Gimme Indie Rock!

Local promoters take a big risk to give S.F. a music fest that will restore the city's cool cred

The patch of land could certainly use a little life — not to mention commerce. For all the recent signs that Treasure Island wants to become a "recreation destination," the former Navy base still looks like a 10-cent ghost town (with its "Great Lawn" lined by decrepit skeletons of buildings) with a 10-million-dollar view of the San Francisco skyline.

Part of the reason for this visual dichotomy is the contentious management history of the manmade island, which was built onto the north end of Yerba Buena Island in 1937 using gold-filled dirt (hence the name). The site went from hosting a grand-sounding Golden Gate International Exhibition between 1939 and 1940 featuring "hundreds of free outdoor shows and music festivals ... attract[ing] such world-famous performers as Irving Berlin and Judy Garland" to shipping out Navy personnel to, well, nothing particularly monumental until 1998's Blues & Art on the Bay Festival. And then nothing again until the upcoming Treasure Island Music Festival. As to why there haven't been more events on the island, Allen White, who worked with Blues & Art on the Bay, blames past mismanagement of Treasure Island. "The people who were operating Treasure Island put [Blues & Art organizers] through the wringer," he says. "They made life so difficult for them just to try and finalize things. People stopped playing with them and sort of backed off."

The current Treasure Island Development Authority is eager for outsiders to host events there, if its spokeswoman Marianne Mazzucco Thompson is any indication. At an August neighborhood meeting, where staff from Another Planet and Noise Pop almost outnumbered actual residents, Thompson enthused for the baby boomers in the room that the Treasure Island Music Festival is indeed an esteemed and exciting event. She recounted a recent meeting between her boss, Mirian Saez, and the mayor, in which Gavin Newsom not only knew of the bands playing the concert, but he also had many of their songs "already in his iPod!" Thompson announced, beaming.

The Treasure Island Music Festival was co-booked by Another Planet, but it expands on the Noise Pop model of pairing smaller acts with bigger names, and it keeps the capacity fairly intimate for an outdoor event (in contrast to its expected 10,000 people per day, the recent Summer of Love 40th Anniversary in Golden Gate Park drew an audience of 50,000).

"It's not like us to go out and do something with 30,000 or 40,000 people and get Kanye West and the Smashing Pumpkins playing," says Kurland. "We want people to still be able to walk around and trip over a passed-out [Modest Mouse frontman] Isaac Brock in the middle of the field, and to carry that same vibe as if you're going to see a show at - Traci VogelGreat American Music Hall."

Beyond simply championing community over commerce, Arnold and Kurland defy the Hollywood image of sleazy rock promoters. For one, they're both family men. The 38-year-old Arnold and his wife, Joanie, have two young daughters, Luxi and Niko; Kurland, 35, and his wife, Tara, have a cat named Stoli and a child on the way in four months. The two men are so close they're almost brothers, says Hari Berrier, who worked for Noise Pop from 2001 through 2005. "You see one get something and you're like, 'Oh, I wonder if the other person's going to get that,'" she adds.

They share eerily similar tastes: Both own a Prius (although Kurland says he got his first) and at a recent dinner at Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley they showed up wearing slip-on Converse sneakers; once seated, they independently settle on ordering the cioppino (although Kurland, once again, orders his first).

And, of course, they like a lot of the same music — but they have a special bond with the Who. During his senior year at a San Antonio, Texas high school, Arnold sang a duet of "Behind Blue Eyes" for his talent show; native Chicagoan Kurland, meanwhile, has been called a "Who savant" and proudly shows off a photo on his iPhone from the time he met his idol, Pete Townshend, at a festival in Ireland. He says that next to meeting his wife, "it was one of the best moments of my life."

Ben Gibbard, the frontman for Death Cab For Cutie, a band managed by Kurland, remembers the Townshend moment with a laugh. "The whole day in Dublin, Jordan can't fucking shut up about how excited he is to meet Pete Townshend. He's dragging us to record stores trying to find rare records or magazine covers he can get Pete to sign," Gibbard says. "It's kind of amazing to be in business with somebody who is a fan first and hasn't become jaded. I think when people hit their thirties they start taking for granted all the amazing things in their lives. You stop being like, 'This is fucking crazy that I get to do this.'"

Kurland and Arnold have spent the past decade-plus showing that same enthusiasm to the bands they cherish. For Kurland, that means seeking out music with an inherent intimacy in both the production of the records and in the modest-sized venues his favorite acts usually play; for Arnold, it's music that contains a "raw sincerity." And there's always been a local tag to Noise Pop, which generally aims for a 50/50 ratio of local to national bands.

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