Who knows what synesthesia is? Not me, until my 12-year old daughter used it in a text message. It went like this, Mom Cole texted “we are at the Music Tastes Good Festival,” Daughter Cole texts back “music has no taste unless you have synesthesia”….errr what is going on here? Well it appears that a lot of our family has this phenomena where numbers and days of the week are represented by colors. Synesthesia is basically where one sense triggers an association with another sense. In other words, in some people music can taste good. Mother Nature Network wrote a good article on the subject.
Luckily if you are not one of the estimated 4% of the population with synesthesia the second annual Music Tastes Good Festival in Long Beach, CA still provided a great time. The wife and I attended day one of the festival on October 1, 2017 and we hope this festival returns again in future years. Unfortunately, this may not happen as the festival seems to be haunted by tragedy. The first year of this event, in 2016, saw its founder Josh Fischel rushed to the hospital hours after the last act on Sunday. He died four days later. Luckily for us, his wife and friends carried on the event in his honor, the official name of the event was Josh Fischel’s Music Tastes Good.
We only attended on Saturday, day one of the two day event. Unfortunately, Sunday was a general day of tragedy in the music world as this was when the mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival occurred and also when Tom Petty had his fatal heart attack. Also one week before the event, Sunday’s scheduled second to last act, Charles Bradley died at the age of 68. Hopefully these tragic periphery events don’t sour organizers from putting on future versions of what was a pleasant and diverse event designed to please all ages.
The cost of a one-day ticket to the music portion of the festival was $75. For an additional $75 you could buy access to the food portion of the event. This gave you access to the Tasting Tent where chefs from New Orleans and Long Beach offered unlimited tasting samples and demos. We bought the music food combo and felt it was worth it because you got to sample a wide variety of exotic dishes. Of course, a picky eater might be better off sticking with the food truck options that were widely available throughout the festival.
Music Tastes Good offered a unique wristband based payment system. No cash or credit cards were accepted at the event and instead you added money to your wristband and scanned it wherever you wished to make a purchase. This actually worked quite well and it was really easy to add money to your wristband at various stations. By careful management, we were able to zero balance our account by the end of the concert. If you still had money left in your account it was credited back at the end of the festival but minus a hefty $5 processing fee.
Long Beach has a very nice downtown and the festival was located right on the waterfront by the Aquarium in Marina Green Park. Each day the festival ran from noon to 10 PM and to get our money’s worth we entered promptly at noon on Saturday. The crowd at this point was extremely light and each of the early artists’ set was limited to 20 to 30 minutes. There were two stages setup about 200 yards apart, with the middle section reserved for the Tasting Tent, craft and vendor booths. The Tasting Tent had its own schedule of events going on during the festival and you couldn’t hear the music from inside the tent.
We were hungry so our first stop was for food. The Tasting Tent included free samples from about eight chefs each day along with regular cooking demos from the chefs. Each chef offered a meat dish and a vegetarian dish. Throughout the day we only watched one demo, chef Luis Navarro making Mexican mole. Mole usually has nuts and with my severe nut allergies this is something we generally avoid. Chef Navarro’s mole definitely had a ton of nuts but it was fun to watch and has inspired us to make our own nut free version of pork mole verde.
Overall we tried every dish expect one. We simply couldn’t bring ourselves to try the veal sweetbreads with white bean hummus from chef Phil Pretty. The dishes we did try included lamb with a cinnamon braised cauliflower from Gus Sverkos, duck hot wing confit with hot cherry sauce from Wes Lieberher, two types of dumplings from Todd Pulsinelli, a blue crab and a vegetarian wild mushroom, and Baja kampuchi with a wild mushroom ceviche from Arthur Gonzales.
Surprisingly our favorite dish was a spicy cabbage salad with pig ears from Mason Hereford. You could opt to not do the pig ears, but we went whole hog so to speak and got adventuresome. Basically, the pig ear were just crunchy bits that you can not really tell apart from bacon bits or pork crackling. We came back to this dish many times throughout the day. There was also some specialty beverage vendors. Recreational Coffee, based in downtown Long Beach had a wonderful Ehtopia Koke iced coffee flavored with basil fruit. Salud Juice, also from Long Beach, offered a variety of cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices. All in all we would say that the Taste Tent was worth it assuming one is not a picky eater.
Of course, the music was the main attraction and the challenge at a festival like this is deciding which bands to see. Unlike other festivals with many stages, Music Tastes Good had only two performers going on at any one time. We ended up spending most of our time at the main stage where we were able to watch 5 complete performances. The full performance we saw on the second stage was Ledfloyd which consisted of a bunch of well-known rappers from the LA area (Pigeon John/Awol One and 2Mex). Not sure where the name came from but it had nothing to do with Led Zepplin or Pink Floyd. We noticed that 2Mex had an artificial leg and he made a comment about losing a lot of weight recently. So, of course, we had to look that up and it appears in 2016 he almost died from undiagnosed diabetes that resulted in having to get his leg amputated.
The great thing about these festivals is you can sample a wide range of music and get introduced to new bands. The lineup at Music Tastes Good was extremely diverse which works perfect for us. After Ledfloyd we headed back to the mainstage to see Juana Molina, an avant-garde experimental performer from Argentina. Molina was apparently a popular actress on comic sitcoms in Argentina until she launched her music career over 20 years ago in her mid-30s. She has been well received, especially among the NPR crowd who gave her 2017 album Halo a rave review. Her set did suffer from some technical difficulties but had some notable high points.
Listening to new bands you wouldn’t otherwise pay attention to is what a festival is all about. We would never go to see a 1980s new wave synth-pop band, but Heaven 17 was thoroughly enjoyable, complete with glammed up female backup singers and a version of the Righteous Brothers You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling. This was an English-based band we totally missed back in their heyday 30 years ago. Another English band we missed during their 1990s peak was Ride, the second to last act of the evening. Ride, along with My Bloody Valentine, helped create the “shoegazing” genre of music. Shoegazing refers to the band members’ tendency to stare down at their guitars while they played. This was because they used pedals and other techniques to create a fuzzy, distorted sound. They were not so much gazing at their shoes, but instead looking down to get their gear to produce the right distorted sound. Ride had just released their first album in 20 years so this was a reunion of sorts. Overall they sounded quite a but like Sonic Youth, which is a good thing.
In the really new category was the Canadian band Alvvays (pronounced always) led by female singer/guitarist Molly Rankin. Just several weeks before the show, Alvvays had released their second album, Antisocialites, to very strong reviews. The band has been described as being heavily influenced by Scottish band Teenage Fanclub and we would tend to agree. Once again that is a good thing in our book as Teenage Fanclub was one of the great 1990s songwriting pop bands.
One of the bands we were looking most forward to was Of Montreal. Unlike Alvvays, and despite the name, Of Montreal is not from Canada, but instead from music mecca Athens, Georgia. In their 20 year existence, Of Montreal has put out nearly 20 albums with the only constant being singer and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Barnes. However, for the festival the focus was entirely on playing one album in its entirety, the 2007 Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer (a 10th anniversary celebration). This album is a mini-opera that dealt with Barnes’ depression following the 2004 birth of his daughter and separation from his wife. Halfway through the album, Barnes transitions into the character Georgie Fruit, described by Barnes as a black man in his 40s who has gone through multiple sex changes. Supposedly Barnes was inspired by David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and performers like Prince (we had to look this all up).
Following the storyline of Hissing Fauna was not necessary to enjoying the music. Lines like “Come on mood shift, shift back to good again, Come on be a friend, Come on chemicals,” will ring in your head for days. Of Montreal is known for dressing in costume, but in this case only Barnes was dressed up in leggings, a mini-skirt and blonde wig. Fans of the band told us this was tame for them. Overall, Of Montreal had the second largest audience and was our second favorite performer. Of course, this is because no one could top Ween.
Headliner Ween took the stage close to 8:30 as darkness had fallen. One exciting thing about the main stage was it rotated 180 degrees. So while one performer was playing the next one would setup, the stage would rotate and the next band would start immediately. Ween came on right after Ride and by this time the crowd was out in full force. Ween is a band that is not widely known in the mainstream, but has had a loyal and rabid following since the early 1990s. The band is most noted for their juvenile since of humor but more impressive is their musical chops and wide range of styles. Lead singer/guitarist Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) is one of the most versatile vocalists around, while Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) is one of the best lead guitarists ever. This is a tight band that puts on an incredible live show.
One of the beauties of Ween as a live act is you will never hear the same set list twice. Of course, that means in many cases you might not hear your favorite song and at a music festival their set was abbreviated to an hour and a half. Nevertheless, we were pretty happy with the setlist that night which you can see here. A big surprise was when they closed with Fluffy, a relatively obscure song from their 1996 album 12 Golden Country Greats (in true Ween fashion it only had 10 songs). They ended at 10 PM on the dot with no encore because 10 was the Cinderella hour for the festival.
Overall Music Tastes Good was a wonderful event and we really hope it continues next year. The web site says “we’ll see you again in 2018” and lets keep our fingers crossed that is the case.