Arroyo Seco Weekend: Review

Review by Nicolette Cunningham
All photos by Nicolette Cunningham unless otherwise stated.

Goldenvoice always puts on some of the very best festivals, that is no question. So when Arroyo Seco Weekend was announced we were more than ready to survive this California heat for a piece of one of the best festivals around.

This may have been the first year for this festival but I can attest that it will not be the last. Arroyo Seco translates to “dry stream” in Spanish and let me tell you, at 104 degrees that day, that name is an accurate one.

I was fortunate enough to attend day two of Arroyo Seco Weekend which included (but was not limited to): Mumford & Sons, Weezer, The Mowgli’s, Rachel Platten, and Magic Giant. Enjoying set after set, some incredible food, and even having a quick sit down with the lads of Magic Giant; Arroyo Seco stole my heart. Allow me to walk you through my day…

Arroyo Seco Weekend was held at the legendary Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA. After a bit of a drive and some funky parking on a golf course I had arrived just in time to catch my personal favorite act of the day; Magic Giant. 

Magic Giant performing at Arroyo Seco Weekend

12:00pm — Magic Giant is an LA-based alternative, folk trio formed in 2014. This amazing, talented trio consists of Austin Bisnow (lead vocals, cello, synthesizer, percussion, Zambricki Li (are you ready for this? Banjo, fiddle, viola, cello, harmonica, mandolin, octave mandolin, acoustic guitar, dobro, lap steal, and does backing vocals) and last but never least, Zang Zaghi (acoustic guitar, cello, bass, percussion, and backing vocals). As you can see, this band has an incredible repertoire of instruments but they’re also amazing guys as well. When they’re recent album, In The Wind, was released this past May (2017) they orchestrated a campaign where every pre-sale of the album would result in the planting of a tree - how cool! 

But that’s not all — Magic Giant’s recording process of their recent album is one of the most unique things I’ve ever heard of. The gents created a solar powered, mobile recording studio and drove from location to location throughout the states and recorded with their unofficial fourth member, nature. 

They recorded inside a Redwood tree off the coast of California, within a tunnel by Snoqualmie Pass in Washington, on an airstrip in Marble, Colorado and more!

Though their Arroyo Seco set wasn’t held inside of a Redwood tree, it did not lack any energy, originality, or excitement. As I walked over to their stage I was instantly enthralled by their stage presence. They played songs from their recent album including “Hideaway,” “Window,” “Nothin’ Left,” “Shake Me Up,” and their most popular, “Set On Fire” (I’m almost positive you’ve heard it before, check it out!) Surprisingly halfway through their set the band made their way into the middle of the GA pit and serenaded their fans, enjoying the summer heat and their amazing music - together. 

Now, let’s fast forward a bit into my day for my one on one time with the band!

Zambricki performing at Arroyo Seco Weekend

3:17pm — I am waiting inside the press tent, fidgeting with my note pad and pen waiting for the lads to arrive. With an incredible calming, cool confidence they enter the tent, waving enthusiastically and greeting me with open arms and friendly hugs. 



Nicolette: Hello gentleman! It is any honor to be talking to you today, I really love your album it is outstanding! Let’s just dive right in and talk about the unique way your recorded it… When you were recording inside the Redwood tree(s), how did you adjust your acoustics/audio? Did you have to at all? 

Zambricki: Oh, awesome so, we built a solar powered, mobile recording studio that acted as a battery for the entire record. So while we were recording it was totally silent, which was really important. So, when we pulled up to the Red Wood tree — 

Austin: There were birds chirping, you know, pleasant sounds! 

Zang: Sounds you’d wake up too…

Zambricki: Yeah, it wasn’t like a generator or anything making noise…

 

 

— Queue the bands random beat break down of generator + air conditioning noises, then they dissolve into laughter. 

Zambricki: -- we pull up to the Redwood tree, well we went to a couple trees actually. To find the right one that sounded the best. If you clap your hands in any acoustic environment it gives you the reflection of how it’s going to sound. So we went to about four or five trees until we found the tree. there was like a rainbow through the air and straight to the tree…

Zang: Weird, I didn’t see a rainbow actually. 

Austin nods in agreement with Zang.

Zambricki: Oh yeah, it was there. You guys are just rainbow blind… Anyways, so we went inside the tree and we chose it because it sounded amazing acoustically. It wasn’t like a studio that you need to build. 

Austin: When they’re building studios they’re basically trying to make a tree... The cool thing is there’s less prep if you go to the right spot; you don’t need to message the audio that much. It’s how it’s supposed to sound.

Zambricki: Exactly, like less knob more leaf. 

— They laugh - so adorable, seriously. They’re very charming! 

Zambricki: The only thing that’s difficult is rain.

Zang: Yeah there’s no roofs in nature… Unless you’re in a tree.

Zambricki: It’s a bit of a pain because of the equipment. We almost recorded in a rainforest up in Washington and realized… wait, it will be raining. *brakes noise* Turn around! 

Nicolette: See, that’s totally awesome. How did you decide which places to go? 

Zambricki: Well, we were on a festival tour, it was all mapped out. We did Electric Forest, Wanderlust, Lightning in a Bottle, we were all over the US. You just look at the map and you have these tentpoles and you go “what’s in between?” Sometimes we would drive eight hours out of the way to get the sound. It was like, sound first everything else after.

Austin: And then a ranger would come and we would be like “oh no, don’t tell me we drove eight hours to have a ranger end it.” A ranger actually came to the tree and they were like “ah, just be safe you guys!”

Zang: California baby, California’s always kind. 

Nicolette: When finalizing the album, what lead to the organization and order for the track listing? 

Zambricki: One of the things that happened when we were recording the song “Jade,” Zang was playing guitar and we got some birds chirping in the guitar. And the lyric is “sang the bird forever, and then she flew away” so we actually thought that’s too on the nose, we should take out the birds. But you can’t actually remove them, so we distorted the birds and turned it up and that became the first song.

Austin: We tried to re-record it but it didn’t have the same ju-ju you know? The original sounded great. 

Zambricki: So we put “Jade” first, so it started with the bird and started the flow.

Zang: It’s like the wake up, you know? You wake up to the birds. 

Zambricki: We did want to have the album have a flow and you know, not that it starts small but that it starts really intimate and then goes through this whole journey and then the end goes back to “Nothin’ Left” and it’s back to being more intimate. 

Nicolette: I can completely see that, how the preludes build throughout the song and it carries it over to keep the story going.

Austin: Nice, yeah! 

Zambricki: So you listened to the whole thing (consecutively) —

Nicolette: Yeah!

Zambricki: — which is great because with streaming and everything you can just skip around and not listen to the whole thing. Just shuffle play. 

Austin: did you hear the thank you song as well? (“Sails Up (Thank You)”) 

Nicolette: Yeah! I love it. 

Zambricki: Yeaaaaa, that one is really like an avant garde, stream of consciousness piece. 

Nicolette: Gotta love the phone call right in the middle! 

Austin: Yeah! It’s so real, man!

Zambricki: I mean, we’ve only been together for three years but we already have so many people to thank and stories to tell from along the way. It’s just really cool, it reminds us just of all the places we went. 

Zang: Writing the names on paper felt boring, but now people are shows are like “PLAY THE THANK YOU SONG!” 

Nicolette: Well, speaking of favorite places to be and places you’ve been, Zang’s once said “living in the city, it’s easy to forget how enchanting the road can be.” 

Austin: Oooooh… 

Zang: *Smiles* Yeah, I mean it is. It’s right there, it’s right over the hill, the road she calls. 

Zambricki: So the places we like, reconnect? Cool. I mean, at least one place is definitely at the cottage outside of Montreal (Canada).

Austin: There’s a lake too, yeah we’ve gone there the last few summers. 

Nicolette: So do you draw information from those kinds of places where you’re able to just chill out?

Zambricki: I don’t know if we’re exactly ‘drawing inspiration’ from those kinds of places… 

Austin: We’ll be in a hotel room and draw inspiration, it’s not an exclusive thing. It’s a different type of inspiration; if you’re in a city, or if you’re with a jackass, or a woman, or a friend. It’s the space and time together. 

Nicolette: So just being able to do your thing…

Zambricki: Yeah, I mean sometimes I like to write in a none sensory environment and let my mind imagine.

Zang: We write a lot of the songs in the studio, just staring at the brick wall.

Austin: And then we recorded stuff in Marble, CO just starting at like… marble as mountains, you know? You create.

Nicolette: Outstanding. You guys are truly some of the most inspirational and unique musicians out there right now and I thank you for your time and I’m sure we’ll meet again soon! 

Austin, Zang, Zambricki: Awesome! Thank you so much! 

— Another round of hugs and the lads are off for their next interview. 

Rachel Platten performing at Arroyo Seco Weekend

3:30pm — I suddenly had a dire need to travel across the states and record an insanely cool album, but alas, not today. After making some final notes, grabbing some much needed water, I packed up my stuff and returned to the festival.

1:30pm — Back in time! After Magic Giant’s set I wandered over to watch the amazing, brilliant ray of sunshine, Rachel Platten, perform. She performed her most well known songs, “Fight Song” and “Stand By You” as well as a new song called “Whole Heart.” Rachel’s smile was infectious as just rocked her acoustic guitar and sang her heart out to the adoring fans. 

Image courtesy of Arroyo Seco Weekend; The Mowgli's performing. 

2:55pm — Next, I booked it over to The Mowgli’s set. Boy, oh boy was it a hot day and the Mowgli’s were absolutely killin’ it on stage. Nothing could stop this vivacious band from putting on an incredible performance for the Arroyo Seco crowd dancing with their cold beverages in hand. I must admit, I had to let loose a bit when they started playing my personal favorite, “I’m Good.” But now, it was time to adventure around the Arroyo Seco grounds to find the press tent. 

—Fast forward to my interview with Magic Giant.

4:00pm — Alright, now time from some lunch! Arroyo Seco is not only a music festival, it has some of the most amazing food too! I decided to grab some phenomenal chicken tacos from Papusas and a delicious strawberry limeade and settled down under a nice shady tree for lunch.

4:30pm — After roaming the grounds for a bit, listening to bits and pieces of sets. I came across Seco’s Sweets & Treats area. Now let me tell you, the words “Churro Bar” are not going to prepare you for how amazing this dessert was. Vanilla ice cream topped with two churros covered in fruity pebbles?! Oh yes, it happened. I don’t regret it at all. To be completely honest, I’d go to Arroyo Seco every year purely to get this dessert, it was that good. 

As it slowly started cooling down, about 98 degrees now, I found a nice relaxing spot to work. Checking out the photos from the previous sets, reviewing my interview, and making sure I stayed hydrated, time slipped away from me…

Image courtesy of Arroyo Seco Weekend, Weezer (N' Roses) performing! 

7:00pm — Time for Weezer. Yes, the legendary Weezer. I’m a short person, about 5’4” so let me tell you, I could barely see the stage, that’s how many people filled the field awaiting this amazing performance. The giant, W logo lit up and the band arrived, dressing up as “Weezer N’ Roses” to show this festival how to have a good time. They performed hits “Hash Pipe,” “Pork and Beans,” and “My Name is Jonas” sounding even better than you could imagine. 

8:50pm — Cooling down now, the sun has set, the crowd is definitely to the point of intoxication. Everybody anxiously awaits as the piece de resistance, Mumford & Sons, take the stage to close out Arroyo Seco Weekend. 

With beautiful, deep purple lights Mumford & Sons serenaded the hundreds of fans swaying in the summer night breeze. Opening with their arguably most popular, “Little Lion Man” and continuing into “Babel” and “Lover of the Light” everyone (including me) was bewitched. There’s something about Marcus Mumford’s voice that can soothe any ailment. 

[Above images courtesy of Arroyo Seco Weekend, Mumford & Sons]

A bow. The stage lights dim and the festival lights turn back on. With a heavy heart, it is time to head home.
Arroyo Seco Weekend may have just started, but let me tell you, it’ll continue for years. It was a hot day filled with delectable food, amazing music, and friendly faces. What more could we wish for? 

We’ll see you next year, Arroyo Seco, this time we’re coming for both days! x