Gimme Indie Rock!

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

Now, many of the bands Noise Pop has hosted — Modest Mouse, Spoon, Bright Eyes — sell out Bay Area engagements on their own. But when Noise Pop started, indie rock didn't rule the roost, and locally it could barely pay the rent. Noise Pop was a community booster when the San Francisco music scene was hurting in the post-dot-com years, when musicians were leaving the city and were faced with the double whammy of high rents and high unemployment. "I think [that was] also a period, in the late '90s, when indie rock wasn't cool," says Kurland, "when it wasn't being celebrated on the scale anywhere near this."

Kurland notes that the scale of the Treasure Island music fest is beyond anything Noise Pop has ever done before — which has them a little on edge. He and Arnold worry that in San Francisco, you can never guarantee the weather. There's the fear that your headliner will flake out on you, or that when you have a big open space, it's harder to count exactly how many heads it will take to sell out the "venue." And then there's the issue of money — even with a 50/50 split with Another Planet.

"There's city fees," Arnold says, "and organizing buses to cart people over the bridge and doing ridiculous stuff like Ferris wheels" — at which point Arnold shoots Kurland a grin. Kurland jabs back, "I don't know who came up with that idea."

Yes, the Treasure Island fest will additionally feature a 70-foot Ferris wheel, insisted on by Kurland for "no real reason other than I just love the idea of looking out at Treasure Island and seeing a big Ferris wheel." (Of course, he adds, the fact that the 1939 Golden Gate International Exhibition hosted two Ferris wheels only "furthered our determination.")

Then Kurland gets serious — sort of. "I knew we were taking an inordinate risk doing this, especially for us because our business is really risk-free with Noise Pop," he says. "Some of this stuff we're just not going to get right. ... Like when the Ferris wheel gets stuck."

More than oiling the rides, however, the biggest Treasure Island concern on everyone's mind is transportation. When the month of September brings acts like Cat Power, New Pornographers, and Animal Collective to the city, why take a shuttle to an island when you can stick around town and hail a cab or jump on the Muni to see a show? Are two stages, one Ferris wheel, and mounds of recyclable forks going to be enough to pull fans to Treasure Island on a weekend when they can only get there by bus?

It's a clear August morning on Treasure Island, and the Great Lawn, as the 126,500-square-foot stretch of palm-tree-lined grass is called, offers a vista straight out of a film set. The Bay Bridge is a majestic rust-colored expanse directing your line of sight from the island's peak across the water and down the beveled San Francisco skyline, where the Coit Tower, the Ferry Building, and the Transamerica triangle jut skyward like cutouts from a pop-up book. Despite the fog clinging to Twin Peaks, the island is bathed in sunshine and the air smells slightly salty. Scoot your gaze farther to the right and the Golden Gate Bridge tucks into the green Marin hills.

"And look at Alcatraz," says Bryan Duquette, pointing at the former prison. "It's so close it looks like you can just drop a fishing line over there." Duquette and his co-worker Allen Scott are here to meet with Treasure Island authorities to discuss traffic congestion. But first we do a walkthrough of the future festival grounds, careful to step around the duck crap — a task that is especially precarious for Duquette, who, as usual, is wearing flip-flops.

Duquette and Allen are music industry pros employed by Another Planet Entertainment, the promotions firm run by Bill Graham vets Sherry Wasserman and Gregg Perloff. Perloff has worked on an impressive litany of concerts, from the Rolling Stones' 1981 tour to the WOMAD festival and Tibetan Freedom Concert in the '90s, and his company carries a lot of weight in this town.

Their shoes free of bird droppings, Scott and Duquette step into Treasure Island's hollow administration building, a cluster of offices with no lobby furniture and an affably sarcastic guard braiding her hair when we enter. We crouch on steps under an odd mural of seafaring life, and I ask Duquette what his biggest concerns are, a month out from the event. "Transportation," he answers immediately. "I'm going to kill myself."

Scott rubs his scruffy beard and adds, "I'm going to throw myself out of a moving bus. I think this is one of the reasons there hasn't been a festival out here before."

The weekend before, one of Duquette's co-workers was at Bimbo's, and Treasure Island concert congestion was apparently a common concern for club patrons who wanted to attend the festival. "It's a conversation piece, and it's people's focus, so we want to make sure we nail that this first year," says Duquette.

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