If someone told me in 2012 that I’d be on an off-road track in a new Jeep with the intoxicating smell of new car just a few hundred feet from the East River, it probably would have elicited a confident look of sarcasm. Yet last weekend at Catalpa NYC on Randall’s Island, I found myself in just that situation.
Thanks in large part to the sponsorship of Jeep, July 28 and July 29 hosted a collection of well-known, as well as up and coming, artists on Randall’s Island for the first ever Catalpa Music Festival. Dreamed to life by Frisky, an organization bent on creating a new, unique festival experience, the event aimed to increase focus on “site artistry” and interactive activities as well as the music.
Presented on New York’s Randall’s Island, Catalpa helped to draw attention to the small island and remind New Yorkers that life exists, and is much greener, outside Manhattan. Home of the Icahn Stadium, Randall’s Island has undergone a revamp since early days when it was known mostly for its housing of the largest psychological hospital in the United States. Now, Randall’s and Ward’s Islands play host to a variety of events including Lollapalooza, Electric Zoo Festival and now Catalpa Music Festival.
In addition to the festival’s 40 musical guests, Catalpa organizers and sponsors made sure that none of their attendees could complain of boredom or hunger. Food tents and vendor trucks lined the perimeter of the festival offering everything from vegetarian quesadillas to Jamaican grub to custom made ice cream sandwiches. Absolut vodka‘s Art Bar tent commanded the center of the field, featuring two on-site artists working to transform giant vodka bottle structures into creative, expressive miniature murals, each with their own character. The tent itself proved to be quite an interesting structure as well.
In line with their ideas and goals for the festival focus, Frisky worked with on-site sponsors to create hands-on events for the crowd. As a stage sponsor, Jeep wins the prize for coolest activity with an off-road obstacle course in the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Altitude featuring an out-of-vehicle competition involving sliding, slalom and timed gear loading. Aside from the main attraction, other promotional events included the Church of Rock confessional booths for got2b, quickie marriages at the Church of Sham and a silent disco during which attendees rocked out with their headphones out.
One of the coolest aspects of Catalpa is its partnering with Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and injustice. Together with individuals and local groups in more than 90 countries, Oxfam saves lives, helps people overcome poverty, and fights for social justice. Ideal for Catalpa’s audience, Oxfam America works with musicians and establishes presence at events through their Music Outreach program in attempt to inform music fans of ways to act against hunger and poverty.
In the music realm, Catalpa enlisted big name artists for key performances including a Matisyahu show on Sunday evening, which proved to be high energy from the first moment. Matisyahu oozed stage presence and danced the length of the floor as though no one was watching. But they were.
For lucky festival goers who saw Snoop Dogg, word of mouth is that his show was just as dynamic, despite less than favorable reviews of the event as a whole. From small complaints like low water supply and attendance to rather significant issues, like the fact that the entire Arcadia stage was missing in action, Catalpa Music Festival definitely has a list of possible improvements for next year’s event, but as a festival pilot, Catalpa passes our inspection.