Review: Sacred Rose Fest Bloomed This Weekend, But Not Without Its Thorns

By guest aurhor Valerie Nikolas

Reflecting on this weekend as I attempt to re-integrate to post-fest normalcy, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the Sacred Rose Festival at SeatGeek Stadium. I had extremely high hopes for this fest, as I couldn’t have dreamed up a better lineup if I tried. The crossover between Americana, indie, jam, jamtronica, funk, hip-hop, and bluegrass was *chef’s kiss.*

Unfortunately, this rose wasn’t without its thorns. I wouldn’t expect a first-time fest to be without its issues, while I commended the staff for listening to attendees’ feedback and making real-time adjustments when they could. Unfortunately, there were some unavoidable issues like band cancellations and the weather to more distressing issues regarding sound, untimely communication, and unauthorized credit card charges that ultimately led to disappointment. 

Let's jump in with the good: Overall, I’m still happy I attended to see some of my favorite bands and catch up with friends. Getting to see Phil Lesh & Friends for the first time was a highlight, as well as the War on Drugs, the Disco Biscuits, STS9, and Hiatus Kaiyote. So thank you, Sacred Rose, for a real good time. 

I loved the thoughtfulness and attention to detail. The art installations were interesting, the AstroTurf was comfortable, and there was plenty of space for sitting and taking a breather. Stages, amenities, and vendors were easily accessible and it didn’t feel like you had to walk or wait in line forever. The vendors were quality and balanced, offering up a nice selection of pins, clothes, and more. 

On to the not-so-good: at a festival where music is central, sound issues are a major problem. There was quite a bit of sound bleed between the three stages, due to the fact that they were so close together. Also, at various times at every stage, there were times where the sound was so quiet or muffled that it affected the overall experience. At one point, during Goose’s Saturday set at the Dreamfield Stage, the sound quality was so bad that I had to leave and see another band. 

I’m no sound engineer, but there had to be better options for stage setup than the one they chose. I’m confused because North Coast happens in the same venue, but they have made use of the stadium for that festival in the past. Even if we weren’t able to use the stadium for some reason, there could have been other ways to reconfigure the stages to reduce sound interference. On Days 2 and 3, they tried to combat this by adjusting set times, which I do appreciate (although this led to a couple tough decisions like choosing Goose or STS9). 

Throughout the weekend several acts were canceled, including Animal Collective and Black Pumas (both for the bands’ personal reasons and not the fest’s fault) and the Saturday late-night Orchard Lounge set was canceled (I’m getting conflicting reports about why, and festival reps have not confirmed either). 

Despite several cancellations and sound issues, Friday and Saturday were quite nice. But Sunday was a bit of a bummer due to weather stoppage throughout the day. Although the weather seemingly was always on the edges of the fest, it put the whole festival on pause for multiple hours before finally being called. In this one case, it was definitely okay to miss the Sunday show. 

Safety is top priority, and I respect that. But to me, and others I talked to, the issue ultimately wasn’t the delays or cancellation; it was the lack of clear and prompt communication when the fest was canceled. Despite timely updates during the first two weather delays at 4pm and 7pm, the fest didn’t put out an official announcement until 9:51pm, two hours after the fest was finally canceled at 8pm, and long after most attendees had already gotten home. 
-Valerie Nikolas

Despite these setbacks, below are the highlights.

Day 1: Friday, Aug. 26

Yves Tumor
Honestly, this might have been my most anticipated set of day one even before the cancellations. Having seen them perform before, I was pretty ready fro whatever they were going to throw at Sacred Rose. I expected an outlandish outfit that only they could pull off and a set that would hypnotize the audience in seconds. They thankfully did not disappoint. Donning a holey denim jacket over a loose fitting fishnet shirts and olive shorts held up by a Union Jack belt. they strutted around stage belting out songs like "Jackie" and the pristine "Gospel For A New Century" which had me and the crowd grooving to their incredible voice. Yves Tumor embodies the extremes of David Bowie and Prince and sends them way past 11 to blow your mind. And minds were certainly blown during this mid day set.
- Julian Ramirez

Punch Brothers
Performing their instruments around the single mic at the center of the stage, Punch Brothers left little room for comfort as they dazzled Sacred Rose . It was a unique sight in a fest full of bands spread out on stage, but Punch Brothers' sound has always been all the better for it. A whole hell of a lot of bluegrass mixed with chamber pop modernity and classical touches. Punch Brothers had the Canopy Crowd cheering along to their beautiful instrumentation and tender vocals.
- Julian Ramirez

Phil Lesh & Friends (including Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline)
A classic Dead set with an indie twist. After opening with a fun “Dire Wolf”, the first set took a bit to ramp up, sound-wise. Maybe it was because I was outside the Canopy Stage’s canopy area, but the music sounded quiet and muffled. The second set, however, gained strength as it went along, with an energetic “Franklin’s Tower” and closing with a strong “Ripple.” Highlights include Margot Price belting “Not Fade Away,” Jeff Tweedy leading Wilco’s “Via Chicago,” and Karl Denson infusing well-known Dead classics with some sax. 
-Valerie Nikolas

The War on Drugs
As soon as I heard the opening chords to “Pain,” I ran to The War on Drugs. From their musical abilities, to the light and sound at the Vega tent, the show was truly immersive, powerful, and magical. The War on Drugs’s indie-rock sound was perfectly suited to Friday night. Each song, from the powerful “Buenos Aires Beach” to the steady “Under the Pressure,” and finally ending with a dream-like “Thinking of a Place” demonstrated their refined artistry. 
-Valerie Nikolas

Day 2: Saturday, Aug. 27

Andy Frasco & the U.N.
Well that was absolutely nuts. Easily the most energetic set of the fest up to that point. Andy Frasco & the U.N. were just dolling out a party at the Dreamfield stage and I mean that literally. From the raucous music to Frasco drinking as much Jameson and he spilled when he jumped atop of his piano and spun the bottle around his head, this set was pure insanity.
- Julian Ramirez

Disco Biscuits
After jumping around from a lively Sunsquabi day set and an energetic Moon Tax showi ft. Cory Wong, we settled in at Lotus and then the Disco Biscuits. I had somehow never seen them, despite occupying similar orbits for many years, and I was pleasantly surprised. They played the last daytime set at the Canopy Stage incorporated a mix of dance-inducing jams, including “Spacebirdmatingcall,” an out-of-this world “Tourist,” and a geographically appropriate “Lake Shore Drive.” 
- Valerie Nikolas

Sound Tribe Sector 9
Originally we tried to get a good spot for Goose during this time slot, but it wasn’t happening. The sound was muffled to the point that it just wasn’t listenable. It’s sad because they were one of the bands I was looking forward to most. So, we left and headed to STS9, and I can’t say I’m mad at it. Sound Tribe’s vibe was perfect for the Canopy Stage. I loved the mid-show transition from the Alan Watts-layered “Totem” to one of their newer songs, “Dusk,” which has a dark, funky sound.
- Valerie Nikolas

Umphrey’s McGee
Umphrey’s played two sets, and since Orchard Lounge was canceled I caught part of both. The Vega Stage was well-suited to their darker, heavier prog-rock sound, and the accompanying lights made for an awesome show. Highlights included a mind-melting “Wizard Burial Ground” closer in the first set, and a contemplative “Hajimemashite” toward the second set. 
- Valerie Nikolas

Day 3: Sunday, Aug. 28

Nicole Atkins
Easily my favorite opening act of the weekend! I've been an avid fan of Atkins since her criminally underrated debut Neptune City. Over the years shes honed her sound into this perfect blend of soulful tones and roots rock. Opening the set with "Goodnight Rhoda Lee", really giving the small early crowd a reason to make their way to the Canopy Stage. Atkin's voice is hard to to fall in love with, especially and she warmly welcomed the growing crowd with tracks like " Captain" (an ode to those who put everyone ahead of themselves), "Never Going Home Again" and "Brokedown Luck" (both of which are a touring musician's song if I ever heard one). Atkins ended her set with the wonderful "A Little Crazy" with her chanting of "And it's driving me crazy, crazy, crazy" echoing in into the Sacred Rose fields with fans both old and new dancing the early afternoon away.
-Julian Ramirez

Hiatus Kaiyote 
Sandwiched between two weather delays, I’m thankful Hiatus Kaiyote was still able to play a full set. The gloomy lighting during their set only added to the sultry vibe. My personal favorites were “And We Go Gentle,” “Nakamarra,” and “Red Room” with accompanying red lighting. 
- Valerie Nikolas

Unfortunately, shortly into the Wood Brothers set, there was a second weather delay, in which most attendees were ushered into the stadium… After 20-30 minutes we were told the fest was back on. But just a few minutes later, as we were waiting for Kamasi Washington, clouds finally rolled in and security started telling everyone to leave, because if the thunder didn’t get us then the lightning would. This meant no Joe Russo’s Almost Dead or Khruangbin, two of the bands I and many fans were looking forward to most. 

Overall, Sacred Rose had an amazing lineup, good vibes, and lots of potential. I hope next year they are able to work out their growing pains and offer attendees a more seamless experience. Then I’m sure they’ll be in full bloom. 
- Valerie Nikolas

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