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Robert Plant, Jack White, and Alanis Morissette Remind Us of the Importance of Rock Music at Arroyo Seco Weekend

Arroyo Seco Weekend

Summer has officially arrived and that can only mean one thing: it’s festival season. Arroyo Seco Weekend returned to Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California for an unbelievable weekend of legendary music acts, expensive but good food, and green rolling hills – everything we love about music festivals.

Award-winning local Los Angeles restaurants lined the Brookside golf course and country club underneath a scorching sun. It was beautiful, hot, and the perfect few days to catch some of the biggest names in music. Robert Plant, Neil Young, Jack White, Alanis Morissette, the Pretenders, and Gary Clark Jr. – just to name a few – dropped in on the summer SoCal weekend and reminded everyone that guitar music and rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well.

Saturday, June 23rd, the festival opened with the likes of Dwight Twilley, who was in top form playing classic hits like “I’m On Fire” and “Girls.” North Mississippi Allstars brought out the dusty southern rock most suitable in Nashville bars with cheap beer present. They, like Gary Clark Jr. the following day, leaned heavily into long jam-band type hits – which the crowd deeply wanted. Gary, unlike the Allstars, brought out a raw bluesy realness with his guitar playing; he’s the type of artist you find yourself getting lost in and is always worth seeing.

Dwight Tilley

By the time the afternoon rolled around, it felt like half the festival had shown up to the Willow tent to see Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. Luckily, thousands of people weren’t disappointed. Despite the fact that his set was delayed due to a broken piano and a bit of general disorganization, Jeff satiated the crowd for a good 20 minutes with charisma, charm, and even a bit of Jurassic Park trivia. His performance, including the beginning delay, was unequivocally one of the festival’s highlights.

Jeff Goldblum

Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders took the mainstage as Belle and Sebastian prepared for this subdued but quietly pleasant set across the course. Hundreds of lawn chairs packed in to see Chrissie show off her hot pink blazer and graphic tee shirt that read, “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working.” They closed their set with the classic “Middle of the Road” and it felt like 1984 for a brief few minutes in Pasadena.

The Pretenders

Hours later, when the sun started playing with the idea of setting over the Rose Bowl, Jack White brought his black, white, and blue aesthetic to the main stage with nothing but style. Dressed in what appeared to be a faded blue prison suit getup, Jack tore through an unbearably rich discography of rock ‘n’ roll. In just over an hour, he unearthed cuts from all three of his solo records, the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and even the Dead Weather. He sat down at the drums for a funky version of “My Doorbell” and serenaded the crowd with a sweet rendition of “We’re Going to be Friends.” By the time he closed with “Seven Nation Army,” thousands upon thousands of people filled around the cage, all singing along with the chorus-less 20th century rock staple in one voice. Experimental tracks from his newest record, Boarding House Reach paired brilliantly with the barrage of hits; I wouldn’t have changed a moment of his perfect setlist.

The Revolution

Closing day one of Arroyo Seco Weekend was Neil Young and the Promise of the Real. Setting the tone for his set, Neil opened with a 20-minute jam of “Like an Inca” – a relatively deep cut song from 1982’s Trans record.Talk about not giving a damn and just playing rock ‘n’ roll. You could hear people sing “Down by the River” all the way out to the parking lots well after his set had ended.

The second day of Arroyo Seco Weekend pulled back no nostalgic punches with Prince’s band the Revolution, the Bangles, and Third Eye Blind taking over the afternoon and evening. The Revolution started the easy breezy Sunday off strong with beautiful performances of “America,” “When Doves Cry,” “1999,” and “I Would Die 4 U. In all honesty, when guitarist and now-band leader Wendy Melvoin began the first few notes of “Purple Rain,” it felt like Prince was still with us. The audience showed nothing but pure love for the mythic man in purple who was gone but not forgotten.

The Bangles

Other acts that brought back the best of the 80’s in a great way were the Bangles and Violent Femmes – both of which looked a bit different from how we remembered them, but still sounded great. Susanna Hoffs, still so cool and still so gorgeous, led the Bangles through hit after hit as “Blister in the Sun” echoed across the festival from the Femmes stage. Rarely do festivals provide such a stacked lineup of solid singalongs.

The highlight of the second day of Arroyo Seco for me, surprisingly, wasn’t even a headliner. While Robert Plant is obviously Robert freaking Plant and still a bonafide rock star through and through, and Kings of Leon have continued to sell millions of records despite releasing all their best material 10 or so years ago, I was personally astounded by the early evening set from Alanis Morissette. Having been aware but not overwhelmed by Jagged Little Pill as a pre-teen in the 90’s, Alanis Morissette had always been on my radar but not someone who spoke directly to me.

Now, approaching 30, Alanis very much is speaking my language – and clearly spoke the language of Arroyo Seco. Thousands of grown men and women felt no hesitation in scream singing along to “Hands Clean,” “Hand in My Pocket,” and “Ironic.” When she busted out her famed harmonica alongside her electric guitar, it felt like Bowie drew a lightning bolt down his face. The air was electric, the emotion were raw, and every single person in a mile radius sang along to “You Oughta Know.” Her set felt so special and the rest of the day seemed to float on by after her short but sweet set.

Alanis Morissette

With deep exhaustion setting in across Arroyo Seco, Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters reminded everyone what it means to love rock ‘n’ roll. In an age when rock music sales are down and major publications are questioning the necessity of live rock music, a living member of Led Zeppelin is out here performing “Going to California” and “Whole Lotta Love.” It sounds trite, but Robert Plant’s performance was important and very much needed. It was nostalgic and looking back, but it awakened memories of a time that’s very much not now. Rock music can’t and won’t ever die as long as performances like these stay fresh in all our memories, and Arroyo Seco Weekend reminded everyone of that.

Highlights: Jack White, Alanis Morissette, the Revolution, Robert Plant, Jeff Goldblum

Arroyo Seco Weekend Rating: 8/10


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