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Feeling Sunday at Festival La Onda

with breathtaking ballads by Mon Laferte

Festival La Onda was BottleRock’s first run at a second weekend that was all latin music, new & old. Not dissimilar from Coachella’s third weekend, Stagecoach. And reminds me a lot of Lost in Riddim too. Each of these California festivals bring together the top performing musicians from a culture around the world, whether in country, afrobeats or latin music.

The first day of La Onda with my friends on Saturday was a good time, but my solo trip Sunday introduced me to 3 musicians I’ll be feeling through music for the rest of my life, particularly Mon Laferte. I went into her show with casual expectations. I liked one of her songs. It was near the top of my “Songs to see at Festival La Onda“, and was approved by my partner. I had no idea how impactful she would be live and in catalog.

My jaw still drops thinking about the feeling I’ll remember from hearing her for the first time live. It was like I was listening to music I’ve heard for years. Song after song, hit after hit. Ballads better at storytelling than most movies. And I don’t speak Spanish.

I’ve binged her 8 studio albums and the many live iterations on Spotify for the past 72 hours when I’ve been awake. It’s a lot of music. I’ve only narrowed it to just under a hundred, but a few more months and I’ll distill it down with much more discernment. Follow my progress in the Spotify playlist below.

She’s made me want to write. I never like to write. It’s been especially hard to write, let alone think, about anything other than war. But she made me feel something deep at La Onda and with so much more of her entire catalog. Something words can never and music can only do.

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Kali Uchis vs Pearl Jam

Who won BottleRock 2024? It's complicated

Kali Uchis at BottleRock 2024

BottleRock 2024 was my third visit to the music festival in Napa. The first year in 2017, my partner and I heard Charles Bradley sing, which brought us to tears. The second year in 2021, we saw Jon Batiste play a charismatic set, which the crowd reflected back. Six months later, he won Album of the Year at the Grammys. So my third year had a lot to live up to and it did times 2 with the main headliners on Saturday, Kali Uchis and Pearl Jam. But the two had the same set times.

I had never been this conflicted with overlapping sets at a festival. I had seen Kali Uchis 5 times already, but Pearl Jam never. Plus, Pearl Jam was my second favorite band in high school (Smashing Pumpkins), but Kali was my first fav in 2018. And her new album, Orquídeas, is my favorite album of the year by far so far. I was so conflicted I did an Instagram poll (40% Kali, 60% Pearl Jam), which of course made me more conflicted. So I decided to go to both.

Pearl Jam started first at 7:45. That gave me about 30 minutes with them before I had to head to Kali Uchis for her 8:30 set. The funnest part of most festivals is swerving through the crowd dancing in moments with others along the way. Most of us don’t do it enough. I ended up leaving Kali Uchis after “Loner” and caught Pearl Jam close that night with an even better stroll through the crowds right before.

I love to compare and contrast everything, especially when others don’t. Pearl Jam topped Kali Uchis this time live, but they had twenty years of anticipation from me. However, of the 5 other shows I had previously seen of Kali, Pearl Jam’s set didn’t top a single one. I distinctly remember the first show I saw of hers in 2017. I had never heard such a majority of the crowd sing back every lyric to her. I’m sure Pearl Jam had a similar reaction a few years after they started playing, but I couldn’t witness because I was 8.

If that wasn’t controversial enough, Kali Uchis has a better catalog than Pearl Jam and she isn’t close to past her prime. Here are a few of my favorites from her.

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Thee Sacred Souls Put on a Show

And worked thee camera best at 2024's Mill Valley Music Festival

Thee Sacred Souls is for the Fans (banner)

Performing live looks so hard to me. I see a lot of musicians give so much and the crowd can be so tough, especially me. I’d be worse than 99% of them. I may just be projecting, but rarely do I see someone as present on stage and in the crowd as Josh Lane, lead singer of Thee Sacred Souls. I don’t think I’ve seen someone work a camera so well since Rema at Lost in Riddim.

I first saw Thee Sacred Souls at SXSW and then Hardly Strictly Bluegress in 2023 and now Mill Valley Music Festival in 2024. Josh has only gotten better at making his performance interactive, tangible, and not the standard call & feedback. See a perfect example below with his performance of “Running Away” while running around the crowd.

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Songs to see at SXSW, 2024

Estevie was the song to see

Estevie at SXSW 2024 (banner)

Forest Claudette’s song, Violence, is top of the “Songs to see at Sxsw” playlist for this year, not because it’s the best song (still up there), but it has the most important message. We cannot speak about anything until we speak on the horror of genocide and all other forms of violence. Peace is our only awakening.

I spend over four months digging into the thousands of artists for SXSW each year and try to get the songs down to a manageable # for a playlist. It was 134 songs this year or around 10% of the artists I went through. Wish I woulda got it down to about 5%, but I didn’t have enough time. I focus on quantity and getting through all the artists because it is the first and most important step to quality with variety, but without enough time to digest and discern all the music, quality will suffer for variety.

For the first time since first going to SXSW in 2016, I don’t think I did a better job at finding emerging musicians than the previous year. Or any of the years before it. Next year I need to focus more on the personalities behind the songs sooner, using other curators rather than digging into the raw data myself, and leaving more room for serendipity. Although I’d argue digging into all of the music beforehand is the best way to amplify serendipity.

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Annabelle Chairlegs & Psyched! Fest

Thinking in lyrics and loving the personality in music

Annabelle Chairlegs (banner)

It’s nice to just talk to someone. 1 on 1, without interruption, about what’s important to them. It’s hard to do that in public. There are lots of distractions, including my sobriety. I originally wanted to interview Lindsey of Annabelle Chairlegs at her show during Psyched! Fest in SF, but I got too tired and tipsy. I’m glad we got to chat over video after her tour ended.

Lindsey’s got personality and she knows how to show it – in her performances, which she learned from years in the theater, but in her music and in-person too.

I’ve seen Annabelle Chairlegs live 4 times, twice in SF / twice at SXSW. I discovered her music going through every one of the musicians at SXSW 2022 and she was at the top.

I love a lot of music, but I rarely like more than a song from a musician. Let alone an album. Or two. I looked over my listening history of Annabelle Chairlegs on Spotify and I liked a half dozen songs the day I found her music (March 4, 2022). Usually it takes a lot more listens.

I may not know a strand of lyrics more than a few words from her, but they’ve been the melody to my thoughts frequently over the past two years. It’s how you can tell if a song is sticky. When it’s popping up in your inner dialogue at the most random times. Usually an offshoot of its original lyrics […]

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Mill Valley Music Festival 2023

The best place to discover & rediscover music & people is live

Valerie June at Mill Valley Music Festival (banner)

We go to music festivals to see the musicians we love, but it’s also the best way to discover new music.

I remember seeing Durand Jones & The Indications for the first time at Outside Lands in 2018 and then the following SXSW twice. My partner and I have been so obsessed with the group that their song “Is It Any Wonder?” was the second song at our wedding’s first dance (“Suavecito” was the first). I went to the second annual Mill Valley Music Festival to see Durand Jones’s solo set, but even better to see something new.

I always jump the gun on these festivals and listen to all of the artists beforehand. My most highly anticipated performance was the psychedelic African rock ensemble from Oakland, Orchestra Gold, but there were a few other notable new discoveries including The Dip and Valerie Jones – all of whom you can see live video of below.

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Songs to see at Sxsw, 2023

Go for the music, stay for the personalities

Balming Tiger at SXSW 2023 (banner)

I got married a week before SXSW. We took a proper mini-moon on an island off of Mexico, Isla Holbox, but ended the trip at SXSW. When I told people the grand finale to our wedding vacation was at South by, some thought it was hilarious, others were a bit confused, and one person said I had to include it here, someone I respect very much.

I’ve never experienced such a heartfelt sense of community than at my wedding. People from distant parts of my partner and I’s life came together and started relationships of their own. Something I’ve always dreamed about. Creating new communities is as important as maintaining old ones, and SXSW has become a complex, interconnected community of new and old.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes up a community. As much as I know one of the most important roles is a curator of content (like myself), someone who brings new people (and old friends) together is even more important. There’s no greater gift you can give someone than introducing them to someone you know – other than giving them your time and attention.

Brian Zisk, founder of SF MusicTech Summit, has been that person bringing people together at least for me and the dozens of people he’s introduced me to. He also gave me one of the most sincere compliments about Silence Nogood. One where you know they were actually listening. Thank you, Zisk, and everyone I met through him over the years.

As important as the personalities were at SXSW, the music is still the main show. I took the 1,084 artists from SXSW’s Official playlist and cut it down to about 10%, which is a little higher than last year.

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Portola Music Festival

68 musicians on a pier at the height of SF "summer" weather

The inaugural Portola Music Festival is running on San Francisco’s Pier 80 the last weekend in September, also known as my mother’s birthday (that Sunday). It features 68 of my favorite emerging & established musicians, including Channel Tres, Kaytranada, and Jungle. As my friend called it, “it’s better than a highly curated portion of Coachella.” And of course it’s put on by the same people, Goldenvoice.

There’s no better measure of hype around a festival than when more friends ask if I’m going. Check out my favorite picks below. I’ll see you there.

Happy birthday, mom!

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Mill Valley Music Fest

Following La Doña to some beautiful backgrounds

Photo by Paige K. Parsons / Mill Valley Music Festival

Mill Valley’s inaugural day long music festival was quaint and well put together. It featured five bands on one stage, but my partner and I were there for La Doña.

We first saw La Doña at the opening of the new KQED building back in November. She’s becoming a staple of San Francisco music and represents it well with her family filling out the rest of the band. When I found out she was opening up Mill Valley’s first festival, I knew this would be a perfect setting to see her and her family perform again.

Mill Valley Music Fest was a romantic getaway from the city in the beautiful Spring sunshine and a backdrop of the Napa hills. Plus, it ended at a reasonable time. Let’s normalize day partying.

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Songs to See at Sxsw, 2022

Just over 100 artists, but especially six

It’s been three years! I miss SXSW live and in Austin, but a pandemic broke my favorite live event of the year and all others in 2020 & 2021.

2022 is my fifth year at South by! Looking back, I realized that live music was the second most important reason I go. More importantly, it’s to better understand culture and how it ticks. There’s no better place for that than live music, and SXSW is one of the best showcases around the world.

There’s been a theme with every showcase and this year pushes my boundaries like all good things do. I may have thought back in 2016 with my Women Behind the Boards post that there was and still is a lack of DJ’s who identify as women. I don’t know if I can say the same for lead vocalists, thankfully. The latest example, all of my top picks at SXSW 2022. Half of which I got to see, half sadly I did not.

TEKE::TEKE and Annabelle Chairlegs had such good performances (separately) that I saw them again (separately). Some of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen in a show – pictures above and below. Sadly, I only got to see Joseph once, but it was in the majestic St. David’s Historic Sanctuary and their voices gave me electrofying goosebumps.

Three of my other most anticipated vocalists I didn’t get to see live. Petty Booka was online only :( I’d love to create a play about their music, which is a blending of Japanese and Hawaiian music. The music had such strong visuals for me. Luna Li cancelled her tour, which I was suppose to see in San Francisco and Austin, but I did catch her set online when she was in Oakland. It was one of those weekdays where I couldn’t make the trip, ugh. Still, a lovely show. Jacks Haupt was the only show I actually could’ve missed and did so because my plane arrived in Austin a few hours too late.

I miss the days of Hypem at SXSW, seeing Anderson .Paak more than a few times, but the music is just as rich in culture from around the world this year. Thanks to my photographer, Chris, and for the company, Regina and Alejandra <3

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