The year: 2012. Manhattan is thoroughly bereft of a decent music scene, as it has been for the last decade or so. Brooklyn is better, but years of emigration from nearby East Village has caused it to become overrun with pompous replicant-like humanoids called “hipsters,” who have caused it to become somewhat smelly and uninhabitable. Between the yuppies and the freaks, there is no safe place to go to enjoy some decent tunes in an unpretentious environment. New York City’s only hope lies across the river in a strange land known as “Randall’s Island,” home of a former mental institution and now man’s only prospect for musical gratification.
We set our escape at noon for Catalpa Festival, dark clouds looming ominously above, the chance of rain between 30-40 percent, according to meteorologist Sam Champion. Hoofing it across the foot bridge is out of the question, same goes for the ferry and shuttle, as they are all mainstream solutions to an atypical problem. Taxis are overlooked - people with short memories have forgotten that the RFK bridge exits on the Island, near the derelict Icahn Stadium. Cab it is. Under the cover of clouds we slip in unnoticed, and except for the 5,000-10,000 other concertgoers in attendance, we are practically alone in our mission.
We enter in to a sea of vintage tanks and boat shoes, styles appropriated from a bygone era. The ground is still sodden from the previous day’s rainstorm, a foul cesspool of turbid mud and stuck-in sandals, footprints proceeding where shoes were lost. A wasteland, but there is much hope on this island of ours. A musical utopia, where all bands are created equal, a place where Girl Talk can pepper the field with 1-ply toilet paper and not face the legal repercussions of littering.
Many of those seeking the same as we are here to join us in carouse. In the VIP section, assholes with money to spare splurge on raised cabanas and above-ground hot tubs, truly thinking they are better than us if they stand above us. For the rest us, this island is our brave new world; a new beginning, a fresh venue to debauch, an escape from the ordinary. Sights unseen in Brooklyn and Manhattan abound. Multiple stages. Grass and trees. Faces adorned with neon paint and rhinestones. A bouncy castle that serves as our new church where we might pray to the Gods of Music.
The Gods did bless us that day with fair weather and hella cute festival costumes. So too, did the Festival Gods bless us with a solid variety of essential supplies, mainly craft beer, hard alcohol, and foodie hipster cuisines. Roberta’s, who had previously thrown the ridiculous Bushwick block party the day before, also managed to escape Brooklyn, hawking $10 personal pans along the way in a scarce food economy. Eat up, drink up; our survival depends on it.
Only when the music begins do we fully realize how fortunate we are to leave our homes and venture asunder. Cold War Kids, who had a couple songs a few years ago, kick off the main event. They are followed by Matisyahu, who has over the years perfected the uncommon blend of dreadlocks and Judaism. Then there's Matt and Kim, who are truly some of the most irritating people I have ever seen perform. Their gimmick is that they are both gay, but if that weren’t enough, they spazz about in exaggerated motions, in between generic keyboard sounds they scream out “New York let me hear some nooiiiseee!”. Girl Talk is better, if only because his formula still works the same: spray massive amount of TP into the crowd, invite the crowd onto the stage, and intensely click the trackpad on his Macbook Pro.
Perhaps it really isn’t about seeing “good music” that brings us here. Maybe it is about the experience of leaving to go somewhere special, breaking free of the adamantine shackles that hold us down in the boroughs. A day to picnic outside, drink profusely, look at all the beautiful people, take a break from city life. If you think about it, almost all of us came from one island to this one, a place reserved just for outdoor music and scarcely anything else. We are creatures of our environments, but in leaving our habitats and abandoning our comfort zones at once, we come together and form a new republic of common interest. Like they used to say in the age of exploration, "we're gellin’ like Magellan".
The last act finishes with Snoop Dogg, who is what I want to be when I grow up. Not a rapper, just a grown ass man who still smokes hella chronic all the time. Photographers jostling in the photo pit – pushing around for their “perfect shot” — are truly the worst people on the island. For as we came to enjoy the sounds and sights, they came to use the event as an opportunity for self advancement. Instead of making friends, they use and take advantage, then act like they are the world’s appellation for live music. In reality, they are mostly hacks who are incredibly jealous of one another, always ready to step on someone’s feet in order to land a shot, always blaming someone else for their own failures. They are not one of us, and I not one of them.
We head home and reflect on our escape, and eventual return, from the city proper. Sometimes, in order to best appreciate what we have, we must leave it for a while, come to miss and yearn for it, and return back stronger willed and with a greater admiration for our fortunes. On this day we did just that and more.
Let us live in and let us love our special city forever, but never shall we grow jaded and spoiled. Long live our days on Randall’s Island.