Arroyo Seco Weekend, Day 1: Tom Petty (and human traffic) jams

Tom Petty at Arroyo Seco Weekend, June 24, 2017. Photo by Samantha Saturday
Tom Petty at Arroyo Seco Weekend (Photo by Samantha Saturday)

There was some literal truth in one of the dozens of sing-alongs during Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ set Saturday night at Arroyo Seco Weekend: “Everybody has to fight to be free.”

If by “fight,” the 66-year-old rocker meant 1) trip over somebody’s lawn chair, 2) become entangled in somebody’s blanket, or 3) accidentally kick a baby stroller, then, yes, enjoying the main-stage performance at the first-year festival was a monumental battle. Real estate was an issue; the viewing area for the two main stages were the fairways for holes No. 15 and 16 on Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena. They looked plenty big at 4 p.m., but by the time the big acts went on, negotiating them was treacherous, owing to festival rules that allowed fans to come equipped for a picnic.

“I’ve always said the fairways on this damn course weren’t wide enough,” wisecracked a Pasadena native who’d played golf here before.

The congestion and post-set pedestrian traffic jams threw a wrinkle in an otherwise glorious debut for Arroyo Seco, highlighted by Petty’s crowd-pleasing set, electric turns by the (original) Meters and Broken Social Scene on the second stage, the soulful tour de force of Brittany Howard and Alabama Shakes, and the hilarity/musicality of jazz cat/actor Jeff Goldblum, fronting Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra.

||| Photos by Samantha Saturday

Day 1 of the festival, staged by promoting giant Goldenvoice (Coachella, FYF Fest, etc.), played out on an afternoon when temperatures were in the mid-80s and throughout an idyllic evening. Few festival veterans even squawked about the humidity, because … well, at 3 p.m. Saturday, it was 115 degrees in Indio.

Here’s how the day went:

12:15 p.m. — Early-birds arrive under merciful cloud cover; lawn chairs, blankets and kids in tow. Children younger than 10 got in free, and one dad is toting a lad with a formidable bright blue Mohawk. And we thought Pasadena was just known for blue-haired, old ladies.

12:55 p.m. — Arroyo Seco Weekend has played well to the foodies. At the risk of getting too comfortable, we opt for the lobster mac & cheese ($15 for a small bowl). At one of the Kidspace Museum’s installations, children are visiting an “instrument petting zoo.”

1:35 p.m. — In the Willows Tent, singer-pianist Avery*Sunshine is spreading some sweet soul music during a set that would end in a medley including an Al Green cover.

1:55 p.m. — The pride of Santa Margarita, Calif., in San Luis Obispo County, country-rocker Jade Jackson opens the main Oaks Stage with an impressive turn featuring songs from her just-released album “Gilded” (produced by Mike Ness of Social Distortion). Sweet but gritty, dirty but pretty. If September’s Ohana Festival in Dana Point in your future, make time to see her.

2:25 p.m. — Golf jokes are in vogue. A group of bros yell, “Forrrrrre!” as they walk between stages.

2:35 p.m. — It was equally impressive at the other end of the festival, where Haley (fka Haley Bonar) rocks and cracks wise. “We from Minne-sohhhhh-tah,” she tells the crowd at the Sycamore Stage, emphasizing the affectation. “But you’re not so different here in California.” She plays about half the songs on her fine 2016 album “Impossible Dream,” highlighted by “Your Mom Is Right” and “Better Than Me.”

3:15 p.m. — There is much sweat, onstage and off, for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but you can almost feel the breeze from those rolling piano lines and squalls of brass.

4:05 p.m. — The best thing about Jeff Goldblum is that he’s Jeff Goldblum. You’re always in on the joke. You’ve never met him, but you know him. His Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra has become known for their cool shows at the Los Feliz haunt Rockwell, with the actor playing raconteur and jazz piano. “I don’t do a set list,” he explains, motioning to his band of pros, “they start playing something, I try to guess what it is and then try to play along.” He engages the audience in the packed Willow Tent with a trivia quiz and then says, “This is some of that jazz music that’s driving all the kids crazy.” The band does a bossa nova version of Petty’s “American Girl.” They do Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus. And the sharp-dressed Goldblum says, “At some point, I’m going to jump out there in the crowd, you’re going to carry me around and I’m going to rip all my clothes off, take LSD and swim in the mud.”

4:40 p.m. — Ed Kowalczyk’s belting can be heard from afar, as reunited ’90s faves Live, touring again for the first time in seven-plus years, make everybody squishy for 1995 with “Lightning Crashes” and their other singles.

4:55 p.m. — Walking with some Canadians toward the Sycamore Stage to see Canadians Broken Social Scene, we think, “What we need around here are more Canadians.”

5:00 p.m. — Broken Social Scene is stealing the show. Really. Their new album, “Hug of Thunder,” comes out in July. The new song “Halfway Home” is festival-sized anthem; nobody knew it going in, but by the time BSS is halfway through it, people were singing along. “Protest Song” follows, equally powerful. Amy Millan of Stars is here to sing, so is Emily Haines of Metric. New guest vocalist Ariel Engle is a delight. And then they cover “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and it’s smiles all around.

6:05 p.m. — Holed up in the shade, kids play board games (!) as SoCal guys Dawes give yet another clinic in classic rock. “When the tequila runs out / we’ll be drinking champagne” inspires more than one toast in the overcrowded VIP section.

6:30 p.m. — Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires damn near bring tears to everybody’s eyes. His set served as one of many pleas for “peace and love” heard from performers throughout the festival, and the 68-year-old soul singer’s rang most poignant. The former cook and late-blooming soul sensation thanked everybody for the outpouring of support he received during his recent battle with stomach cancer.

7:00 p.m. — Brittany Howard preaches the same theme as Alabama Shakes serenade a picturesque sunset with a stirring hour-long set. “Don’t Wanna Fight” comes early, getting lawn chair-dwellers on their feet and inducing youngsters in the VIP area to climb the trees for a better look. (Security would promptly quash that.) True to the title of their album, there was “Sound & Color.”

8:05 p.m. — “The original Meters, y’all,” Art Neville says. “The funk is fine.” And indeed it was as the New Orleans legends tore through songs that were 40-some years old — including a cover of “Come Together” sung by Cyril Neville — but sound like last night.

8:10 p.m. — In the main stage VIP section, a thirtysomething is having her bachelorette party, promising to sing every lyric of every Tom Petty song and sipping something from a flask disguised to look like a hairbrush. What will they think of next?

8:25 p.m. — A 22-year-old woman is in the food line and texts her mother, staked out at the front, asking if she wants anything. Mom responds, “No, Tom Petty is going on in 5 minutes and I have everything I want in the world.” It’s the caption on a selfie of Mom, laying on a blanket, gazing longingly at the sky.

8:30 p.m. — Petty (who this morning announced a Sept. 21 date at the Hollywood Bowl) starts two-plus hours of songs almost everybody, young and old, knows, saying the Heartbreakers are celebrating their 40th year together and that the set would come from their entire catalog — “We’re just gonna drop the needle wherever.” The seldom-heard “Great Wide Open” is heard; so is the first song from their first album “Rockin’ Around (With You).” Also: “You Got Lucky,” “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin’,” all in a row. At the end of the set comes “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and for an encore “You Wreck Me” and “American Girl.” The crowd, dotted with people wearing Tom Petty tour T-shirts from four different decades, are happily getting their money’s worth. Now if they can only exit this darned festival.