City of Trees festival hits the right notes at Bonney Field

Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco // Paul Piazza

By Paul Piazza

At first glance, last year’s inaugural 94.7 City of Trees festival had all the potential in the world to be stellar. It featured a solid lineup of hit-making bands, a large venue and a crowd eager to party—topped with a headlining set by hometown heroes Cake.

But there were some pretty large oversights: the water refill station ran dry midway through the hot day and the traffic flow heading in and out of Gibson Ranch was nothing short of horrendous. The water problem was eventually remedied, but after Cake finished, those who had stayed for the entire set had to wait up to two-and-a-half hours to exit the dark, pothole-filled parking lot.

This year, the organizers wisely moved the venue to Bonney Field, where there was abundant, well-lit parking; multiple points of entry instead of Gibson Ranch’s single road; and the water flow never ceased. It took less than 10 minutes to get in and out of the venue each way. And the music was solid on all three stages—bumped up from last year’s two.

Panic! at the Disco closed the show at roughly 10 p.m. with a high-energy set that had thousands dancing on the venue’s soccer pitch. The soft, well-manicured field felt so good that many pairs of shoes were discarded throughout the set. Fans seemed to revel in Panic’s catchy sound, twisting and spinning and dancing as if they were at a Grateful Dead show 25 years earlier.

The crowd consisted of a mix of generations—some fans were close to the age of Weezer vocalist Rivers Cuomo (46) but they were vastly outnumbered by millennials, teens and even a contingent of those under 10 who had come out with their parents. The shriek level reached a crescendo anytime Panic vocalist Brendon Urie danced near the edge of the stage. A few kids openly wept in joy.

OMG Brendon Urie!!! // Paul Piazza

Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel // Paul Piazza

This energy level was nearly matched by the head-shaking crowd during the Struts’ retro glam rock set. Phantogram also received an excellent response as vocalist-keyboardist Sarah Barthel floated around the stage during the band’s trippy, electronica presentation.

Weezer, which looked a little out of place at Aftershock Festival a couple of years ago, played an outstanding set as the sun went down. Frontman Cuomo, who can often be pretty stationary while performing, roamed the stage with bandmates and even strolled out to the sound booth to rock at one point.

The inclusion of local bands in what was simply called the Sacramento tent gave a great homegrown flair to the event. Bands like Arden Park Roots, Joy and Madness and Trophii all played solid sets that were well-received. The latter duo, comprised of Lindsey Pavao and Richie Smith, is expected to finally release its debut dream-pop record Vitamins and Flowers at the end of the month.

The local headlining slot went to Cemetery Sun. The band, which specializes in dark, melodic hooks, recently signed with Lava/Republic Records and expects to release an EP before the year is out.

Weezer // Paul Piazza

Cemetery Sun // Paul Piazza

City of Trees certainly seems headed in the right direction, though there were some minor complaints this year. The VIP section took up a disproportionate amount of the main stage viewing area. And the sound could be heard clearly out on Alta Arden Expressway during the headlining sets—a potentially major factor for the festival’s future since noise complaints were the main reason Cal Expo ceased as a music venue years ago.

Still, based on the crowd response and the logistical improvements, City of Trees seems primed for its third try to be the charm.

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