Music Tastes Good showcases Long Beach with an accessible, approachable debut

About 24 hours before taking the stage at Long Beach’s first Music Tastes Good festival on Saturday evening, locals Warpaint had performed at a very different sort of celebration —  Symbiosis Gathering, a festival with a reputation for Burning Man-level debauchery. 

Clothes, the band noted, were seemingly optional at that Northern California gathering. “So get naked,” singer-guitarist Emily Kokal said to the crowd assembled on the streets of downtown Long Beach. But there would be no disrobing at Music Tastes Good.

This was, after all, a festival where rock ’n’ roll was on its best behavior. Looking for fashionable festival attire? There was the odd flower headband, as well as infants sporting earmuffs for hearing protection.

“It's a good, diverse crowd,” said Adam Sukman, 26, who lives a few blocks from the festival’s site. “I'm seeing dogs. I'm seeing kids. It's not just a bunch of festival-goers. I enjoy that. It's got a communal vibe.”

The brainchild of veteran music booker Jon Halperin and musician-promoter Josh Fischel, Music Tastes Good set out to showcase Long Beach as a vibrant music community. Residing in the shadows of Los Angeles, Long Beach may often be invisible to touring bands, but Music Tastes Good aims to make it a destination

“It brings a lot of people here -- people who get to see Long Beach who might not come otherwise,” said Ellie Hollinshead, 20, of Long Beach. “I think it's great. I haven't heard of too many big concerts like this happening in Long Beach. They're usually in Los Angeles.”

The scope of the festival was larger than a neighborhood affair but smaller and more manageable than, say, late August’s FYF Fest near USC.

Stages were tucked around street corners. Stern but atmospheric rapper P.O.S. discarded the platform entirely, performing on the pavement and encouraging fans to circle around him. Moments later, a block away, hard-core punk-meets-metal survivors the Melvins stomped around the stage, making the case that guitar-fronted rock doesn’t necessarily mellow with age. Or mature, as the act, more than three decades into its career, isn’t above lacing its songs with snotty humor. 

Girlpool, anchored by Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, played folk rock that was fragile one moment and startling the next, as tones shifted from the vulnerable to the biting. And Warpaint, with a strong new album in “Heads Up,” rooted songs in rhythms that were fluid and danceable, flavored by tantalizingly elusive melodies.

Chicago’s Twin Peaks captured the generation-spanning feel of the event. The group’s songs have a youthful exuberance, as well as a timeless quality indebted to rock greats such as the Who and the Rolling Stones, swapping vocals and racing through short, punchy riffs possessing the swagger of a confident slacker. 

An eclectic mishmash of a lineup, which also included ska pioneers the Specials, the orchestral folk of Iron & Wine and the aggressively abrasive hip-hop of Clipping, Music Tastes Good was more random than heavily curated. But that worked in the fest’s favor, lending it an approachable but cheerily scrappy vibe that at once catered to no one and everyone.

And true to its name, there was a fancy, VIP-food add-on. Restaurants surrounding the festival’s core intersection of East Broadway and Linden Avenue were also open, offering both air conditioning and alternative, civil festival dining options. 

The three-day event, which opened Friday night with a locals-heavy set and was set to close Sunday evening with an appearance from the offbeat and jazzy hip-hop trio De La Soul, was expected to draw about 20,000 people.

Perhaps most impressive, however, was the fact that Halperin and Fischel put on the festival without the help of a major promoter, making it the rare music event today to go a pure independent route. Tickets for Saturday were $75, while Friday and Sunday could be had for $35 or less. There were certainly some concessions made — plenty of sponsors were on hand with giveaways — but it never felt as if corners had been cut.

“It’s different than what I expected,” said Hollinshead. “I like that it’s like a block party. I wasn't expecting it to be on the actual streets. This is really cool.”

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