"Island Styles" - Exploring A Full Weekend of Music on Treasure Island

By Harrison Laver

Treasure Island Music Festival is something of an elated dream; a final homage to the blissful days of Summer as Fall opens its cool wings upon the Bay Area.  Being somewhat of its own entity in the festival world, Treasure Island is two days of music on two different stages, which lie just a short walk from one another.  Performances never overlap, so festival goers dont have to compromise seeing one band or DJ over another, which proved to be one of my favorite things about the event.

For those unaware, Treasure Island itself is a man-made area which extends off Yerba Buena island, located between San Francisco and Oakland. Smack in the middle of the Bay, it effectively marks the halfway point between "The Town" and "The City."  Finished in 1937, it became an active naval base from 1941 to 1991.  The area has since been the host of many events and film settings with its wide open grounds, military instillations, and abandoned buildings.  It is said that parts of the island were once heavily contaminated with radiation, so if you got an unfamiliar buzz while dancing to Deadmau5 over the weekend, you know what to blame. 

After a Saturday morning of seemingly indecisive weather, the Treasure Island music festival began at noon under a warm but cloud-suppressed sun.  It was the first day of the festival, which was dominated by electronic and hip-hop artists.  Flocks of people arrived by shuttle bus in their festival gear, ready to let loose on the T.I. grounds. 

Skylar Spence was the first to play.  His set began on the Bridge Stage, which was the larger of the two stages and had a fantastic view of the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline.  Almost every artist who played on the Bridge Stage made a comment on the beauty of the view.  Bob Moses followed on the Tunnel Stage, which was the smaller of the two and faced east onto the mysterious grounds of Treasure Island.  Crowd pleaser Viceroy was next, fully equipped with a Hawaiian shirt and a memorable man-bun and backed by a howling saxophonist. Meanwhile, Baio crafted a sweet set back on the Tunnel Stage.

Every artist so far was no doubt extremely talented, but it wasn’t until Gorgon City that I found myself in a trance of adoration.  The deep, consuming bass, topped with a swirl of synth and piano, then charged with powerful vocal harmonies was almost too much to witness.  They brought a strength to the stage that simply spoke for itself.  Live drums accompanied the group, and songs like Realand Imagination had the crowd love-drunk from from the vibes pouring off the stage. 

Run the Jewels was the next artist I saw, which came on with their wall of bassy hip-hop beats and tireless lyrical content.  The crowd was bouncing to the flurry of words.  They were aggressive for peace. Classic and original; reminiscent of their influences but facing the future.  Familiar beats like Oh My Darling and Blockbuster Night got the audience nodding their heads in a fit of filthy hip-hop rage.  

I spent the next couple hours walking the grounds with my group, sampling different food trucks, grooving in the silent disco, and re-energizing away from the booming stages.  It was then that I stepped out of my normal diet of Hawaiian pizza and chicken noodle soup to try a vegan dish: fried sweet-and-sour cauliflower.  It was surprisingly decent!  

At this point, Big Grams was up on the Tunnel Stage for a set of total magic.  Big Grams is the collaboration of Big Boi and Phantogram, which was evidently a match-made in heaven.  The sweet but haunting melodies of Phantograms Sarah Barthel complemented by the harmonies and raps of Big Boi (Antwon Patton) swept us tired souls into the clouds of the Bay Area night sky.  We never wanted it to end, but alas, it was time for Deadmau5 to take the main stage. 

As my friend predicted, it would be a good 10 minutes of suspenseful light shows and synth noises before the set would actually start.  But once it got going, Deadmau5, in the midst of his hexagonal neon cage, was doing what he does best: rocking the house.  It truly took me back to the days of 2008 when EDM was beginning to hit the ears of the masses.   His set contained nothing new, but classics like Ghosts and Stuff and Strobe will always be enough to make the crowd feverish with excitement. 

"Deerhunter" plays for a packed audience  on  the Tunnel Stage (photo by Harrison Laver)

Day two came swiftly, and although my group and I were late risers, we were stoked for another festival experience.  Upon entering the grounds, it was apparent that the vibes were different this day.  There were less neon bracelets colorizing the crowds, less go-go outfits, and the general feeling was morerock n roll.  Sunday was the day for bands of all kinds, and it was going to be a great one. 

Jose Gonzalez was the first artist of the day that I got to see thoroughly.  His songs were so rhythmic and mesmerizing; some of them almost felt like chants.  The nylon strings of his guitar and the soft touches of his backing band took the whole crowd to a new place.  The wisdom of his lyrics and music came from a truly special place in the human mind. 

Father John Misty was the next artist that I saw, and one that I was incredibly excited to see.  I had heard of frontman Joshua Tillmans awesome banter and wit onstage, so I had my whiskey prepared, my cigarettes out, and my ears ready to soak it all in.  I sometimes hear people say that rock 'n roll has lost its originality in contemporary bands, and I think Father John Misty is a great example that successfully proves this hypothesis false.  The band produces simple, painfully honest, homegrown songs with a uniqueness of sound and emotion. Bored in the USA was one of my favorite tunes, which is a political and personal ballad about the difficulties of modern day life in the US.

As The War on Drugs sent forth their dreamy yet driving tunes upon the audience, it became apparent just how much the crowd had changed from the day prior.  This crowd was quieter, as if submersed in a haze after Saturdays non-stop party.  But it was comforting and peaceful to see so many people so relaxed, taking occasional breaks from the music to glance out upon the looming fog that hung above the building tops in San Francisco.  

Deerhunter played the smaller stage around 6:45pm.  Mist was blowing in sideways upon the audience as they began their first song, which was Desire Lines.  Frontman Bradford Cox had an issue with his guitar and had to swap with a backup, but nonetheless the tune was powerful and enthralling.  As the fog crept closer to Treasure Island, they played an appropriate song called Breaker, with the words I just drive, and then the fog rolls in.  Deerhunter went way above the expectations and, seemingly effortlessly, brought upon the perfect Sunday sound for the halcyon crowd. 

It was officially Sunday evening and people were beginning to feel the weight of the impending work week.  But our worries were momentarily swept away for the set of Chvrches.  Lead singer Lauren Mayberry had the perfect vocal touch for the sweet synth-pop beats of Ian Cook and Martin Doherty.  Mayberry spun around the stage, wooing the adoring crowd with every ultra-catchy melodic line.  Truly an exceptional act. 

Panda Bear also provided an amazing set and The National closed the weekend wonderfully, playing professional indie rock of the first degree.  Hits like Graceless and Dont Swallow the Cap were just the right touches to seal the deal on an incredible weekend. 

In sum, Treasure Island was the perfect entrance into the introspective days of Fall; a metaphorical kicking of the fallen leaves; a reminder that there are still festivals that do not boast absurd attendance numbers and ticket costs; a placid break from the weary weeks of the 9 to 5 to experience the joy of people and music. For that I say, thank you Treasure Island. 

"The little music festival that could..." (photo by Harrison Laver)