Francisco Rendon – Porter Robinson’s Second Sky Fest
Porter Robinson performs on Day One of his inaugural Second Sky festival at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland, Calif., June 15.
As artist-curated festivals become an increasingly common part of the business, Porter Robinson’s inaugural Second Sky Festival, done in partnership with Goldenvoice, delighted some 30,000 fans in Oakland, Calif., June 15-16. The event is already promising a return in 2020.
The event was sold out both days, with a lineup featuring Robinson, Madeon, Cashmere Cat, G Jones (one day), Skrillex (one day), Chrome Sparks, Anamanaguchi, Kero Kero Bonito, Wednesday Campanella, and Nina Las Vegas. Both dates were opened by Robinson himself, performing as his alter ego Virtual Self.
Second Sky was largely a collaboration between Robinson, his team, and Goldenvoice’s Danny Bell, who is the Senior Talent Buyer for the company’s San Francisco office and has been working with Robinson for years.
Bell worked with HARD Events for years prior to his time with GV and had a history with Robinson, so when GV put on the Blurry Vision R&B festival at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland in 2018, it became clear that they might have the perfect site for the artist festival they had been thinking about for some time.
“To be honest, Goldenvoice is a company of real music-heads, we love great music. All of our meetings are full of laughter,” Bell told Pollstar. “[So when] this idea came up, I saw an opportunity. I love working with Alan, Neal, Aaron, and Porter, he just has such a clear vision.”
Bell said Goldenvoice is generally very supportive of good ideas and great music, so when Porter’s team came onboard with the idea he was able to step into the role of promoter, hiring Kyle Casey of Gravity Productions for production and Isabel Brougham of GV’s SF office to do the marketing.
A theme throughout Second Sky, from the time it was announced to the packed festival grounds onsite, was insatiable demand. Once the festival was greenlit, Robinson and his team decided to make the event one-day only and asked all of the artists, selected by Robinson himself, to commit to the Saturday, June 15. One of the main points of the festival, Robinson’s co-manager Aaron Greene of Slush said, was “To put these artists that he loves on a pedestal.” This festival is largely a way Robinson seeks to impact the music culture, Greene said, sharing his audience with artists who he feels are talented and creatively inspired.
At onsale time though, there were more than 60,000 people waiting for tickets to a 15,000-cap, one-day only event.
Robinson’s team, including his agent Alan Gary of Paradigm, realized it would be very disappointing for all those fans that wouldn’t get to go, and they urgently began calling artists to see if they were free for a second day, and all were free, except G Jones, who had committed to playing Bonnaroo. So they put a second day of Second Sky on sale and a special guest – later revealed to be Skrillex – approached Robinson to fill in Jones’ spot on the second day.
Once the lineup was locked in, Robinson was involved in every aspect of the festival, organizers told Pollstar, from the merch to the food vendors to checking sound levels at midnight during rehearsals.
Kyle Casey of Gravity Producers, who previously worked with Goldenvoice on Coachella and Panorama, said he enjoyed working with artists like Robinson and his team, who had clear ideas of what they wanted. Little tweaks and compromises to their vision were inevitable, he said, but starting with clear goals and figuring out how to work toward them was a rewarding process, especially when the fans were as passionate as Robinson’s.
“Having the opportunity to get all these fans together over what they’re passionate about, that’s what I love,” Casey said.
Neal O’Connor of Slush Management told Pollstar he recognized that the team was still learning how to improve in gauging fan demand. In the onsale they had to quickly add a second day because they had underestimated just how many people would want to come. Also, on site they underestimated the incredible demand for merch, as fans were lined up for an estimated wait of hours. O’Connor said they had to cut off on-site merch sales after 50 percent of stock was sold for Day One, and they then opened the online store so fans could order merch that they would receive at a later date. He acknowledged that experience had to be disappointing for those fans that waited, and vowed to improve for next year. Food lines also got long at some points, Casey acknowledged.
Despite the challenges though, Greene said a large part of Porter’s approach to the festival was to try to make everyone happy. And thing that did deliver was the music. The entire lineup was limited to one stage because Robinson wanted to make sure the audience interacted with all of the artists chosen, some of whom, like Wednesday Campanella, have barely played the U.S. Thus, to draw his audience out early, he decided to open the festival himself as Virtual Self, in addition to closing it with his “Worlds” set. And draw it did, as Bell said 5,000 people arrived at the opening of the festival grounds before noon.
And the artists all shone bright. Madeon’s Good Faith DJ set was a highlight and the crowd was a sea of raised hands through much of Robinson’s “Worlds” set. Robinson previously told Pollstar he really doesn’t like to go back to his “Worlds” material as much, although his fans love it, just because he enjoys having the creative freedom to try new things, but this was a special opportunity for him to revisit that material that his fans do desperately crave, and he was glad to run through Worlds for two nights, the only times he will do it in 2019.
Really, the entire Day One lineup showed why Robinson had selected them in different ways. G Jones’ set was full of big drops and super danceable beats. Cashmere Cat performed a DJ set that blended crowd favorites with experimental music. Chrome Sparks took the stage with head-banging synths and a drummer. Anamanaguchi played a set blending its live instrumentation with recorded tracks and declared the long-promised album U.S. is finally coming out after five years. Wednesday Campanella brought its sounds over from Japan for a rare, though hopefully increasingly frequent, U.S. appearance. Kero Kero Bonito brought its English and Japanese stylings, and apparently the foggy weather, from the U.K. Nina Las Vegas performed a high energy DJ set that kept fans moving after Robinson opened as Virtual Self.
Costumed revelers blending the themes of anime and electronic abounded on site. While in the crowd for Robinson’s main set, fans could be seen crying from emotion and heard saying, “I feel so fortunate to be alive while Porter Robinson is making music.”
And for those fans that couldn’t get in, Day One was live-streamed on Twitch to tens of thousands of viewers.
Porter Robinson’s mother onsite with fans to raise support for the Robinson Malawi Fund at Second Sky Festival in Oakland, CA.
There was a strong sense of community at the event, and Robinsons’ mother was even onsite handing out wristbands for their charity, the Robinson Malawi Fund. Indeed, the Robinson Malawi Fund was not only onsite to receive donations, but was the subject of Porter’s morning remarks during his Virtual Self set, in which he explained how his brother was treated for Burkitt Lymphoma by a doctor who did her fellowship in Malawi, where survival rates for the disease are much lower. Robinson matched all donations made to the fund at the festival, which is dedicated to fighting Burkitt Lymphoma in Malawi.
Second Sky will be back in 2020, and though organizers weren’t yet ready to confirm a return to the same location, those spoken to also didn’t really see any reason why they wouldn’t.