If Music Tastes Good, Long Beach’s homegrown music and arts festival, was going to work, it needed a little help from its friends. High temperatures and technical difficulties rattled the collective cages of the four stages strewn across three city blocks all weekend. But a dedicated crew and slew of top notch musicians kept the crowd from getting restless, culminating in an almost entirely successful inaugural gathering.
Friday night was the grand introduction to the weekend, with only the main stage open for a few bands. Living legends Living Colour got the crowd riled up doing more than just the hits, with Vernon Reid showing once again how truly underrated a guitarist he is. Frontman Corey Glover got the audience all kinds of hyped throughout their near-hour set and by the time “Cult of Personality” came up, the audience was already bought into the New York foursome. Local boys done good Rival Sons preformed what could be considered the most genuine type of rock n roll still available today: no frills, no gimmicks, just tight jeans, heavy riffs, and lyrics about getting down and dirty. It was a tone-setter for the bands to come and made Long Beach feel a little more special than if a random headliner from out of town had kicked things off.
The lineup was geared toward a stacked Saturday, with music from all across the spectrum on display. Local legends The Ziggens laughed their way through a set on the Solar Stage (which had unfortunately been constructed backward, leaving fans to guess what stage they were watching). Skinny Lister got things swinging on the Linden Stage before the sun started to set, but Cody Chesnutt was there to soothe it all the way down. Once the moon started to show up, Canadian rockers METZ nearly tore the asphalt from the street with a heavy destructive set unfit for city streets.
Things were slightly more low key on the jetBlue stage, with Girlpool’s 90’s aesthetic keeping a crowd of mostly hip ladies engaged. Vintage Trouble followed that up with a soulful set built for moving and shaking, as the energy of frontman Ty Taylor is nearly fatal with how infectious it becomes over a short period of time. Those that hung around Atlantic Ave for the rest of the night were given a double dose of great guitar work and musicianship, as Squeeze played for an hour before Iron and Wine closed down the street with his gorgeous crooning.
But the main stage housed the biggest names of the night, stacking up youth run wild Twin Peaks and Warpaint, both acts built for the outdoor DIY scene. Dr. Dog upped the skill level ante a bit, but still gave the crowd plenty to groove to, before The Specials came in and turned the whole lot into a dancing mess. They kicked off their set with "Ghost Town," perfect for anyone that thought they might know who The Specials were but weren't positive. For a band that has been skanking for 40 years, they still seemed ready to get to work, especially guitarist Lynval Golding.
Saturday featured more than just amazing bands, as a solid 15-degree hike in temperatures made the shade a necessity. Luckily for MTG, the commercial district housing the event, including a few restaurants, bars, and other businesses, were accommodating to those in attendance. They also played an important part in creating the urban acoustics for most of the stages. Neighbors turned into onlookers as the show went on, some seen dancing on their balconies and enjoying the free show.
Sunday was lower in key and higher in heat, but plenty came out once the sun took a break to enjoy Gallant, De La Soul ,and headliners Sylvan Esso. Gallant was one of many acts to go on late due to technical difficulties arising during the soundcheck, but it barely phased him as he smashed through his small but powerful catalog. De La Soul did the type of golden era hip-hop act that they do best, which too often translated into hokey “Hey, Ho, Put your hands up!” showmanship that works for part of the crowd, but annoys the rest, like a guy trying to start “The Wave” at a sporting event without realizing it’s 2016 and that sh*t is lame. But Sylvan Esso proved more than ready to take the whole show over and deliver a stunning two-person performance that solidified MTG as a destination festival. Usually, a band playing new music is a groan-worthy occasion, but they worked it in perfectly with the fan favorites and frontwoman Amelia Meath radiates enough positivity to melt the ice caps.
A mark of a good festival is the diversity of headliners. Unless you are focusing solely on one genre, mixing up the final acts for your audience is key and MTG nailed it in this respect. Rival Sons were the prodigious rockers tasked with revving up the weekend, The Specials capped a wild Saturday with the much needed big name international flavor, and Sylvan Esso drew in all of the above in addition to everyone who could not care less about local music.
In the end, MTG represented its host city almost to a fault. The wealth of culture, laid back attitudes, and good vibes were at odds with rigid schedules and organization. But the mix of world famous bands and local favorites made the show feel modern and personal, something the mega festivals can never achieve. While complaints can be made about the little things, those are the sorts of details that get better over time and with practice. The heart and soul beneath this festival is already where it needs to be and ended up building the best block party this city has seen in years.