Even before a single band had hit the stage, this year’s Popped! Music Festival was not off to a good start. Just a few days before the festival, organizers had to make the gut-wrenching decision to move the festival indoors due to the forecasted weather. No one can blame them for the move; they can’t control the weather and it’s certainly not their fault FDR Park wouldn’t be able to survive both the rain and thousands of people pounding its grounds. Nevertheless, no one seemed to be all that happy about the unfortunate move.
One of the biggest issues of moving indoors to the Liacouras Center was that the festival was originally planned for three stages. Now, they only had one. The comedy lineup had to be cut completely, while all the acts had to have shortened set lengths. Some bands ended up being cut as the festival ran on, although Popped! never officially released any reasons. The highly-anticipated food bazaar was barely salvaged by moving to The Piazza on Saturday during Girard Fest. Still, considering the circumstances, you have to give Popped! credit for even pulling the thing off.
Friday got off to a sluggish start. With the Liacouras Center practically empty, Dead Confederate began 15 minutes late and performed a shortened set of Neil Young covers, all from Tonight’s The Night. Miniature Tigers followed with a decent but uneventful set. But shortly before 4:30, with most attendees still at work or elsewhere, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. delivered the first memorable set of the weekend. With the help of their wild neon jackets and two large bubble machines, Jr. Jr. roped the small crowd in quickly. Unfortunately, with the shortened sets, the groove they worked into couldn’t last very long, and they were rushing their gear off stage as quickly as it was rushed on.
After lackluster sets by Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Yuck, Company of Thieves and their charismatic frontwoman Genevieve Schatz kicked the energy level into high gear. Unfortunately, The Joy Formidable didn’t get a chance to follow, but The Hold Steady did a great job of building on the momentum that Company of Thieves had created. The diverse nature of the lineup brought things back down with a boring set by Elbow (although, to be fair, most of the crowd seemed to love it).
Panda Bear and his over-utilized smoke machine were up next, followed by the most well-received set of the night from Cage the Elephant. The band that I was most excited to see, The Shins, finally came on shortly before 11, almost 8 hours after the festival began. It had been a long day and the arena had never really filled in all that much, and as The Shins set went on it began to empty more and more. I’ve heard some mixed thoughts on The Shins set, but for the most part I really enjoyed it (you can read my full review of their set with more photos here).
I wouldn’t say the first day of the festival was a rousing success, but it had its moments. The lineup was a little too diverse for one stage; the sets didn’t flow and it felt like the crowd couldn’t get into a groove long enough to keep it going. Day 2 is a very different story, however. My review on that will be up shortly. For now, check out some of my photos from day 1 below, and view the full set here.
* All photos © Kevin Kennedy 2011