City Of Trees is Sacramento’s contribution to the music/art/food/culture festival stage. Its late-September date helps give the festival the feeling of one final party to end the summer. This year, the season faded away with a massive singalong to Blink-182’s anthems to a perpetual juvenilia as the American River breeze summoned fall’s first jacket weather. The explosion of smoke cannons and the streamers draping the Cal Expo Center’s stage made for a satisfying bang to end the Sunday gathering.
Hosted by Sacramento’s alternative rock station, RADIO 94-7, City Of Trees hosts an assortment of music across its four stages – including an electronic DJ platform and one dedicated to local artists, along with two larger stages sitting side by side in the Expo Center’s field, allowing bigger acts to alternate spots with minimal down time between them.
The setup was such that sound didn’t bleed from one location to the other, and the area around the electronic and local stages included festival staples of interactive graffiti walls, community yoga, hair braiding booths, plenty of food trucks, and a meditation tent … ironically located directly across from the DJs. But it was when the top-billed acts began to take the main stage in the late afternoon that the festival really got underway.
Bishop Briggs took the stage as the late afternoon heat settled. Her voice is a rumbling soul sound that can build to a shortness-of-breath inducing howl, sounding part black velvet, part bloodshot Southern revival. With only a single EP of material to draw from, Briggs prowled across the stage, singing over a punch of electronic minimalism, inviting the audience to sing along. And with the chorus of the crowd shouting in unison, Briggs’ unmistakably large smiles at the din was a contrast to the darkness in her delivery.
Leading the main stage pack was Dreamcar, a band comprised of a Gwen-less No Doubt playing instruments with AFI’s Davey Havok handling vocals. In the summer afternoon, the tall and empty slides of the adjacent waterpark overlooked the festival grounds like some type of cruel joke. Dreamcar combines shimmery keys and electropunk guitars, with vocals filtered through Havok’s flamboyant stage presence that is every bit animated as his AFI performances, though with much less jumping off of the amp stacks. Havok told the crowd that he once lived in Sacramento for a short time. Dual female backing vocals and a sporadically appearing saxophone made the band’s live sound more robust, as the musicians went on to play nearly every song off of their sole recorded album released earlier this year.
Aside from No Doubt having ruled the pop world world at one time, another band that seemed to own the airwaves was Fun. Former Fun. guitar player Jack Antonoff has since started his own project called Bleachers, and when he took the stage, backed by four other musicians, (each situated in front of multiple instruments), he without hesitation launched into what would be the highlight of the day’s musical acts. Whereas Antonoff’s music comes off as virtuosic and detail-obsessed, his stage persona is part energetic ringleader, part passionate perfectionist, using every gap in playing to try to whip the crowd into a frenzy with demands to get on each others’ shoulders. Bleachers’ set was a sonic quake that tore open the stadium and was unrelenting throughout.
At this point in the night, festival-caricature hops and LED flower crowns made their appearances on the stadium pitch. Iration took the energy level back down to a more sustainable place, the band’s groove-laden reggae a lull before the headline act – and clearly the crowd favorite – Blink-182 took the stage.
Following a string of popular radio hits – “What’s My Age Again,” “All The Small Things,” “The Rock Show,” “Dammit, I Miss You,” just to name a few – San Diego’s Blink-182 was one of the most recognizable and popular alternative/pop-punk bands in the nation. Anyone who has seen the band play knows the fart-joke banter between founding guitar player Tom DeLonge and bassist Mark Hoppus was a staple and highlight of the show. Following DeLonge leaving the band in 2015, Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba took over vocal and guitar duties. Well for their set, the chemistry seemed to be far more of going-through-the-motions than anything else. The banter was gone – one of the few attempts by Hoppus midway through their set was telling the crowd they had a few more songs for them, “You know why?… Contractual Obligations.” However, the band’s unentertained energy levels put the joking nature of this into question.
Regardless, Blink-182 clearly was most of the crowd came to see. And the smoke canons, along with the inflatable beach toys thrown into the crowd – blow-up alligators, emoji pool floats and inflatable swan tubes – added a ridiculous beach party vibe to the set. Drummer Travis Barker’s animated energy on his LED-lit drum kit may have been the best part of watching the band play. Though a set of old and new may have given a bit of a stuttering feel to the flow of the performance, the band capped off a 70-minute show with streamers and confetti shot into the air, the streamers promptly sticking to the stage scaffolding, forcing stage hands to try to pull it off while Hoppus skipped around the stage in his encore outfit consisting of a yellow furry suit of some unidentifiable animal.
At night’s end, the festival scorecard appeared something like this: the general admission section, which split the front of the main stage area with the VIP section, was without exception a far bigger party; Blink-182 musicians have since grown up and it has not treated their performances well but everyone seemed to love them regardless; outdoor festivals’ crowd response is directly proportionate to the bass levels of any given band or DJ; California luckily lives up to its fruits-and-nuts reputation and had some healthy food options mixed in with the deep-fried-everything food trucks; Bleachers’ set stole the show, having a daylong outdoor festival in the summer beside a closed water slide is torturous, and City Of Trees did an excellent job throwing the end-of-summer party.