Click photo to enlarge
Tokyo Police Club guitarist Josh Hook, left, vocalist/bass player David Monks and drummer Greg Alsop perform on Saturday during the First City Festival at the Monterey County Fair & Event Center. (David Royal - Monterey Herald)

MONTEREY >> First City Festival, an indie rock event in town for its second year at the Monterey County Fair & Event Center, opened on Saturday with sunshine and room to move. The early attendance seemed light compared to last year's gathering, which had long lines to enter and a fairly substantial amount of attendees at the get go.

Upon arrival near the end of first act Speedy Ortiz's set at the Cypress Stage, there were a good number of blankets spread on the grassy expanse and people dotting the landscape, some taking advantage of the shade cast by the oak trees framing the stage area. Folks of all ages were getting primed for the two-day music feast still to come.

Olivia Reed and Yasmeen Vinson, two 19-year-olds from Oakland, said they came down in their own car for the whole weekend, drawn by online advertising and several of their favorite music groups. CocoRosie, the first act on the Redwood Stage in the fairgrounds arena, is one of the girls' favorites on a list of bands that also included Blind Pilot, Phantogram and The National.

"I like coming to festivals because it's really cool to make invisible bonds with a whole bunch of unknown people who are here for the same reason," Reed said, laughing at the thought of what she just expressed. "I don't really like it if there are long lines, but I do like slight mosh pits."


Both girls planned on getting into the heat of the moment whirling around with others near the stage if the timing and conditions were just right to participate. By end of day, when hopefully they're exhausted by the intensity of the music and environment, they'll be able to lay their heads down at the Monterey Hilton Hotel, where they booked a room for the weekend.

Music festival producer Goldenvoice's NorCal office promoted heavily in the Bay Area, where they also offered shuttle service for those who would rather forego driving themselves. By evening time the crowd would swell and the atmosphere after dark heightened by the carnival lights. Other decorative touches were evidenced around the grounds, including the small Vaudeville Stage, where scantily dressed acrobatic ladies danced on poles to the delight of those gathered around at the mouth of the food court.

Over at the Manzanita Stage (Garden Stage to those who know the fairgrounds), Survival Guide was just getting her set going and folks were taking full advantage of the grassy area, stretching out in open festival style seating in front of the stage and near the food and drink concessions along the midway.

Andrea Hale, 32, sat rocking back and forth with her 2-year-old daughter Josephine, ears protected with a soundproof headset and nestled to her mother's chest. Hale came down to Monterey with her husband, Michael, and her 15-year-old daughter Althea from their home in Livermore. The Mariposa Inn served as their home away from home for the weekend.

"My husband is really into music," Hale said. "This is the fifth festival we've come to with Josephine and we all have a lot of fun listening to all sorts of music."

Back at the Cypress Stage, locally-based production man Brian Conway said he was very busy as stage crew chief for the festival, bringing in lots of local people to work the stages and entrances. He said he brought 35 of his A-team workers to man the Cypress Stage alone.

"Goldenvoice is doing this festival right. It's a recipe they have," he said about how the event is organized. The USA Marketplace and Vinyl Record Swap create a vibrant and colorful scene outside of the live music.

At the arena's Redwood Stage, only about one-quarter filled by the start of initial act CocoRosie's set, DJ Britt Govea, also a well-known local through his Folk Yeah! music promoting business, was spinning vinyl to entertain the mounting crowd. He said he was there for the weekend to dish out tunes between acts. By the look of it, Monterey-based people were everywhere in positions working the festival, including musician Sean Michael White, who checked folks in as they came through the front VIP gate entrance.

The carnival rides were looking pretty well attended in the afternoon sun, heating up to be quite warm as the day continued into the night. Acts to look forward to on Sunday include the entire Redwood Stage lineup, with Lake Street Dive, a highly anticipated act opening the day, followed by Future Islands, Dawes, The Naked and Famous, and The National, who will close out the festival.

Tickets are still available for the Sunday show and the weather is forecast to be the same. Not a bad way to wrap up the summer.