Reporter’s Notebook: A Return to Pre-Pandemic Music ‘Heaven’

Tens of thousands of music fans danced to Modest Mouse, M.I.A., Interpol and more outside the Rose Bowl at the Just Like Heaven Music Festival

By Justin Chapman | Photos by Mercedes Blackehart, Pasadena Now, 5/27/2022

You’d be forgiven for thinking the COVID-19 pandemic had never happened—and isn’t still raging on right now—at last Saturday’s Just Like Heaven music festival at the Brookside Golf Course in the Arroyo Seco. Of the more than 30,000 people in attendance, roughly less than 2 percent wore masks and the mosh pits and dance floors were crammed.

It was a clear signal—people want the pandemic to be over. No matter that cases are on the rise again due to variants and subvariants of omicron. No matter that it’s been more than six months since most people received their booster and many are not yet eligible for a second one. No matter that a vaccine for kids under five has still not been approved. For half a day on May 21, festivalgoers were keen to put all that aside for a taste of what life was like pre-pandemic—and to dance the night away.

Twenty bands—many of whom haven’t played a live show in two years or more—played on two stages at the event, which was produced by AEG/Goldenvoice, the company that also produces Coachella. Headliners included Interpol, M.I.A. and Modest Mouse. Other acts included Santigold, the Shins, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, the Hives, !!! (pronounced “chk chk chk”), Wolf Parade and many others. As Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, lead singer of the Hives, joked on stage, “Welcome to the greatest festival of 2005!” The festival was clearly geared toward the Millennial crowd, which turned up in droves to see their now aging favorites from the early aughts.

Performances by Santigold and M.I.A. stood out for generating full-on dance parties and trippy on-stage choreography. Santigold, the stage name of singer-songwriter Santi White of Pennsylvania, has a unique reggae fusion sound. M.I.A., the stage name of Maya Arulpragasam of Sri Lanka, was born in London and is known for hits such as “Bad Girls” and “Paper Planes.” Alt-indie pioneers Modest Mouse brought the house down with fan favorites such as “Float On,” “King Rat” and “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” as well as new hits from their brilliant 2021 album The Golden Casket, including “Wooden Soldiers” and “We Are Between.”

In those latter two songs, Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock belted out, “We are between, we are between, yes we are, somewhere between dust and the stars,” and, “Just being here now is enough for me,” which felt especially poignant under the stars in the Arroyo Seco with tens of thousands of people after more than two brutal years of social, economic, political and public health disruptions.

Just Like Heaven was the second music festival at Brookside in two weeks. The previous weekend, Morrissey, Blondie, Berlin, the Damned, the Violent Femmes, DEVO and many other bands catered to the New Wave Gen X crowd at the Cruel World festival.

Two more back-to-back music festivals are planned for Brookside this summer. On August 20-21, Head In The Clouds will feature Jackson Wang (Magic Man Experience), NIKI, Rich Brian and many others. And on August 27-28, This Ain’t No Picnic will feature LCD Soundsystem, the Strokes, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the Circle Jerks and many others.

These music festivals—along with other so-called “displacement events” like international soccer matches—are key to the long-term viability of the Rose Bowl in addition to anchor tenants such as UCLA and the Tournament of Roses, retiring stadium CEO and general manager Darryl Dunn told this reporter in the April episode of Pasadena Media’s “NewsRap Local with Justin Chapman,” which was nominated Monday for an LA Press Club journalism award. The music festivals in particular have been a hit ever since Arroyo Seco Weekend in 2017, which featured Mumford & Sons, Alabama Shakes, Weezer and one of Tom Petty’s last shows.

“Our relationsip with AEG has been one of the things we’re really proud of,” said Dunn, who is retiring effective June 30 after running the stadium for 23 years. He pointed out how competitive the Southern California market has become for large events. “SoFi Stadium is taking a lot of marquee concerts. People want to play the new building. Some will come back, but we somewhat expanded our focus. We went to the music festivals. We’re taking advantage of really a campus, of using the golf course for other things besides golf. We’re doing a lot. We’re turning over all the rocks and trying to be entrepreneurial.”

On June 16, FIFA is expected to announce the final list of venues that will host the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The Rose Bowl, which hosted the 1994 World Cup final, remains in the bidding.