Day one TL;DR: Rain bad, Chili Peppers good.
I started Sunday, day two of Sound on Sound Festival in Bridgeport, Conn. with the same enthusiasm I would have if I stepped inside my Spotify Daily Mix playlist, it full of indie-rock beats from Ben Harper, Hozier and other like performers. The first day, though just as promising, was a wash. Heavy rain dropped on the tri-state (NY, NJ, CT) area — it was bad enough for New York City Mayor Eric Adams to declare a state of emergency — and many pass-holders didn’t even make it to the festival. Some performers, too. Sets for Julai and the Seratones, Kiernan Rhodes, Sammy Rae & The Friends, and Briscoe were canceled, and the fest didn’t even open until later in the afternoon.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Still, as Saturday’s headliners, Red Hot Chili Peppers brought the house down, by all accounts. On Sunday, there was almost a nauseating amount of rockinfreakapotamuses (Chili Peppers’ fan nickname given by Anthony Kiedis’s father) wearing their sweat-soaked band shirts from the night before. Also spilling over from Saturday: a lot of mud and a rebound of humidity. It was gross. Within minutes, I realized that it was a terrible idea to wear a long-sleeved t-shirt and, even worse, to wear sneakers. Someone behind me complained to her friend and grieved her white canvas shoes. “They’re gonna be covered in mud, just get it in your brain now,” the friend said. The wise one was wearing rain boots.
Sound on Sound is set up as one stage and no overlapping sets, but the fest’s footprint covered more of Seaside Park this year than last. That’s when festival-goers were pissed off about long food lines and the lack of clear signage in the park. (No one wants to be a few drinks in and then walk in circles.) The good news: There were no lines this year and they implemented platforms on the paths from one section of the park to another, making it easier to avoid the soupy earth. And although they were covered in mud, the yellowish walkaways were unmistakable. I felt like Dorothy skipping happily on my yellow brick road to the notes of Mt. Joy’s hit “Silver Linings.” The ferris wheel — and particularly the guy sipping Aperol Spritz with a flower crown, pink “I love my mama” and white fur coat — drove home the effect.
Day Two Performances
Day two TL;DR: Flushable toilets a big hit; John Mayer too.
I kicked off the day two in early afternoon by catching U.S. singer-songwriter Cautious Clay — I know enough of his R&B-indie pop to confidently nod along to the more popular stuff like “Cold War” — who was followed by Nashville singer-songwriter Margo Price. (During Price’s set the number of cowboy hats I saw around the grounds made sense.).
Later, the setting sun ushered in Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals. Harper, the three-time Grammy Award winner and touring veteran of 30-pus years, shines brightest when playing live. The opening notes to “Diamonds In The Sky” played and I rushed to the front of the stage. He writes majestic tunes, but more than anything I find his songs to be soothing. They remind me of childhood road trips and green pastures. (These two things might seem like they don’t exactly fit together, but, come on, they do.) His energy was contagious, too — which was evident from the crowd’s group-sway. Midway into the performance, Harper transitioned to his famed lap steel guitar, which he cut himself on during an intense jam. (This prompted him to warn us all to be cautious when passionately strumming guitars.) He wore a Muhammad Ali t-shirt during the performance; you don’t need to be in a ring to be considered a fighter.
The festival was organized into three areas – General Admission, General Admission +, and VIP – each with its own vendors, restrooms and seating. The GA area is where people all generations were genuinely having the most fun. I saw a couple dance under the ferris wheel while channeling their Coachella energy with a fringed jacket and a printed headscarf; others lounged in a sea of upright lawn chairs that lined a designated area far off from the stage.
Hozier & Alanis
Just before Irish artist Hozier performed there was a push toward the stage and it felt like the crowd multiplied. Hozier’s stage presence is the rare one that exudes modesty and his vibe is as if every member of the band gets equal share of the spotlight. He opened with the new “De Delby (part 2)” and his set’s crescendo came with the 12th and final song, the hit “Take Me To Church,” that left some of us in the crowd with goosebumps.
Alanis Morissette delivered a set packed with her greatest hits that included “You Outta Know,” “Ironic,” “Hand in My Pocket,” “You Learn” and “Thank You.” During the latter, which closed her performance, we (like, all of us in the crowd) sang at the top of our lungs as she paced up and down, spun, jumped in front of a screen of flames.
After this, I took a break in the GA+ lounge. On a picnic table under a tent I took in the lounge’s flower decorations and strings of lanterns in shades of orange, green, and white. If it wasn’t for the music, which you could hear from any point in the park, the vibe was, maybe, a birthday party or a country-style wedding. I stopped by the lounge bathroom before I headed back and that’s where I overheard someone yelling to a friend from the toilet, “This was worth the price!” The festival made it known prior that there would be renovated bathrooms this year, and these pals loved the flushable toilets. (Flushable toilets! Wahoo!) The free items – tampons, deodorant, hairspray – were also a big hit with this crew. Of note: This particular restroom was for GA+ and VIP. Yes, VIP was not so different after all.
I realized we were under a near-full moon while on the way to the stage for headliner and Bridgeport native, John Mayer. He asked the audience to call him John, not John Mayer, for the night, and started off with “Slow Dancing In The Burning Room.” In all, he made his way through a 16-song set that touched on hits like “Your Body Is A Wonderland,” but also wove in fan requests and closed with a cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin.” He was great. I’ve seen Mayer twice before, once at Madison Square Garden and when he opened for The Rolling Stones in Rome, Italy, but this performance was different. His affect was more casual; the show more personal and intimate than your typical fest would suggest. “I was born here,” he said at one point and it was clear that mattered to him.
When he told the story of how he got interested in music, it was his father, the principal of Central High School in Bridgeport, who introduced him to hundred of bands, via the Walkmans he confiscated from students. If a student didn’t claim the Walkman at the end of the year, Principal Mayer brought them home and John took it from there. That’s how John Mayer began, built by Bridgeport’s taste.