by Cole Riley
Catalpa NYC, a new two-day music festival hosted last month on Randall’s Island, set quite lofty goals in its inaugural stint. Irishman Dave Foran, promoting his first ever show, envisioned Catalpa as New York’s “most comprehensive and unique music festival…something lacking from the world’s greatest city.” With touted headlining acts such as The Black Keys and Snoop Dogg, a desirable mid-Summer weekend and a city starving for its own Coachella, the opportunity certainly existed. Poor marketing, however, doomed Catalpa with low turnout. The diverse lineup thankfully provided some memorable performances from several established and up-and-coming acts.
Rain was the prevailing theme of Saturday’s showcase. The soaked grasslands of Randall’s Island had Catalapa looking like another All Points West graveyard. The Rebel Light kicked things off with their One Republic-meets-Franz Ferdinand groove, while Shinobi Ninja, an ensemble of three head bangers, a DJ and two hip-hop leads created a laughable (at best) set that was high on energy, yet low on synergy. My Pet Dragon, The Aviation Orange and The Demos rounded out the mid-afternoon lineup as more widely known bands took their cues.
A bass-infused, dramatic set from Zola Jesus was invigorating, but Catalpa’s hopes truly changed when a little band from Saskatchewan, Canada came on. The Sheepdogs, a throwback, longhaired quintet in the vein of Lynyrd Skynyrd, proved why their classic roots-rock sound is an absolute crowd pleaser.
Following Umphrey’s McGee, the enigmatic and high tempo Hercules and Love Affair and Tunde Adebimpe’s TV on the Radio were our headliners. Meanwhile, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys had their garage-rock jam feeding the crowd of starry-eyed hipsters with style and grace — a bona fide good time.
On Sunday, The Airplane Boys, a young tongue-twisting rap duo from Toronto, along with The Big Pink and their enormous electronic sound, ignited the fifty-or-so fans with their unreserved rage and vigor. The Dirty Heads, a SoCal Sublime-inspired reggae-rock group, had the crowd jiving to their feel good tunes and higher-than-life hits, absolutely stealing Day Two.
The main stage was sparse with excitement with Bury Me A Lion, Aunt Martha, City and Colour and Cold War Kids rounding out the early afternoon lineup. Thankfully, Brooklyn’s own furiously paced Matt + Kim changed the mood. Under wraps for six months to record their new record, the Brooklyn duo unveiled their new hit “Let’s Go” to a raucous crowd ready to catch fire and burn. The momentum pushed forward when Girl Talk turned Catalpa into a full-on discotheque with ninety nonstop minutes of mash-ups, juvenile chaos and electric camaraderie. Scores of fans were invited onto the stage to dance alongside the Pittsburgh DJ as members of the crew shot rolls of toilet paper, mounds of balloons and inflatables into the ensuing madness. Meanwhile, a beardless (but still soulful) Matisyahu, the stoic onstage beat-maker AraabMusik and NY prodigy rapper A$AP Rocky all rocked away in anticipation of the night’s main treat.
The closing party was hosted by the master of ceremonies, Snoop Dogg, performing his 1993 debut solo album “Doggystyle” alongside a barrage of his other number-one singles. An ambiguous haze of smoke hovered over a rejuvenated audience as Snoop interwove his tracks with clips from a ‘70s-inspired short film starring him as a gun-wielding, weed-smoking pimp. Needless to say, Catalpa ended on a high note
Cole Riley is a senior editor. Email him at email@example.com