If there's one thing that makes a music festival truly great, it's a sense of identity. The Lollapaloozas and Coachellas of the world work because they know the vibe and aesthetic they wish to achieve, and they do so every year. Without that core identity, festivals quickly shutter.
That's kind of a concern for Pot of Gold.
Only in its fifth year, PoG has already undergone some drastic changes in booking style. In years past, there was a healthy mix of rap, rock, country, random jam bands, and more. This year, the lineup was almost exclusively rap and R&B. It certainly sets the festival apart, especially in Arizona, but the indecisiveness does raise some real questions. Is this a permanent shift, and if so, will it be the one to make PoG stand out? Or is this another step in the festival's evolution?
Of course, on day one, the biggest problem seemed to be actually getting acts on stage. A few minutes is one thing, but by nearly 5 p.m. there’d only been a 20-minute set from Dann G (albeit one that was really fun and explosive, drawing a decent crowd). There were times when the steady soundtrack of the carnival rides on site felt more entertaining.
Not so much. Long lines at will call, increasingly annoyed attendees, and a total communication breakdown were all par for the course Friday. (It's also worth pointing out that the media check-in was also empty). The park itself was nearly empty by the 4 p.m. kickoff time save for scattered fans, last-minute soundchecks, and random vendors. Issues only compounded as the day rolled on, and most acts ended up being a minimum of 30 minutes late, which threw off set times and forced some acts to go under.
By 7 pm., the delays rippled, with Ma$e to taking the Central Stage an hour late, his soundcheck overpowering Ivy Queen’s set on the surprisingly on time Camelback Stage (Totally worth it for a 10-minute set that ended with a social media plug) .But that was only the start of the schedule's unraveling. Ice Cube went on an hour earlier at 8 p.m., cutting Jon Z’s set short, and so forth for the remainder of the show, with Snoop Dogg acting as the de facto headliner for the Central Stage around 10 p.m.
Performances like Ozuna make all these problems seem like minor inconveniences, but still, they added up Friday, painting a picture of a festival that clearly stumbled in a new location and a fresh set of logistical demands. It goes back to the move out of Rawhide: That’s a space made for these events, and spaces like Steele Indian aren’t necessarily.
That said, this abrupt turn into full rap and R&B block party had one upside in that it drew a multifaceted crowd. Sure, you had your usual throngs of young people in search of sun and fun (and booze). But there were also grown kids with their middle-aged parents, young children, and even a few people chilling with their dogs. There was a solid, cross-racial mix just as eager to eat a corn dog or ride the Turbo as they were to get drunk to Ice Cube. And most remained in pretty good spirits despite the scheduling hiccups and changes.
Even with Snoop, there's pet peeves that can't be ignored. There were miscommunications with security; people’s irksome, over-extended Instagram photo shoots; and the proximity of the two stages (it proved slightly clunky moving between Camelback and Central stages). While some of that feels inconsequential, it's all about the greater context. Issues with festival identity and traffic and $10 tacos don't prevent a festival from excelling. It does, however, color the entire affair, and demonstrate the larger shortcomings of the city's music fans.
Yet there's just as much to have been overjoyed about at PoG. There was the abundance of shaved ice (consumed while watching delightful 10-year old rapper Lil Lu), the many wares of local street artists, the walls of graffiti, and people dancing at or near swing sets. There was a moment around 5:30 p.m., watching NB Ridaz, and a slight breeze kicked in as they sung tunes about Seventh Street. This is very much a hyper-Phoenix experience, an extension of the city’s vibes and sense of community, a sweet little slice of everything that is 602.
Night one of Pot of Gold 2019 was complicated, equal parts joyous block party and logistical nightmare. But what's the final takeaway? There’s an old bumper sticker they once sold at Frances: “Love Phoenix or Leave Phoenix.” Maybe that’s a bit dismissive of any actual shortcomings, but often that’s how things work. Phoenix can be a "take it or leave it town," and the good comes right with the bad. In the case of Pot of Gold, it’s all ultimately worth taking, even that means staying up past your bedtime.