TBD Fest for the win

TBD Fest did it: Wow. Just wow. Three days of great music, epic eats, attractive design and a 65-foot Ferris wheel, all in our humble town of Sacramento. It’s hard to overstate how awesome it felt to bike to such a great event. Or to say, “I live in Sacramento” to people who traveled long distances to see [fill in famous act here].

Saturday completely sold out and the whole weekend saw 21,000 attendees, according to organizers. I’d call that a success.

The multi-acre slab of riverfront in West Sacramento south of Raley Field—the future site of a new outdoor venue, the Barn—featured four big stages, two operating at a time; a maze of vendors touting food, clothing, arts, crafts and even exercise bikes; a chef’s competition stage with a wood-fired kitchen; a two-story cat walk; carnival rides; art installations and more.

It felt like a major music festival for which I’d travel sizeable distances. But without the frustratingly dense, aggressive crowds. Part of that might be because it’s Sacramento. Part of that might be the types of musicians that played—electronic-dance producers, indie-rock bands, synth-pop outfits, alternative hip-hop groups. And none of the headliners were at the height of their fame.

Every act was at least solid. Most were surprisingly good. Many were fantastic.

Empire of the Sun took the headliner prize—the only live band with a closing spot, and one with dancers, costume changes, trippy lights and confetti.

Semi-legends Justice and Moby deejayed. The legendary Blondie owned her set and drew a massive Sunday-night crowd.

Personal favorites included Yacht for a super-energetic performance worthy of the main stage; Deltron 3030 for the funk, politically charged graphics and Gorillaz throwback; Gramatik for the glitchy, swingin’ dubstep; Blackalicious for the hometown pride; Explosions in the Sky for its always-cinematic magic; Nick Waterhouse for the soulful, powerful break from heavy bass.

But it’s so hard to choose. Everyone delivered.

And there was only one real sound glitch all weekend, unfortunately during the War on Drugs’ set. And only one artist that I’m aware of had to cancel—Axxa/Abraxas had problems with its van.

Speaking of problems, there definitely were some early Friday. That’s to be expected with a first-time festival, but the water situation remained less than optimal—nothing to fill empty bottles on Friday, followed by a few coolers that ran out too early. I longed for more seating throughout the grounds as well. The dusty, rocky dirt wasn’t ideal for casual lounging, and the very few lounges were always packed.

OK. No more complaining. I haven’t even gotten to the food yet.

Sacramento’s chefs brought some serious creativity and talent to the Pit, the culinary battle arena. Pairs faced off every three hours, and at the end, each chef plated 350 bites for public consumption. Brian Mizner of Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co. dished out octopus tacos while Michael Fagnoni of Hawks prepared ribs. Michael Thiemann and Matt Masera of Mother smoked some beef with spam, pineapple and pasta, inspired by Hawaii. Opponent Kurt Spataro of Paragary’s spooned out wonderfully fatty duck ramen. Carina Lampkin of Blackbird Kitchen & Beer Gallery dotted oysters with citrus foam. This was not standard festival food.

And beyond the incredible freebies, chefs had fantastic offerings too. I sampled a smokey Jamaican chicken bao from Urban Heritage out of Napa. Excellent. Mother had a deadly soft serve: Trix cereal milk-flavored, with a chocolate shell and sprinkles. I couldn’t even believe the options for cold-pressed juice.

Seeing the chef camaraderie was a treat—selfies and all—as was seeing the whole creative community rally to make TBD such a success. It was obvious.

For example, the Sacramento Ballet joined forces with D.A.M.B., aka Shaun Slaughter, for a beautiful, playful performance to bass-heavy tropical house. Later, they organized a flash mob in the middle of the festival to some fun swing-beat.

The giant collaboration seemed obvious to visiting musicians too, who were spotted all over enjoying the festival. Sister Crayon was front-and-center for Kurt Vile & the Violators. Yacht feasted on Mother’s cereal soft-serve. Moby wandered around looking for vegan food. Don’t look, my Sacramento pride is swelling.

In a hashtag: #WeAreTBD.

—Janelle Bitker