Arroyo Seco Weekend: A Saturday in the park for ‘the kids’ and for the Young

Neil Young at Arroyo Seco Weekend (Photo by Samantha Saturday)
Neil Young at Arroyo Seco Weekend (Photo by Samantha Saturday)

Children — kids in general and the ones currently in the headlines — weren’t far from the mind on Saturday’s opening day of Arroyo Seco Weekend.

First, it was the park-like setting on the Brookside golf course adjacent to the Rose Bowl itself: Rockers and rock fans alike brought their little ones to the land of $14 hot dogs and $10 strawberry sodas. Stroller traffic was moderate, and there was something endearing about watching a dad sway back and forth with a toddler while the Pretenders played “Bad Boys Get Spanked.”

Then there were a couple of reminders about the Current State of Things.

During the winning set by reunited British ska band the Specials, Lynval Golding allowed as how he had touched base with his old friend Tony Kanal of No Doubt and his kids, which illuminated in his mind the plight of children in limbo at the U.S.-Mexico border. “It brings tears to my eyes,” Golding said. “We must send a message to Donald Trump and his administration.” With that, the band went into its version of “A Message to You, Rudy.”

Later, during an occasionally shambolic headlining set, Neil Young introduced the back-to-back acoustic songs “I Am a Child” and “Lotta Love” by saying, “This one’s for all the kids out there … the kids in cages.”

They were little reality checks on a glorious summer day that saw rock’s old guard — Neil Young + Promise of the Real, Pretenders (Chrissie Hynde’s shirt read: “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working”) and the Specials — hold up their end of the deal while next-generation standouts such as Jack White and Belle & Sebastian did nothing to disappoint, either.

Thirty-seven-year-old Kamasi Washington and 77-year-old Pharoah Sanders added jazz razzle-dazzle, and Jeff Goldblum, leading his jazz ensemble the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, returned for a second straight year to pretty much steal the afternoon.

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Young, backed by Promise of the Real (the band fronted by Willie Nelson’s son Lukas), seemed to be winging it for most of his set, but as he has shown over the past couple of years, he’s clearly energized by lock riffs with his young bandmates. The set spanned more that two hours and tested the faithful early — opening song “Like an Inca” jammed on for 20 minutes, and “Cortez the Killer” for 14. Young, 72, was all flannel and fury in the middle.

There’s was a detour for a Lukas Nelson song (“Forget About Georgia”) and brother Micah Nelson sang a bombastic “Everything Is Bullshit.” After the acoustic songs, the set seemed to right itself — who can complain when a Hall of Famer gives you Hall of Fame songs like “Rockin’ in the Free World,” “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” “Powderfinger” and “Ohio?” Considering current events, though, might there have been room for the pointed opener on the new Neil Young and Promise of the Real album? It’s titled “Already Great” and somebody should put that title on a red ball cap.

Preceding Young on the main stage, White alternated solo material with White Stripes songs for 90 powerful minutes, and in between the two guitar-slingers the Specials regaled the second stage with a set that inspired more dancing than the rest of the festival combined.

There was ample reward for early arrivals too:

■ Brazil’s Seu Jorge won hearts in bright afternoon sunshine on the main stage (but, regrettably, didn’t perform any of the David Bowie covers he made for the Wes Anderson film “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”).

■ As he did in Arroyo Seco’s opening year, Goldblum played cool jazz cat (he can flat-out play the piano) and raconteur in the Willow tent. His backing band is ace; singer Haley Reinhart joined them for a couple of tunes (including a Nina Simone cover); and Goldblum’s give-and-take with the audience included a movie game, a Beatles sing-along and “Jurassic Park” trivia. Oh, and they did a bossa nova version of Young’s “Harvest Moon.”

■ Nashville’s Margo Price — whose album “All American Made” came out last fall on White’s Third Man Records — had everybody buzzing after her 45 minutes in the Willow tent. From her clarion vocals to her tight backing band, her country rock is like honey being poured onto a frying pan.

■ And acclaimed folk duo the Milk Carton Kids — Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale — took a big step. Showcasing some affecting  songs from the new album “All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do” (out on Friday), they played one of their first shows as a full band. As you’d expect, they sound bigger and bolder as a seven-piece, but their calling card — those vocal harmonies — remain pristine. They covered Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” And Ryan’s deadpan banter? Well, you kinda had to be there.

As for Arroyo Seco Weekend itself, the expanded festival grounds, new layout and new rules on where attendees can spread out chairs and blankets proved effective at alleviating pedestrian traffic jams that plagued the inaugural year.

Photos by Samantha Saturday