“I can’t keep checking my phone.” So goes the modern lament of our digital age and the catchy chorus from New Noise Music Festival headliner, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. It’s also a major reason why I’m glad that live music exists. While watching a great band play, it’s nearly impossible to be anywhere other than in that moment. And there were plenty of excellent performances at this year’s seventh annual New Noise Music Festival to keep us off our devices and firmly planted in the groove.
The Santa Barbara-based festival began in 2009, bringing together artists, musicians, wine, beer, and food vendors, as well as nonprofit and environmental groups; it’s community-building set to a stellar soundtrack.
The weekend started off strong on Friday with a solid set at Velvet Jones. Standouts from the night included Young Million, a Santa Barbara supergroup of sorts featuring Nate Modisette and Erich Riedl from U.S. Elevator, Michael Million from the Blues & Greys, and Kyran Million. The name Young Million suits the band well as their exuberant energy, hopeful quality, and anthemic sound is undeniably youthful. Kyran’s powerhouse vocals soar on hits like the reassuring single “Fine” and the passion in their performance is contagious.
L.A.’s the Soft White Sixties headlined the night hooking in viewers with Black Keys-inspired heavy grooves and fuzzy guitars in songs like “Up to the Light.” The crowd held tight into the wee hours of 11:45 for the highlight of the evening, Dot Plaza. Local musician Erich Tomkinson plays all of the instruments and wrote all of the songs on his two Dot Plaza albums. He was joined by a fantastic live band, including drummer Brett Long of U.S. Elevator, guitarist Joshua Jones, and keyboardist, Joe Farey of LAYOVR. It’s a testament to the professionalism of all the musicians involved that they had only one practice together playing the new album Industria before hitting the stage on Friday.
An amalgamation of vintage influences, including the Beatles and the Beach Boys, to modern favorites like Vampire Weekend and Dr. Dog, Dot Plaza arrives at a sound all its own. Catchy synths, intricate guitar solos, and lush vocal arrangements speak to the many talents of Tomkinson. His attention to detail speaks volumes in each of these finely crafted little gems. With their effervescent energy, you would have thought Dot Plaza was the first performer in the venue’s six-band lineup, instead of pushing past midnight. Infectious hits like “Mama’s Really Down” and “Never Stop the Way that U Are” kept the place packed and wristband holders ready to dance their way into a new day of music.
The Saturday festival brought delicious area vendors, such as Mony’s Tacos, as well as the perfect beer garden dynamic, which is a hard balance to strike at a music festival. It can often be too crowded with long lines and far distances from the music, hindering one’s ability to grab a quick drink and head back to the show. This garden was the best of all worlds. Its top-notch selection of Figueroa Mountain Brewery and Municipal Winery beverages, spaciousness, and proximity to the stage made it a nice place to hang and watch from a short distance. However, if you needed to get back for that certain song, the stage was just a quick chug away.
Or one could simply watch Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s intoxicating set and feel the buzz without setting foot in the beer garden. Hypnotic grooves on songs like “Multi Love,” “So Good at Being in Trouble,” and, of course, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” punctuated with plenty of jamming, left viewers wondering why this band should be “Unknown” to anyone.
Rounding out the night, Strfkr kept the crowds engaged until the end with their signature smooth tunes. Songs like “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” and “German Love” entranced festival-goers with their lovely melodies and persistently pleasing arrangements keeping the Funk Zone funky until the stars came out.
New Noise may not be Coachella or Bonnaroo, but I consider that a strength for this small, personal, and endearing festival. New Noise, may you continue to surprise us with exciting acts, but promise you’ll “Never Stop the Way that U Are.”