Being as compact and congested as it is, New York rarely has the opportunity to host a major music festival within city limits. When the opportunity arises, promoters do as any genuine New Yorker would and spare no expense in ensuring they provide attendants with a unique experience they’ll never forget. From July 27-29, 2018 Panorama Music Festival dazzled guests with music, art, and imagination as Randall’s Island briefly transformed itself into an alternative universe where life felt like a dream.
Despite rain, mud, and cancellations, the general vibe of the festival was heart-stirring love and acceptance. Guests walked through the turnstiles into a playground of bliss, with music and art exhibits immediately overwhelming the senses, and entered a safe space to let their freak flags fly. People dressed in costumes, covered themselves in paint/glitter, and wore unyielding grins from the moment they entered to the time they left.
Even if there wasn’t music you were interested in seeing playing, you could spend hours experiencing the many wonders the festival had to offer. If you entered the festival on the east side of the island, you immediately walked into “The Lab,” an interactive experience that combined technology, artistry, and design created exclusively by New York City-based artists. There you could have your reality questioned in giant bubbles, get lost in a trippy jungle of dangling lights, or enter a portal to another dimension, among other mindboggling exhibits. Each exhibit was incredibly interactive in an attempt keep the mind and body wondering, and typically included social aspects so festival-goers could share the experience with friends, old and new.
Artists weren’t the only ones who showcased their creativity at Panorama, as even many vendors brought their own zany ideas to life to draw in new customers. On one side of the festival you might walk by an old wooden ship converted and used as a pub beside a pop-up old western town where guests could purchase mixed drinks while interacting with, and get haggled by, actors in costumes based on fashion trends from the late 1800’s from the second story window. If you continued walking, you might end up in an outdoor dive bar with bands playing small, intimate shows or feel like you fell off the edge of the earth and ended up in Grand Cayman as you took a load off in a tropical-themed tent. Excitement was possible at every corner, and that’s before the music even started.
Unfortunately for many excited festivalgoers, Friday was a wash-literally. Ominous clouds plagued the sky all afternoon before finally breaking and showering the grounds at about 3:15 p.m. The rain only lasted for about a half hour, giving may people hope for the evening as Daniel Cesar took Panorama stage for his 3:50 p.m. set. He delivered a heartfelt performance to get music on the main stage off to a promising start before thunder and lightning threatened the city and forced Panorama cancel the rest of the evening’s performances and evacuate the grounds.
BREAKING: Day 1 of Panorama cancelled; Being evacuated for severe weather. Fest will continue Sat/Sun pic.twitter.com/GFWTfkIU2S
— NYS Music (@NYStateMusic) July 27, 2018
Thousands were in disbelief as they were herded out to buses and subways and back into the city without ever having gotten a chance to see artists they were looking forward to such as The Weeknd, Father John Misty, and The War on Drugs. While many were disappointed, Panorama did the right thing and refunded everyone their money back and no one was seriously injured fleeing the island, so it could have been far worse.
Thankfully, the rain cleared and the sun came back with a vengeance for all those who attended the second day of Panorama. Although the sun seemed hotter than usual at times, a large majority of the grounds were reduced to a muddy swamp which would create obstacles, games, and funny stories for the remaining two days of the festival. It hardly spoiled anyone’s time though (except for that one girl who dropped her pizza in the mud) as the day proved to be a complete success.
Musically, Saturday was absolutely dominated by talented female performers. Cloves kicked things off on the Panorama stage with a passionate set which set the tone for the rest of the day. The British singer wooed the crowd with her remarkably beautiful voice and electric stage presence. Dressed like she just hopped out of bed, she danced like a flower blowing gently to the breezy notes her band seeped as she swayed across the stage. Each bar was sang with purpose and she conveyed her emotions eloquently through her notes. Although she was obviously uncomfortable in the sweltering heat and grimy humidity, she gave it her all for her allotted time slot and left fans wanting more. Many fans’ wishes came through later that evening when she played another set at the Bud Light Dive Bar to a much smaller crowd of people.
As Cloves continued her set on the Panorama stage, Sigrid began hers on the Pavilion stage. In contrast to Thrice’s dark and vicious singing, Sigrid’s vocals were much more bright and upbeat. She constantly smiled and winked at specific members of audience, jumped around the stage, and danced along to the party music bobbing behind her. Pvris followed with a set of music with Rage Against The Machine-like intensity and a dangerous female lead. With trippy echoing effects and dark, alternative jams behind it, you felt like you could go into the wilderness with her, take a look around to see what she sees and come out with only a few scratches. The high energy set with constant peaks and outbursts of primal howls kept fans on the edge of their blankets, if they were even still sitting by the end of it.
Japanese Breakfast served as an essential cool down to Pvris’s murky set as laid back, ambient music gave attendants a chance to take a breath and let their heart beats return to normal. Their jams sounded like a big wave at high tide, causally moving up and down as it worked its way to the unknown, far away shore. The music contained a different mysticism as compared to the other acts, which brought peace and calming to the inquiring minds of the lawn. To much of the crowd’s disbelief, Lil Wayne’s set following Japanese Breakfast was cancelled due to his flight being delayed, which wouldn’t be the last time a set would be cancelled.
Since Lil Wayne was not playing the Panorama stage, what felt like the entire festival came out for St. Vincent’s intense performance. Although she was a quite few slots away from headlining Saturday’s show, she came on stage like a queen who owned the festival. You can spot a dominant person when you see one and St. Vincent is the epitome of a strong female rocker. She had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand the entire performance with goddess-like fineness and master musicianship, both as a singer and guitar player. Each movement she made drove the crowd wild, and her ability to boil an explosion of cheers with a single stare demonstrated how short of a lease she kept her fans on.
The high energy, visually engaging set concluded with a passionate tribute to New York; a city she’s proud to call home. The fitting tribute was one of many, as throughout the weekend artists paid their respect to the city. Unlike other major tour destinations, New York has an energy like no other and it is felt between both the band and the audience. The thrilling anxiousness of playing the Big Apple often brings out the best in artists since they feel the need to deliver a top performance for such a diverse and electric crowd; a theme which was present all weekend.
SZA especially felt the need to impress as she followed St. Vincent’s set and sought to blow away the New York crowd as redemption for not delivering a top performance the last time she visited. Clearly excited to be on stage, she ran around as she poured out her soul and made innocent jokes in between songs. Her stage presence was youthful and full of play, but it was clear she was no amateur by the way she controlled both the crowd and her dynamic voice.
As the first and only male headliner to take the stage, Gucci Mane decided to take his sweet time coming out. His hype man continuously teased the crowd, asking them if they were ready for his appearance, however, after five or six times and no Gucci Mane the crowd began to become skeptical while still cheering just in case. Whether the lack of Gucci Mane for nearly half his time slot was intentional or not, it certainly drove the crowd into a frenzy, which only enhanced the energy of the crowd when he finally took the stage and delivered a pumped up set for the eager audience.
The night was capped off with potentially the most anticipated act of the festival, Janet Jackson, who delivered a career-spanning set of twists and turns that had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand. Every aspect of Jackson’s set was clearly meticulously choreographed to extract the highest level of satisfaction she could draw from the audience. Dancing around the stage like a youthful pop singer, Jackson declared to New York that she still has the goods and flaunted them in a way that converted any doubtful listeners. The crowd responded with high praise, as she ended the first full day of Panorama in pop-goddess style.
After a whirlwind of music genres and eccentric female leads on Saturday, Panorama concluded its final day with a bang on Sunday. The day began as a high energy punk fest with Downtown Boys promoting a rebellious, anti-establishment message to get the blood flowing in the growing, youthful crowd. Shannon and the Clams followed, and for those who had never heard of the psychedelic, surf-rock/doo-wop group they were sure to put them on the radar following their jubilant 1:30 p.m. set. Blending multiple-types of music to create a familiar, yet entirely distinct sound of their own, Shannon and the Clams treated early arrivals to a set of non-stop fun music which drew as much joy out of the band as it did the audience. Vocally and musically the band hit all the right notes to ensure continuous dancing, applause, and smiles in the growing audience.
The festival continued all day with options for attendants to enjoy DJ sets, art exhibits, and an array of music from many different genres. From the high energy DJ Haram to the laid back Chicano Batman to the soul driven Rex Orange County, fans had a chance to experience any kind music they’d like, and even experiment with music they might not have seen if they weren’t at the festival. One of the most wonderful aspects of Panorama was the idea that you could wander around, see new things, hear new music, and experience it all within the confines of a peaceful and friendly space with thousands of others doing the same. At the heart of it, that is why New York is the perfect place for a music festival as large as Panorama; there are very few other places in the country where people can be themselves, try new things, and enter a world of their own imagination without the slightest thought of being judged or even noticed for their behavior.
As the day continued, it felt much more like a Saturday rather than a Sunday, with world class headliners performing and the lack of music due to cancellation on Friday only reinforcing the thought. Sunday seemed to gather the largest crowd, a mixed group of older and younger music lovers who each had a chance to hear something they’d never heard. For many of the younger fans, the biggest surprise came in David Byrne’s set. Many kids in the crowd didn’t know who he was, but by the time he began “Burning Down The House,” they realized they were clearly in the presence of greatness.
David Byrne is a magnificent performer, who takes every opportunity he’s got to flex his creativity. Playing a set of fresh, new songs from his latest album mixed in with Talking Heads classics, he dazzled the audience with choreographed dances, a band of mobile musicians who constantly marched up and down the stage, and strange props and lights. Many of his new songs sounded like they could have been released in the early ’80s, and the overall set had a dystopian theme which was a clear message from Byrne about the current state of the world and where we are going as a society. There wasn’t a single cool down throughout the performance and those who weren’t sweating from the sun were now sweating from the non-stop dancing.
Fleet Foxes were the perfect act to follow Byrne with their entire set feeling like a dreamy cool down. Fans knew exactly what they were getting in for when they arrived at the Pavilion stage for the Fleet Foxes’ set as blankets were draped over the lawn as far as the eye could see. People enjoyed the euphoric music on their backs staring at the clouds or swaying in their seats with their eyes glued to the stage. The band’s incredibly full sound hugged your soul as grand harmonies, campfire chords, and even a small orchestra barreled from the glowing stage.
The Fleet Foxes were the last of the night’s tranquil sets with performances by The XX and ODESZA following. The XX were honored to be playing their last show of their two year and 138-show tour at Panorama, which sparked heavy emotions from the musicians as they emptied their tanks with a heartfelt performance filled with highs, lows, and gut-wrenching vocals. ODESZA provided a different take across the lawn as the high energy EDM set shook the ground and the bodies of everyone from the pit to the back of the grass while alluring, colorful lights churned through the sky all the way to Astoria. The light show drastically enhanced the set as it followed the music and heavy bass, demanding the audience to keep their eye on the stage though the entire set.
Panorama ended on about the highest note they could with The Killers (from Las Vegas, as they like to point out) rocking the core of Randall’s Island. The band played a set of hits spanning through their entire career and turned the muddy lawn into a gigantic sing-a-long party as everyone in the crowd seemed to know the lyrics to at least a few songs. From across the lawn, those who wanted to zone out and dance had a chance to at Nora En Pure’s set, which featured an array of impressive lights and high energy beats. Festival goers left happy and full of life as they made their way off the grounds and back into reality, but not without the memories of the fun they had that weekend.