Fest 411: Dancing By The Bay, Portola Makes Its Big Debut

GettyImages 1242004638 2000 sq 1
Dance Icons: Flume, Kaytranada, Fred Again…. and Jamie xx make up just a small piece of Portola’s debut lineup in San Francisco. Photo of Flume by Frank Hoensche / Redferns

Danny Bell has been dreaming of Portola festival for years. The vision first came to him when moving to San Francisco six years ago to build out Goldenvoice’s Bay Area footprint, and he knew there could be nothing more perfect than bringing electronic music’s top talents during one of the few weekends the Bay Area can guarantee good weather.

While Bell has previously teamed up with Porter Robinson for Second Sky, an artist-curated dance festival taking place right across the Bay in Oakland, Portola has always been his aim. This year marks the first time the stars aligned to make Portola happen, and Bell brought in his ultimate dream lineup to top it all off.

Headlined by Flume and The Chemical Brothers and featuring a total of 66 acts, Portola will be taking place on San Francisco’s Pier 80 from Sept. 24-25. Bell is bringing in vendors (with all diet options) and looking forward to the Bloody Marys. But the most important piece of the festival is the music, and with a lineup that makes it hard to choose who to see, Bell ensures festival goers will be able to easily catch every set if they want to.

“It’s pretty easy to move around,” Bell tells Pollstar. “It’s a big rectangle and you could just constantly do laps, one after the other. It’s about a three to five-minute walk max between stages. Some take less than that. They’re far enough apart where you can create a vibe, but I will just be hustling. I gotta get some of my comfortable shoes.” 

Running sneakers aside, Portola has been in the works for years. Bell searched high and low for the perfect location, and he enlisted the help of a friend who secures random venues that are often under construction or need to be operated. The friend brought Bell to Pier 81 on the San Francisco Bay, and he immediately fell in love.

Then, with a prospective venue and relationships with all his favorite artists’ agents and managers in place, it appeared that Portola would finally come to fruition. Until, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic reared its head and shut down live music for nearly two years.  

Despite all the bumps in the road, Bell is as passionate about his dream festival as ever. “The weekend is going to be a lot of fun,” Bell says. “Every single artist on the bill was hand selected and booked for a reason. There are four stages and they all have unique setups. I’m excited to see every act on the bill at their specific stage. I’m telling my team I’m literally gonna try to see a piece of every single act that plays.”

Bell is also thrilled with how the city has reacted to a new festival coming to town. Throughout San Francisco’s history, the city has been well-known for its open-minded nature and caring communities. In the city, dance music has always thrived.

“It’s always been a very forward-thinking, open-minded audience,” Bell says. “People love electronic music here. They’re always willing to go a bit deeper than a few other markets. There’s some great promoters here as well […] it’s something about the region, just the forward-thinking mentality and history of nightlife and clubbing in the city that has led to this music being popular here. It’s such a fun audience.” 

Tickets for the first day of the festival on Sept. 24 nearly sold out a week before the event took place, with Bell predicting it would be sold out by showtime. He also predicted that Sunday would be very close to being sold out.