Why Arroyo Seco Weekend is One of the Best Festivals in California

Festival behemoth AEG and Goldenvoice are at it again, but this time it’s the follow-up to their inaugural Arroyo Seco Weekend. A festival realized after years of negotiations with the city and citizens of Pasadena, that secured a 10-year deal at Brookside Golf Course, adjacent to the Rose Bowl. It’s a family forward music festival with free entry for kids under 10, a relaxed park setting, good grub and libations and a first year lineup that was more than just respectable, it had personality.

The first Arroyo Seco Weekend mixed big name headliners (Tom Petty and Mumford & Sons), fest friendly mid-tiers (Dawes, Alabama Shakes), some 90’s love (The Shins, Live), a hefty dose of New Orleans (The Meters, Galactic, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Revivalists), quite respectable jazz, soul and and blues (John Mayall, Charles Bradley, Bennie Maupin, Roy Ayers), and a number of indie newcomers. There was also a refreshing lack of EDM or rap/hip hop to the lineup. The price point was fair, and keeping the inaugural event to three stages and two days, was probably a pretty smart move, even more so with record breaking heat on that Sunday that felt more Coachella than DTLA proximate.

The Brookside setting made for a real Saturday in the park feel. Kids rolling down grassy hills, lots of shade and trees, picnic tables and hammocks never far. Just as easy to chill with a picnic and a soundtrack as it was to get close to the performances. With VIPers set off to the sides with their own bathrooms and food, and plenty of shade, GA ticket holders could get right up to the rail at both the big stages. Parking was easy to negotiate and a free pass was included with entry. Both were very nice touches. Water refill stations were abundant and bottled water only $2, which helped with the heat, and food lines were almost non-existent. Two big stages anchored the layout (Oaks with the closing headliners, and Sycamore at the other end), with a more intimate tent (Willow) somewhere in between. However, the Saturday was a mess for Petty’s set as no other stages competed with the headliner, and with blankets spread from edge to edge, circulation for the 25,000 fans got pretty nasty. Fortunately, adjustments were made for Sunday and the flow in and around the Oaks Stage was far more manageable.

Freshman fests inevitably have a few rookie kinks and I am curious how this year’s sophomore effort will stack up. ASW 2018 offers different pass options (including a VIP pass with different routing between stages) and larger standing only areas in front of the main stages. Stage times won’t be announced for a while, but as the event grows, it might be reasonable to offset headliners with performances at other stages.

Here’s the lineup that they’ve got coming for 2018…

All in all, well done Arroyo Seco Weekend and I’m looking forward to this year’s fest. While there were some glitches last year and a few areas needed improvement, this is a high quality, very relaxed fest with solid bookings and an authentic SoCal feel. Heck, last year’s Sunday Willow Tent lineup of Con Brio, David Lindley, Jamtown, Lettuce and Galactic was a fine day right there. And this year, I can’t think of any other fest west of the Mississippi where you could catch Neil Young and Pharaoh Sanders (look him up if you need to) on the same day. Throw in strong headliners, newish talent, bucolic surroundings, family friendliness with easy access, and ASW can proudly stake its name as the Los Angeles based music festival the region has long waited for and can look forward to for years to come.

Look back at our full photo gallery from Arroyo Seco Weekend 2017…