Walking onto the Queen Mary Events Park grounds for the indie alternative rock festival, Just Like Heaven, I felt like an imposter. I didn’t know any of the artists on the lineup, save for MGMT, Phoenix, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and She Wants Revenge, and I had spent the better part of my morning listening to a Spotify playlist that featured songs from every act on the lineup that an uber-fan had made and shared on Twitter (thank you).
As I floundered my way around the waterfront grounds, disappointed that I had narrowly missed the throaty, warbly tenor of She Wants Revenge’s Justin Warfield singing “Tear You Apart,” not feeling hungry enough for some lobster mac-n-cheese and internally debating whether or not it was too early to go and grab my first beer, I ran into a friend.
“Jeanay, is that you?” said a boy in a salmon pink T-shirt with long black hair tied in a ponytail that reached nearly all the way down his back.
“It’s Cheantay,” I corrected, but felt mildly flabbergasted that this stranger knew my twin sister’s name. I pushed my sunglasses down my nose to get a proper look.
“Jimmy, is that you?” I gasped, “I haven’t seen you since high school!”
After a hug and quick introductions, I followed him and his fellow concert-buddy Alex Antoshko as we joined the current of bodies heading toward the second stage (aka the Strange as Angels stage) to catch synthy chillwave artist, Washed Out. We meandered through a connecting black tunnel painted with pastel blue, yellow and pink space-themed illustrations, trying half-heartedly, as we jaunted past, not to photobomb the handful of people intent on snapping that perfect Instagram picture.
“The thing I love about festivals like these is that I run into people I never expected to meet,” my long-lost friend, Jimmy Torres, admitted to me as we staked our place in the audience.
Although an admitted concert/festival junkie, I wondered what specifically had brought my high-school comrade, an OC native but recent LA transplant, to a line-up entirely dedicated to the indie tones of the early aughts.
“It feels like my senior year of high-school in a festival,” the 25-year-old said.
During the set of Sweden’s indie-pop trio Miike Snow, I stood in line to grab my second drink and struck up conversation with twentysomething Stephen Hong (thanks for my beer) who echoed the same sentiments, saying he drove up from San Diego to relive a playlist reminiscent of his middle- and high-school years.
A metalhead at heart, the majority of my concert experiences of late have been at modest-sized venues, holed up inside dark rooms with blinding stage lights, set to the tone of droning blast-beats and hoarse screams, head-banging while I keep my peripherals on the swirling mosh-pit where I would inevitably get knocked around.
So, at a festival with nearly 15,000 people in attendance, playing music I never really felt a strong affinity toward, I felt surprisingly at home. I wasn’t sure if it was the narrow age range (most people looked to be between 23 and 35), or all the smiling—but I felt like I could go up and talk to anyone.
As a chorus of excited whoops erupted mid-way through the set of indie-rock quartet Grizzy Bear, I tapped the shoulder of swaying Vanessa Fiddler to ask what song had just started to warrant all the excitement. As she informed me that the song was “Two Weeks” their most iconic tune, she went on to tell me why she loved festivals like this one so much.
“People are actually here for the music,” said the 35-year-old with red flecks of glitter on her eyelids. “And everyone is so nice. People aren’t pushing each other around and actually apologize if they bump into you.”
Crowd-watching was a captivating exercise as I tried to count, but lost track of all the fruit themed button-ups (pineapple was by far the favorite, banana close second). There were the baby-carrier-clad parents, rocking their toddlers to MGMT’s bouncy rhythms. Glittery girls in fringy two-pieces with tiny-framed colored sunglasses—many of whom looked as though they were trying to repeat their past Coachella weekends—shared combustible substances with shirtless guys sporting fanny-packs.
As the sun set on the day, I found my high-school flashback and his friend and we wedged ourselves in the massive crowd that was awaiting its moment of post-punk revival with the appearance the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Karen O, clad in a baby-blue draped fringe robe with a winged crown to complete the look, came sauntering out, and dove right into the band’s set with all-time favorite songs “Black Tongue” and “Cold Light.” As she flailed around, spraying water in the air, emitting bursts of shrieks, I wished that she would scream at her sound guy, because the feedback drowned out her vocals with quivering distortion. We left after four songs, figuring that the sound wouldn’t be getting any clearer before the set was over.
“That’s the beauty of festivals like this,” Alex Antoshko said to me as we hurried toward the other stage to catch the tail-end of Neon Indian’s wavy set. “You can just leave.”
Beach House, set to a starry-backdrop that would filter up-close visuals of vocalist and keyboardist Victoria Legrand’s fingers or Alex Scally’s hands, dancing along on their respective instruments, played a mellow, moody set. People swayed, held each other and sang along with familiar lyrics, eyes closed in rapture.
Eager to find my energy that had been lulled by the dreamy tones of Beach House, I rallied for the last set of the evening, spinning around, hands waving in the air, allowing myself to groove out with whatever ounce of momentum I had left.
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