Five years on, San Diego’s electronic-heavy CRSSD Fest feels like what the Treasure Island Music Festival desperately wants to evolve into: an eminently manageable distillation of everything that makes weekend festivals so fun, without excessive branding. Now that South by Southwest has become almost as litigious as the Olympics in terms of policing unsanctioned events — and festivals more generally are accruing greater scrutiny in the wake of the Fyre debacle — it’s always wonderful to see a crowd of a few thousand people converge on a city park, have a good time, and treat it with respect.
The beer was good, the water was free, and the visuals projected on the 1936 Spanish Revival/W.P.A. County Administration Building in Waterfront Park lent a nice sense of place. Having three well-defined stages is shrewd, with the hard techno emanating from the central City Steps stage a pleasure to experience even in short bursts as you walk from A to B. Being held on the first weekend in March during a rainier-than-average winter was always risky, but the intermittent drizzle made the turf smell wonderful. In the end, the rain was light, nothing was canceled or postponed, and nobody got their shoes destroyed in the mud like what usually happens at Glastonbury. It was a success, with a good proportion of female or female-fronted acts, so here are the five finest moments.
Channel Tres’ Short but Impressive Set
Although the breakout sensation of 2019 performed for barely 25 minutes, Compton native Channel Tres was considerably better suited to CRSSD than to Oakland’s Fox Theater, where he opened for Robyn on Monday, Feb. 25. It was his stage to own, burning through “Top Down,” “Controller,” and “Jet Black,” and his backup dancers benefited from direct sunlight as opposed to a spotlight they couldn’t help but step outside of. He teased “Brilliant N*gga” again — and as it turns out, it’s now been officially released just as Channel Tres added more dates to his tour.
Maribou State feat. Holly Walker
The U.K.’s Maribou State would almost be a jam band but for their ongoing collaboration with the soulful vocalist Holly Walker. While their chill vibes fit the mid-afternoon phase hand-in-glove, it’s when Walker appears on stage for songs like “Steal” that they really hit critical mass. They’re already synthpop with heart, and she adds something special.
The Return of Lane 8
Dirtybird had a more-than-respectable contingent — Doc Martin, Catz ‘N Dogz, Justin Martin — play a triple set on Saturday, and Stephan Bodzin came down from his alpine aerie for 90 minutes that night to close things out. But Denver’s Lane 8 — who played CRSSD in 2017 and whose “This Never Happened” tour seems to have succeeded at getting people to abandon their phones to experience shows more fully — proved once again he’s a master at sensing the energy of a crowd. (Is RÜFÜS DU SOL’s nine-minute “Innerbloom,” which Lane 8 laid out once again, not the premier song of our times?)
Evangelical Protesters and Good Weather
It’s been a long time since this writer saw so many devoutly unhappy people coming out against deviance and evil, but there they were, holding signs near the festival entrance and warning people that the wages of sin is death. Sure guys, whatever. (It’s slightly obnoxious, but the sight of people taking selfies with sign-waving killjoys in the background never stops being funny.) While it’s unclear what exactly was animating these zealots, besides a generalized association of festival culture with debauchery, they were fundamentally harmless — and the joke was on them when a rainbow came out.
This might be a stretch, but you can feel the reach of Beyonce’s set at Coachella last year. The sheer magnitude of her theatricality has recalibrated festivals everywhere — and while almost no one else out there has her budget or ambition, the influence is palpable. Seattle indietronica duo ODESZA has been touring with a drum corps for a while now, but their closing set was notable for summoning all 15,000 CRSSD-goers to the Ocean View stage for a final sendoff. Truly a moment apart.