The first year is a time of uncertainty for any festival. What are the expectations from the audience? How will the organizers vision translate from blueprint to reality? How many people are gonna show up? Who's playing? Obviously that last question is usually the most important and in the case of the inaugural Outpost Fest, it was the key to everything else that transpired on the streets of Downtown SanTana on Saturday night.
Curated, co-organized and co-headlined by OC-faves Delta Spirit (mostly with the help of bassist Jon Jameson) the band were tasked with creating the lineup, the food and drink options as well as the vendors–the kind they would want to see if they bought a ticket to a festival. On Saturday, the event's vibe was decidedly clear: an OC indie rock bonanza with a pinch of nostalgia.
"Coming up next we've got Cold War Kids…wow it's like 2005 all over again," joked Delta's frontman Matt Vasquez in his white, wide-brimmed hat. Though it wasn't held in Costa Mesa, the event was a blatant recapturing of the heyday of Detroit Bar when both these bands would often play together and dominate our local scene before stepping into the big time. Judging by the large crowd that showed up at the end of the fest, it's still pretty much the case. It was also an era when Outpost's co-organizer Jon Reiser was heavily involved in OC's live music scene as an owner of Detroit. The lineup for the fest also included Blonde Redhead, Beach Fossils, Tijuana Panthers, Guards, and the Mynabirds.
The soul of the festival obviously relied on Delta Spirit bringing a rollicking set to the stage, which they did. Vasquez and his band roared through a solid mix of sturdy rock-n-roll with hints of blues and Americana on "Empty House," and "From Now On" from their 2014 release Into the Wide. The guitar-swinging passion of Will McLaren and Jameson were on full display as they spun and stumbled around the stage while keyboardist Kelly Winrich and drummer Brandon Young held the melodies and rhythms together. Inevitably Vasquez took brief pause to acknowledge the horrific violence in Paris that left over 129 people dead, many of which were attending the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan Theater. He dedicated the song "For My Enemy" to "our friends in Paris." It's a song about a soldier's story of giving into hatred he promised himself not to embrace, which he was reminded of in a letter from his mother. "Don't you fill your heart with hate, no matter what this world will take, our love must not be disgraced."
Drummer Joey Plummer of Cold War Kids also showed love for the City of Light with a simple "Paris" t-shirt as the band launched into its headlining set around 10 p.m. Lately the band are in the midst of a commercial and artistic revival thanks to the chart topping hit song "First." Still, they came out a bit flat in the beginning of their set on "Don't Let Your Love Grow Away From Me," but they rebounded quickly on the groovy stomp of "Hang Me Up to Dry," an old standard from their 2006 album Robbers and Cowards. The survey of their decade-long career hit high marks with "Miracle Mile," "Audience" and the piano-plunking classic "Hospital Beds" before ending with "Something's Not Right With Me."
Starting the day with some dreamy Americana pop from Lauren Burhenn and her band the Mynabirds, the crowd took it's time to warm up to the blonde, "Wildfire" songstress. People trickled in more steadily for NYC rock band Guards (featuring Richie Follin and Loren Humphrey of former OC band the Willowz) and the twangy surf rock of Long Beach's Tijuana Panthers.
As the sun went down over the festival's main arteries on Bush and N. 5th streets, Brooklyn band Beach Fossils were able to inject a bit more energy into the crowd with their relentless snare pounding garage rock that had enough of a punk edge to get people going in the center of the crowd. Blonde Red brought their seasoned hypnotic dream pop and plenty of fog to the stage as keyboard-guitarist Kazu Makino, lead guitarist Amedeo Pace and his brother/drummer Simon brought lots of emotional electricity to what often sounds like demure and wistful sonic art rock on record.
Using only one main stage and a simple, easily accessible layout, the point of the fest was to emphasize quality over quantity. Eight acts with DJ sets from DJ GMO, Turbotto and Andrew Miller sprinkled in between was the plan to keep the event focused on indie rock. Though at times the lull in between bands but most of the sets behind by about 20 minutes–still a minor quibble for a new festival. But really, it was more like going to one stage at a festival where you knew you wanted to park and hang out for a while. The vendor and food selections were a reflection of Downtown's newly gentrified atmosphere, with craft street food, leather and dry goods and band mercy clustered together for an easy shopping experience.
Festival goers took turns in front of a jumbo movie screen at the far end of food truck row enjoy a few minutes of a movie here and there while scarfing down sweet and savory Asian fusion tacos from Dos Chinos or a variety of upscale food offerings. They even brought in a slice of Universal Studios-style memorabilia by allowing people to take pictures with the bike from Pee Wee's Big Adventure and a glowing Back to the Future DeLorean.
Overall it was the perfect size event for people to navigate and enjoy without any pesky sound bleed from multiple stages. If there was one area where it was clear that more quantity needed, it was the port-o-potty area which had a line akin to something you'd find at the DMV at 2 p.m. on a Friday. But with as few noticeable hiccups as one could ask for at a first-year festival, it seems Outpost may look forward to a promising return if it so chooses.