Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Stunningly Christen Arroyo Seco Festival

Tom Petty performs with The Heartbreakers during their headlining set on Day 1 of the inaugural 2017 Arroyo Seco Music Festival on Saturday, June 24, 2017, in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

As I wrote about during Grammy week, when Tom Petty was honored as MusiCares Person Of The Year ( Petty has been enjoying an ascension to the next level of rock icon status in the last few years.

To be clear, I know Petty was already a revered and beloved rock hero, but from talking to musicians I’ve gotten the sense that Petty is now rightfully viewed as more of a true icon. Like Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Petty’s Traveling Wilburys band mate Bob Dylan, Petty has entered into that hallowed terrain of artists whose music is the soundtrack of your life and whose two-hour sets are filled with hit songs that take you back to a place and time, capturing a moment and making you smile or wistful depending on the tune and the memory.

So in the respect of speaking to millions of fans in such a deep way that only a very select handful of artists can (add Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney, obviously, U2, the Who, Stevie Wonder and Rolling Stones to the above list), Petty and his Heartbreakers are a perfect festival headliner. And Goldenvoice, which has shown they have the game elevated both with Coachella and last year’s one of a kind Desert Trip, went out and got one of the best to christen their new Pasadena, California festival Arroyo Seco Weekend.

As one would expect from the teaming of a true rock hero and arguably the premier festival producers in music today, day one of Arroyo Seco Weekend was a very memorable one.

Like Desert Trip, which felt more like a concert, Arroyo Seco Weekend transcended the festival game. Under the guidance of Nic Adler, Arroyo Seco put together a consortium of some of L.A.’s finest restaurants, including Redbird, Republique, Broken Spanish, Wolf, Sumo Dog, Union and more. I counted four establishments with Lobster Rolls. The cake kabobs, skewers with mini-cupcakes on them, were remarkable. Now gourmet food at festivals is not a new concept, in fact it’s expected now, but combined with park benches, little libraries, grassy knolls and family-friendly areas where top-notch live jazz by the likes of Roy Ayres and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band are the soundtrack, it feels more like a classy day in the park or wildly upscale picnic than a music festival.

For much of the day, despite the aforementioned jazz and killer sets from Alabama Shakes, Broken Social Scene, the incredible Charles Bradley and much more, Arroyo Seco Weekend felt more like a food festival with live music than a music fest. Part of the success of Arroyo Seco Weekend is that it was whatever you wanted it to be. If you wanted to pig out as we did, there was that. If you wanted to drink, there were craft beers, good wines and superior cocktails; if you wanted to chill by the jazz stages and feel like you were in a jazz club, no problem; if you wanted to picnic, there were benches; if you wanted to feel like you were at a concert you could camp out at one of the three stages.

It was whatever you wanted it to be, until 8:30, when Petty and his Heartbreakers took the stage as part of their year-long fortieth anniversary victory lap. At that point there was no denying this was less of a concert and more of a coronation of Arroyo Seco Weekend. For any festival to make it in the current crowded climate it needs a defining moment, that, “Were you there when this happened?” moment.

It could have been the spine-tingling moment when Petty, playing conductor, led the tens of thousands of fans in singing along to a slowed-down version of the brilliant “Learning To Fly.” It could have been the sing-along of “Free Fallin’,” or the simply aching beauty of the gorgeous and sublime “Wildflowers.” It could have been the epic guitar duel between Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell on “It’s Good To Be King,” the frenetic raucous energy of the whole band on “Don’t Come Around Here No More” or Petty’s hilarious slow drawl on one refrain from the song. It could have been the majesty of the brilliantly profound and moving “Crawling Back To You.”

One trait Petty shares with all of the other above iconic artists is a versatility and eclecticism that, like the festival itself, enables fans to make whatever they want of the show. Whatever you wanted the Tom Petty set to be last night, guaranteed you left transformed and reminded that, at his best, Petty is right up there with the greats.

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