If you were so inclined on Saturday, you could have stood near the river’s edge in Old Sacramento and heard a band playing in West Sacramento – so clearly, in fact, that you could even understand the words.
You could hear the singer say, “Thank you!” Truth be told, it was hard to pick up the smattering of applause some 300 yards across the water. But hey, it was early afternoon and the music – lots and lots of music – was just warming up.
Move away from the river just a block, stand at the entrance of the temporary music venue behind the Firehouse Restaurant, and you could hear a musician named James Garner performing a tribute to Johnny Cash before an enthusiastic crowd. On another block, the alternative pop girl band Pixikill played in a near-empty venue, seven hours before Everclear, a ’90s alternative rock band, was set to headline.
Welcome to the weekend of the dueling music festivals – the long-running, renamed and rekindled Sacramento Music Festival & Jubilee (formerly the Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee) vs. the upstart First Festival featuring 18 local bands strutting their stuff at River Walk Park in West Sacramento.
While the verdict was still out as to whether the cities could support this much music in one weekend, that wasn’t the question most people had on their minds Saturday as they hustled to wolf down food, bask in the sunshine or figure out what music they wanted to hear and where they needed to be to hear it.
Larry Taylor, a volunteer at the Sacramento Music Festival since 1988, has seen and heard it all through the years, and he wasn’t terribly worried that a local band called Rebel Radio was about to throw down on the “Yelp Stage” in West Sacramento at precisely the time the up-and-coming Brodie Stewart Band was to play its country music behind the Firehouse.
“That’s just a mistake for them. Just poor communication,” he said of the First Festival scheduling. “They did not know that this was always on Memorial Day weekend.”
The long-running Sacramento festival has had its ups and downs through the years, and this new version aims to attract younger music fans without alienating the core audience that always buys tickets. Organizers say ticket sales are up this year.
Taylor, wearing his volunteer T-shirt, has always done his part at the music festival, helping out folks whether they’re seeking information about the music or just want someone to dance with.
“These are just nice people, and you just want to help,” he said when asked why he continues to volunteer. “Sometimes, when the music is nice, I’ll dance with them up here. I have no musical talent whatsoever, but the music goes in my ears and out my feet.”
On Saturday, with temperatures in the high 70s, there was plenty more to see and hear and do in town, too.
It was hard to miss the dozens of folks – clad in orange T-shirts, walking faster than normal and looking more than a little frenzied – participating in a scavenger hunt throughout midtown. There were people enjoying brunch on restaurant patios or getting an early start at a bar. The American River Parkway was packed with runners, walkers and people riding bikes. The zoo was crowded, the golf courses jammed. And at the picnic tables along Land Park Golf Course, all of the barbecue grills were occupied.
Neither riverside music festival was enough to drown out the familiar whistle of the historic train that gives tourists short rides from Old Sacramento. There was the occasional roar of Harley Davidson motorcycles. There was a hot-rod show, too, and, like any sunny Saturday in this tourist-heavy section of town, all kinds of folks strolled the vintage boardwalks, buying cotton candy, miniature donuts, ice cream or corn dogs.
Donna Christian, another longtime volunteer for the Sacramento Music Festival, said this year’s event felt a tad sluggish compared with previous years, though she wasn’t ready to blame it on the 18 bands across the river.
“It’s not as good as it once was,” she said. “We can tell by the number of people in the streets.”
But Jim Driver wasn’t so sure. And he wasn’t terribly worried about head counts or ticket sales at the moment. A member of the Sacramento Banjo Band, he was scheduled to play on the historic train from 3 to 5 p.m.
“Well, we’re hearing some awfully good music,” he said. “Every year I’m happy with it. That’s what really matters.”