All Points West Returns For Second Successful Year

Despite Storms That Threatened to Ruin the Three-Day Weekend, Jersey City’s Music Festival Prevailed


Published: August 27, 2009

After hearing the forecast for the weekend of the All Points West Music and Arts Festival, I became pretty annoyed with the showers that loomed over the festival grounds for three days. The festival, which took place for its second year in a row at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J., was beset by a series of rainstorms that threatened to leave the concert as a washout. However, despite the rain, the cool temperature and two pairs of shoes ruined by mud, the performances over the course of the weekend made it all worth it.

Even though I have no regrets about going, the heavy rain and thunderstorms led to several problems throughout the three days. Friday’s showers turned the grassy field into a muddy swamp-like surface that remained throughout the weekend. Sunday’s thunderstorm made sure to eliminate all dry, non-muddy spots on the field. Despite all these setbacks, the concert went off pretty successfully. The bad weather didn’t keep the crowds away, as more than 71,000 attendees showed up, according to The New York Times. The fact that the festival organizers made Friday’s tickets eligible for Saturday or Sunday as well probably helped lift the crowd’s mood, too. Of course, what helped the most in the face of the downpour were the performances throughout the three days. Many of the bands put on a show that felt like a rebellion against the rain. It was like they wanted to put on a superb show for the fans who showed up in spite of the weather.

The first superb act of Friday was Ra Ra Riot’s late-afternoon set. Nearing the end of their tour for their debut album, “The Rhumb Line,” the band was one of the most enthusiastic of the weekend. Lead singer Wes Miles spent the set jumping around, yet he still managed to hit every note within his impressive range. Adding a cello and violin to the traditional four-piece, the indie group looked like they had just started a tour rather than just ending one. Every one of them was really happy to be there and was pleasantly surprised by the huge turnout to their performance. Their passion and strong arrangements make them an easy band to love. I should know. I sat through two previous acts to make sure I was in the front row.

Whereas Miles was down-to-earth in his performance, Karen O of alternative rock group the Yeah Yeah Yeahs spent the set in the stratosphere. The lead singer held a strut in her step the whole night, appearing almost giddy that she was performing. The surprising highlight of the high-powered set was an acoustic version of their 2004 hit, “Maps.” The song was dedicated to Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys (who was recently diagnosed with cancer), to all of the band’s loved ones, and to all of their fans at the show.  At this point, even though my shorts were soaked in mud (not by my choosing either), I spent most of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ set jumping around to tracks off their new dance rock record, “It’s Blitz!”

While there were many interesting acts that held my attention during Saturday’s concert, one artist stood above the rest. Indie-pop sensation Annie Clark, known by her stage name St. Vincent, played a set that moved between fragile yet dark arrangements and blistering guitar work. St. Vincent is easily one of the most violent guitar players I have ever seen. By the end of almost every track, she was widely strumming the guitar strings, seeming to force the guitar to make the distorted sounds she wanted. At one point, she simply started punching the guitar to coax more sound out of it. While this may sound like a recipe for disaster, Clark remained fully in control of her music and as a result, she quadrupled her audience size by the end of her set. She was the only act I kept talking about to everyone for the rest of the weekend.

Just because St. Vincent blew my mind, that doesn’t mean that Sunday didn’t have any worthwhile performances. After a five-hour delay due to rain, British rock group Elbow helped to melt the crowd’s frustration away. Entering the stage with all five members bellowing out a single long trumpet note, Elbow quickly established that they weren’t going to stick to the traditional rock format. Working with a variety of stringed instruments as well as a piano and two drum kits, Elbow won over a large number of new fans as the crowd kept increasing throughout their set. Singer Guy Garvey, an all-around charming person, helped lead the crowd on a sing-a-long of the percussion heavy “Grounds for Divorce.” He really opened the lines of communication with the large crowd, conversing with a couple of them in between numbers.

The final act of the weekend was Coldplay, who really surprised me with the show they put on. Whenever I saw the band perform on TV, I was always bored with them and thought singer Chris Martin’s antics were overblown. When I was actually there, though, it was another story altogether. Chris Martin is actually a likeable frontman whose stage moves work better with a crowd than in front of a camera. The band worked through the hits from all four of their albums, connecting with the crowd through the use of a b-stage off near the left front of the crowd and a c-stage in the middle of the audience. They also engaged in a couple of weird, yet fun, covers with the crowd. An acoustic tribute to Michael Jackson turned into a huge sing-a-long of “Billie Jean.” Martin also played a solo piano version of The Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!).”  I know this sounds like a terrible idea, given how beat and guitar driven the original song is, but the solo version actually worked. It was almost like an impromptu karaoke session where Martin randomly decided to play the song on piano.

Finally, praise must be given to the festival organizers for such an inspired venue selection. Liberty State Park, located off the coast of the Hudson River in New Jersey, is perfectly placed between the southern tip of Manhattan and Jersey City. The park was close enough to make traveling relatively painless but was also far enough away to prevent any interference from the two cities’ citizens. The view from the park was also something special, with the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan’s skyline providing an awesomely original backdrop. Instead of seeing the typical walls of an indoor venue, you were able to look out over the Hudson right before it lets out to the ocean.

By the end of the weekend, I was a muddy, exhausted mess. Even in my most worn-down moments though, I knew that I wanted to come back. The New York metro area deserves a festival to call its own and All Points West should be the one to hold the title. The organizers know what’s going on in music right now and they’re willing to give the fans what they want. If this festival was successful in the rain, I can’t wait to see what they do with clear skies.