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Published: 2012/08/01
by Dylan Owens

The Black Keys, Umphrey’s McGee and Snoop Dogg Highlight Inaugural Catalpa Festival

The first ever Catalpa music festival went off this weekend, but not without a few weather-related hitches.

The forecast Saturday morning called for rain, and it delivered: right around 4:15 p.m., a steady sprinkle gave way to a downpour over New York City’s Randall’s Island. While some festival-goers fled the island for drier refuge, those that stuck around were rewarded for their commitment by with fun and diverse evening of music.

Synth-happy dance-maestros Hercules and Love Affair hammed it up for the soggy and decidedly alternative crowd gathered around the Jeep stage. TV On The Radio followed soon after with a set as punk as it was eccentric, making for a compelling translation from album to stage. A definite highlight.

The relatively out-of-place Umphrey’s McGee was next, their circumstance reflected by a paltry crowd by the group’s standards. The group played what fans would perhaps consider a “festival show,” punctuated by a second set-opening “Plunger,” new track “Comma Later,” which Brendan Bayliss called “made for dancing,” and rounded off with the calming, euphoric “Hajimemashite.”

The Black Keys finished off the night with a dependably solid set on the mainstage. Guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Pat Kearny alternated between “full band,” adding a bassist, and what would be considered “stripped down,” with no accompaniment. The Keys gave the fans what they came for, playing several tracks off of their newer and more popular albums Brothers and El Camino, but also snuck in a few tracks from their grittier past.

Sunday, the mud and memory were the only remnants of Saturday’s rain, as Catalpa enjoyed beautiful summer weather throughout the day.

The lineup was also completely different, with a strong emphasis on hip-hop in its top half. Old hand Snoop Dogg headlined after the likes of Matisyahu and A$AP Rocky and the rap-heavy mash-up DJ Girl Talk. The only through line Sunday could be said to have had would be “youth oriented” — or perhaps just new — music, which made sense with regards to the crowd, but left Snoop unaccounted for.

Regardless, the aforementioned shows delivered the sort of immediately accessible, thudding drum beats that one would expect (though there were no drums in sight) and provided patrons with the ample head-bobbing opportunity they appeared to crave.

Snoop’s show stood out beyond the rest in terms of showmanship, as he performed his seminal 1993 album _Doggystyle_—skits and all—in its entirety. Snoop ended with two newer songs: the club banger “Drop It Like It’s Hot” followed by “Young and Wild and Free,” perhaps to ensure the whole of the evening wasn’t far before the crowd’s time.

Catalpa was a good effort considering this was its first go, but from the vendors (High Times, Jeep, Yelp etc.) to the lineup, it suffered from a lack of identity that rendered it more adolescent than was comfortable. Still, with some tweaks and a little more luck for weather, Catalpa could end up being a welcome weekend distraction come 2013.

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