for me that it was not a bird (she knows how I feel about bats). The bat came by again. Each time it seemed to be flying closer to us. It seemed extremely disturbed by the music. I thought I was doing a good job of staying calm until it flew by again and I jumped up and yelled, “That’s it!” and ran towards the stage.

It turned out to be TV on the Radio’s last song and now we had nothing to do. Another problem. There was supposed to be an inflatable church for mock weddings (that wasn’t up) and there were bars and Jeep had some kind of roller coaster thing going on that I wasn’t going near. Umphrey’s McGee were back for their second set and there was nothing to do for an hour until The Black Keys came on.

We went back to the High Times stage, which was now DJs. The DJs were supposed to have their own stage that was a tower with fire coming out of it (Arcadia) but the FDNY nixed that. Why you would wait until a few days before the concert to not make sure that was okay, I don’t know. So I’m not sure if some of the reggae acts got cut or some of the DJs or both.


The field had become a muddy mess. There was one particular mud lane down the center that ran the length of the field and if you got caught in it it was pretty disgusting. But at least it didn’t smell of goose guano like at APW.

We amused ourselves watching people nab the big flags that were planted throughout the field. One guy brought the flag to the High Times stage and a security guard marched (and I mean marched) him back to put the flag back in place. There was also one guy dancing by himself, who was having the best time ever and moving like he was auditioning for something.

The Black Keys rocked. They played new stuff, they played old stuff. Dan Auerbach (guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums) opened with Gus Seyffert (bass) and John Wood (keys, guitar) and then they went back to just the two and then the four again. They are just this great garage band/blues rock band that kills every time they perform. They ended with “I Got Mine” and the crowd was singing and dancing along with entire set. A highlight for me “Little Black Submarine,” which started out acoustic and then went very electric.

At the end (which I couldn’t capture on camera) a big lit up “The Black Keys” came up behind them.



The next day I felt even less inspired to go the festival. Again I was listening to the Newport Folk Festival on at home. violaleeblue got there early. It was beautiful while I was waiting for the LIRR.


By the time I got to the ferry it was raining. But there was still some sun and it was nicer than the day before. Here’s the UN, Empire State Building, and Chrysler Building.


And here’s the 59th Street Queensboro Ed Koch Bridge.


Once I got to the field, the sun was out and it stayed out the rest of the day.






I found violaleeblue and we talked and waited for rtb. violaleeblue had found a great spot under a tree and near enough to the main stage for a great view but far enough away that the sound wasn’t making our ears hurt.

Matt + Kim were on and they are an indie pop duo (Matt Johnson on keyboards and Kim Schifino on drums) who were very very excited to be there and I found them a bit too much and much too loud so I headed over to the High Times stage. There Karl Schwarz was just finishing up – singer on acoustic guitar. I played on the internet while Leon & the Peoples set up. This was original reggae/soul songs and they threw in one or two Marley covers. I admit I mostly listened to it as background music while I was online.




I met back up with violaleeblue and rtb (stopping on the way for a Phish taco) and waited for an act that I was very much looking forward to – Girl Talk, who is Gregg Michael Gillis. Gillis does mash-ups of rap, rock, metal, punk, dance, and soul songs. You can’t not dance once he takes the stage. It’s a huge set-up with video monitors. There are toilet paper guns fired at the audience. Confetti rains down. Balloons go up. Lights flash. But it’s all not gimmicky because it’s backed by one of the best DJs ever. Each song can have two to four or five songs in it and the beat is steady and strong. Even all those boys who tell their girlfriends they never dance were up and dancing. And best of all, it was loud without being LOUD.







The wait for Snoop Dogg Lion wasn’t that long. Girl Talk went over an hour and Snoop started a little early. The show started with a short blaxploitation film with Snoop as the lead gangster. There were several of these through the night. Snoop performed all of Doggystyle and gave a shout-out to those who weren’t there anymore. He had his regular stage props and after too many mentions of bitches and hos, I decided I’d had enough.


The wait for the ferry was 45 minutes. The only good thing was the ride was not as rough as the night before when the ferry felt overcrowded and we kept hitting what felt like speed bumps in the water.

There were two special sightings – one was a guy walking around in jeans and Hef robe. Not too unusual. The other was a woman in a regular shirt and underwear. Not the bikini bottoms of a bathing suit but underwear.

So it was a calm not very newsworthy festival as festivals go. But I do hope they (or someone) try again next year. I’d love to see a yearly festival in NYC.

By Carene Lydia Lopez