Inaugural Sunstock Solar Festival shines brightly

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Allah-Las at Sunstock Solar Festival (Photo by Jordan Kleinman)
Allah-Las at Sunstock Solar Festival (Photo by Jordan Kleinman)

In the most raucous (and comedic) moment of Saturday’s inaugural Sunstock Solar Festival, second-billed Wavves was introduced with an extra word in their band name. “I guess we are THE Wavves now,” Nathan Williams told the fired-up crowd, “throw your trash somewhere …” The audience responded by tossing informational brochures and empty water bottles at the band.

Fans then stormed the barrier and engulfed the photo pit as Wavves, appropriately, blasted into “Sail Into the Sun.” The ruckus was quelled by the end of the song only to be re-ignited when the band played “Idiot,” as more security arrived to try to hold back another rush as Wavves tore through a rambunctious set that ended with “Green Eyes.”

It all made for real festival moments for the first-year event, held on the lawn south of the Autry Museum and powered by solar energy. Sunstock, the brainchild of Skylar Funk of the indie-rock band Trapdoor Social, attracted a crowd of more than 2,000, with a total of eight bands and community partners driving home the message of sustainability.

For the most part, the event went off without a hitch — even the effects of the summer’s first heat wave were mitigated by an abundance of cold beverages.

Among the most memorable sets came when Kaki King took the stage, diverting attention from herself and toward her custom guitar projections. She captivated the audience immediately with her mesmerizing style on “Anthropomorph.” No words were necessary to communicate the emotion of her pieces. The crowd had not been as enchanted at any point the whole day. Playing a suspended acoustic guitar in open tuning, King wielded a mastery most indie guitarists could only experience in wet dreams. Much of the set was comprised from 2015’s, “The Neck Is A Bridge to the Body,” for which a multimedia show was created, and the projected imagery underscored how her performance was music-centric. The instrument — an object responsible for taking listeners to another place — had now evolved into a multi-faceted device capable of doing both audibly and visually. It was an experience about the music, not her, an admirable approach. The images told the stories lyrics could only begin to describe. King’s only comment during the performance was to thank the mostly seated crowd, who also responded with their first noise since she began.

The festival grounds were dressed appropriately for the inaugural event. Geometric structures and dangling illuminated glitter strings spruced up the already picturesque location. There were plenty of informational booths, food trucks and craft tables — many free options available — which kept the attention of attendees between sets.

As the evening progressed, slow changeovers pushed back start times, eventually resulting in headliners Cults taking the stage around midnight — which proved OK considering the band’s duality of heavy and smooth. They closed out the festival with a set for the lovers. As singer Madeline Follin sweetly put it: “We want to see you kiss!” Starting with “Always Forever,” Cults’ set showcased their elegant take on pop, and featured plenty of instrument changes, maintaining the interest of the audience. The set was accompanied by a geometric light show, which seemed to react with the music. Fans were particularly enthused when the band played “Go Outside” to close out their set. Chants for “one more” would have to wait until next year.

Earlier, Allah-Las felt like the exception to the surf-cliché of today’s scene. The introduction of an auxiliary percussionist and keyboard/pedal slide to the audience made the group perfect for the golden sundown, as attendees began to get up from their blankets and form a proper festival crowd at the front. Flowing between songs without a fuss, the band sedated the crowd with their groovy tunes. Things really got moving when the band broke into “Sandy” off their self-titled debut album.

Trapdoor Social opened their set with a heavenly instrumental fade in kicking into their powerfully epic alt-rock set. Singer/multi-instrumentalist (and festival organizer) Funk took a moment to preface a song as one for “those out there that are concerned about the future of our planet, but feel disheartened by what you see, hang in there, we need to be engaged.” Of course, the new song “Sunshine” was prefaced by “in honor of our power sources,” and slated as an upcoming single, the track is heavy-hitting and filled with five-part harmonies. And on the final song, Funk played tenor sax and danced around the media section.

The Big Pink emphasized the “big” in their name. Opening with an adrenaline-charged “noise-off,” each member took to their respective instruments to create a harmonious cacophony. The embodiment of “cool,” (especially with their British accents), the quartet blasted into a set comprised of music off their last two albums. Of course, fans were treated to favorites “Dominos,” “Stay Gold” and “Hightimes.”

Gateway Drugs endured the intensity of the sun as they started took off with their rollicking gothic blues, only for an amp to malfunction. After it was quickly replaced, the quartet chugged unfazed through the rest of their set, which was dreamy, jammy and heavy. Kicking off the afternoon was Yoya, pumping through a set of feel-good anthems.

Overall, the festival’s relaxed security made for a good vibe; the sound quality and strength were more than adequate for a venue of its size; and the lack of a noise curfew was a major plus for festival organizers and attendees. The crowd, though, had a tendency of plopping down in the back half of the field, while only a percentage of attendees (which included families with small children) flocked to where the music was taking place. Still, for a $20 ticket, the first Sunstock foreshadowed greater things — and cast a light on a worthy movement.