Live: Catalpa Offers A Little Bit Of Everything To The Soggy Masses At Randall's Island
PHOTOS: Sunday at Catalpa
Rockafor Snoop Dogg at Catalpa.
Catalpa NYC: Snoop Dogg, Black Keys, Matt & Kim, Matisyahu, A$AP Rocky, Hercules & Love Affair, TV On The Radio, Girl Talk, et al.
Saturday and Sunday, July 28 and 29
Better than: Arguing over an iPod's shuffle function.
Music festivals without a historical following or a known brand identity can employ many strategies in their inaugural year, one of which is "Appeal to as many prospective demographics as possible." Catalpa NYC, which debuted this weekend at Randall's Island, decided to combat this problem by throwing together a bunch of popular-ish acts and some quirky attractionsart, fire, a chance to "elope" with a fellow Snoop Dogg fan.
Results were mixed; the lineup succeeded in having a broad appeal, but lacked a coherent musical aesthetic. Many of the non-musical attractions were spoiled by rain on Saturday and, faced with the prospect of surviving on its artists alone, Catalpa became a referendum on its performers' current positions within the musical landscape. Many attendees claimed to like "everything," so Catalpa became a chance to find out what the new "everything" is.
The musicians played across three stages, with a whole host of corporate sponsorships filling the gaps between the performance spaces. Vodka was hawked in what looked like a sprawling series of igloos; a car company set up an obstacle course to demonstrate the trunk space and cool factor of its new trucks; a web site handed out face paint and animal masks. My personal favorite booth promoted a kind of guarana/caffeine pill that is supposed to be dropped into water, making it turn all fizzy and orange like an Alka-Seltzer from Hellhalf an hour after it's imbibed, your heart is doing high-speed interval training inside your chest.
There were other, less corporate, uningestable attractions, many of which failed to reach their full potential due to Saturday's rain. A fire demonstration was canceled; the bumper cars were nowhere to be found; one operations employee informed me that it took nine hours to set up the bounce castle that would serve as the "house of sham marriages." Catalpa didn't quite deliver on its admittedly ambitious extramusical plans, but it provided a great opportunity to investigate those artists operating at the borders of the mainstream.
Matthew Paul Miller, better known as the Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu, was almost too perfect an artistic choice for a festival struggling to forge an identity. After all, the man is a particularly well-traveled cultural tourist, having chosen not one but two "exotic," appropriation-ready regions (Jamaica and Israel). When Miller first became popular back in 2004, he still wore the yarmulke, side curls and beard of the religion he chose when he was 15. Eight years later, he's traded in his Orthodox accessories for turquoise Nikes and a denim jacket.
It's difficult to be open-minded about this progressionespecially when Miller sings lyrics like "Jerusalem, if I forget you, let my right hand forget what it's supposed to do" and the hand holding the microphone isn't smote by the wrath of a betrayed God, or when he says that he's going to use the Jewish holiday Tisha B'Av as an occasion for rejoicing. (It's actually a commemoration of the destruction of the holy temples, as well as a day of remembrance for a bunch of other bad stuff that's happened to Jews over the years.)
Matisyahu does win points for taking a firm stand against the heinous, mammarian beach balls that made appearances intermittently all weekend. There is nothing redeeming about them; they smell like wet condoms, they provoke every drunkard in the crowd to lunge blindly skywards frequently knocking meek counterparts over in the process and if you don't look up, one will inevitably plow into your head.