When Artsweek was but a mere 10 years old, a family trip through the wondrosity of Southern California led to a tour of the grandiose ocean liner Queen Mary as it rested next to its former neighbor, the Spruce Goose, in its permanent home, Long Beach. It was a strange reunion, indeed, this past weekend, when a much older, more musically attuned Artsweek revisited the illustrious Queen as she lay host to the Matt Groening-curated, two-day music festival known as All Tomorrow’s Parties.
Begun in 1999 by two promoters tired of corporate festivals being jammed down their esophagi, ATP’s concept is to allow a single musician, artist or writer to curate a music festival with artists reflected in their own personal music collection. As noted on their website, Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore calls ATP the “ultimate mix tape.” Though initially only held in the U.K., ATP finally made its way out to sunny California in 2002 with the aforementioned Moore at the helm. Before this, the U.K. version saw Mogwai, Tortoise, Shellac and, most recently, Autechre curate a generally more electronic set list, as compared to the indie rock lineup in California.
This year, none other than “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening was named as curator, and an impressive lineup began spilling forth. Yet slow ticket sales meant this year’s ATP had to be rescheduled from May to November, allowing for the Queen Mary to become the new backdrop and new bands to fill empty slots. It seemed as though Groening’s ATP might never actually see the light of day, taking one blow after another (recently deceased singer-songwriter Elliot Smith was slated to perform on Sunday’s mainstage). That is, until Saturday dawned and the indie kiddies arrived.
All around, the festival was truly joyous; allowing lesser-known indie bands to share the stage with heavyweights like Sonic Youth and the Stooges. The smaller of the two stages was located inside the Queen Mary on the bottom floor of a three-story open area so that kids peering from the ground to the top floor could watch the performers. Here, performances by Cat Power, American Analog Set, Deerhoof and Jackie-O Motherfucker brought peering, wide-eyed crowds.
Just a three-minute walk from the boat, a larger outdoor stage was set-up, named the Marina Park Stage, and oriented much like a tiny slice of Coachella with a gorgeous waterfront view alongside. This stage saw performances from !!!, the Mars Volta, the Shins, Black Heart Procession, Built to Spill, Mission of Burma, Sonic Youth and dear, sweet Iggy with his Stooges.
One couldn’t ask for more over this crisp November weekend: no rain, comfortable temperatures, an eclectic array of stunning music, a virtual fashion show among audience members and, most notably, the great Matt Groening cruising through the crowd with his two sons in tow, greeting fans and posing for pictures (Artsweek even got his personal business card with Homer’s mug on it!).
Though Artsweek certainly (or at least hopefully) looked dramatically different since its last visit to the Queen Mary, this weekend did bring about one familiar childhood sentiment: feeling like a kid in a candy store with just too much wonderful, musical goodness all around.