Monterey Rocks # 21 Passion Pit revs up First City Festival

Passion Pit in 2008 | Creative Commons

By Joe Livernois

The bras started sproinging around the Monterey Fairgrounds stage when Michael Angelakos and Passion Pit found their way on the stage late on a Saturday evening in 2013.

By the 2010s, after all, Central Coast youth were sick to death of grandpa’s music. But that’s pretty much all the region attracted. I mean, really! Los Lobos? Again? And another Blues in the Park? You’re kidding me! 

Not only was the high cost of housing driving kids out of the area, but the music cultural scene never really got past the haze of Monterey Pop.

Fortunately, the California Roots Festival offers an alternative, and it often goes beyond the strict groove of reggae, ska and dancehall groove. And, for a brief couple of years earlier this decade, promoters of the First City Festival nabbed space at the Monterey Fairgrounds for the  sort of new music that attracted concert-goers under the age of 60.

The promoters promised two full days of indie rock, with 30 acts on three stages, craft beer and carnival rides. Two-day general admission tickets were sold for about  $150, and VIP tickets went for $279. The event attracted about 10,000 festival-goers each day, most of them traveling in from points outside the Central Coast.

It was a game effort, and the promoters employed the sort of philosophy and vibe that propelled the Monterey Pop Festival nearly 50 years earlier: book a bunch of new, smart musicians that are followed by young, smart music lovers. No oldies-but-goodies acts, which (for reasons that elude me) promoters always seem inclined to book when they try to recreate Monterey Pop or Woodstock.

Unfortunately, the promoters folded the tent on First City after the second year, in 2014. They  didn’t cite a reason, but observers noted that while the shows drew decent crowds and great critical reviews, they never sold out.

Pound for pound, the first year at First City might have been the most dynamic two days of music on the Monterey Fairgrounds stages since … well, you know when. Featured acts included Modest Mouse, Washed Out, MGMT, Beach House, Okkerville River, Father John Misty, Toro y Moi, Lucero and Purity Ring.

It’s difficult to pull out a favorite, but Mac McDonald thought that the Passion Pit performance to close out the first night on Aug. 24, 2013, was the clear favorite.

The band from Cambridge, Mass., formed around 2007 when frontman Michael Angelakos, a student at Emerson, was spotted doing a solo gig in Boston by Ian Hulquist, who was attending Berklee College of Music at the time. They formed the group and released their first EP the following year. A song off that EP, “Sleepyhead,” was used for a number of commercial purposes, including on LittleBigPlanet 2, a video game. Subsequent songs have been picked up for various commercials and films.

Angelakos is their frontman, with a unique falsetto, and the band’s primary songwriter. He is also the intended target of the bras that are flung onto the stage during Passion Pit shows. The band is known for its bouncy beat and its catchy riffs. And McDonald was impressed.

“Their performance in the main arena was stunning,” McDonald said, remembering the show in Monterey. As a music writer, McDonald has seen hundreds of rock performances on the Central Coast over the years, including countless numbers of acts booked at the fairgrounds. “I had never seen the main arena so amped up by one band before,” he said. “When they closed with ‘Take a Walk,’ the entire arena was jumping up and down, singing along at the top of their lungs.”

It was, McDonald says, “a breath-taking showcase for the power of live music to move people.”

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Joe Livernois

About Joe Livernois

Joe Livernois has been a reporter, editor and columnist in Monterey County for 35 years.

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