It may still be a little warm, but summer is officially over and was sent off in style by TBD Fest. No longer To Be Determined, the festival was a mixed success. It brought food, art, architecture, music and culture together on the dusty terrain of River Walk Park in West Sacramento. While there were plenty of things to enjoy at TBD Fest, some feel that there are many adjustments needing to be made in order to justify the major festival price tag.
Formerly Launch, TBD Fest took place October 3-5 in West Sacramento. While not outgrowing Cesar Chavez Park in terms of reaching its capacity, the organizers felt the need to re-brand Launch into something new. It seems, though, that none of them were sure what that direction would be until the festival neared, leaving those that had bought tickets wondering what they were in for. The result was a dusty affair that was fun and enjoyable, but could have been so much more.
Walking around the grounds, the most common complaint was the dust being kicked up into the air. The terrain varied from gravel to loose dirt, causing dust clouds that covered everything and everyone in a fine layer of dirt. If you were checking out what people were saying on Twitter before heading in, it was easy to adapt to this by bringing handkerchiefs to cover your face. You also would have noticed the strange rules being enforced, particularly no strollers, backpacks, or eye drops. If that’s how the organizers want to play it, they need to take a cue from other major festivals and provide lockers through PayPal or some other sponsor so that attendees can store their sunscreen and sweaters. Citing rough terrain as the reason for not allowing strollers is probably an indication that you should have your festival on a grassy field or somewhere else more accommodating to those folks that you expect to be there for twelve hours. Luckily, the team behind TBD was listening to complaints about the air quality, and on Sunday employed people to walk around with large water tanks on their backs, misting the grounds to keep dust down.
While the layout of the festival was pretty convenient, the map itself is a bit of a joke. Typically, festival maps are basic illustrations making it as easy as possible to figure your way out from Point A to Point B. This map succeeds in that when it comes to the stages, restrooms and VIP areas, but beyond that, you were on your own. The map did nothing to tell you where you can find food, beverages, water stations, or merchandise. It didn’t even locate the chef competition stage “The Pit,” art installations or local vendors. This leads one to believe that, like the condition of the grounds, not enough planning was put into how all of this was going to fit together. Getting from one end of the festival to the other in time to see acts on the main stages wasn’t a problem, and that is an underappreciated feat. Granted, you could have doubled the attendees and it still wouldn’t have felt too full.
The stage production was on point for the most part. Four stages capable of bursting your chest with their sound systems did a pretty good job of not letting their sound bleed into one another, allowing you to make your way from one stage and still hear the music clear enough until you were engulfed by the next. The two main stages had great effects, with LED screens ablaze with fresh graphics and no shortage of lights.
One of the biggest issues, though, was that the daily lineups printed in the free festival guides were wrong. So if you showed up later Saturday afternoon thinking you could catch Ghost Beach at 10 pm, you wouldn’t have known until it was too late that the set was moved earlier to 4:15 and a different stage. That’s a big deal. If you paid $70 or $160 to see particular performers, and they were moved to a different stage and a different time than you had expected, how would you feel? It’s understandable that part of what we’re paying for is the “festival experience” but bands are booked to draw a distinct crowd of people. The organizers must take this into consideration when dealing with the challenges.
A huge opportunity for TBD would be to not only include, but celebrate local acts. As it stands, the population of Midtown that isn’t into the LowBrau/Block/Golden Bear scene is not going to pay to get into this festival. A lot of them regularly pay $5 to $12 for shows, and probably volunteered just to get in, only to tell their friends how there’s no way they’d fork over $70 to see Blondie and a bunch of EDM DJs. This doesn’t mean we need a punk stage at TBD, there are several alternative acts in town that would not only draw a more diverse crowd, but benefit from the chance to perform for those that wouldn’t normally come see them at Harlow’s or Witch Room. True, Autumn Sky played, and all due respect to Autumn, but she’s the safe choice. Pets, Musical Charis, Exquisite Corps, Sun Valley Gun Club and even Shoujo Kitten could have rocked the Red Bull Stage and drawn another niche of Sacramento’s diverse culture.
TBD Fest has a lot of soul searching to do. There were obvious hits and misses this year, but the team has shown that they are listening to the feedback. We all want our city to be great and have its own identity, but it can only happen if we all come together. Here’s hoping TBD Fest grows from this year, and looks for ways to include a more diverse crowd next year.