Reporter’s Notebook: There Was Something for Everyone at the This Ain’t No Picnic Music Festival Outside the Rose Bowl

By Justin Chapman | Photos by Mercedes Blackehart

In the wake of FIFA’s recent decision to select the new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood instead of the Rose Bowl Stadium to host World Cup 2026 soccer games, another music festival was held on Brookside Golf Course the last weekend of August. This Ain’t No Picnic featured dozens of bands from eclectic and varied genres on three stages over two days.

Music festivals—along with international soccer matches, the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day and UCLA football—are the bread and butter of the Rose Bowl viability plan. Many of these festivals, including This Ain’t No Picnic, are produced by AEG/Goldenvoice, the company that also produces Coachella, Arroyo Seco Weekend and Just Like Heaven, the latter two of which also took place at Brookside.

This Ain’t No Picnic was a real hodge podge of musical styles. The plan seemed to be to put as many different kinds of bands into one festival as possible to provide something for everyone. About 25,000 people from all generations were in attendance.

The musical acts went off one after another like clockwork throughout the two days, but Jorja Smith’s performance was delayed for a few minutes while security and police detained and removed a man who was inappropriately touching people in the crowd, which cheered as he was led away. The heat also caused a few people to faint.

At the beginning of the Circle Jerks’ performance, lead singer and punk rock legend Keith Morris joked with the crowd by telling them to create a big dust cloud in the mosh pit to “go over the hill and land in David Lee Roth’s front yard.” The family home of the original lead singer of Van Halen is on Bradford just off S. Orange Grove Blvd.

The Strokes were technically listed as the headliners, but Godspeed You! Black Emperor was actually the last band to begin playing on the final night. The two bands played at roughly the same time on opposite ends of the festival grounds, meaning attendees had to choose to listen to one or the other, but not both.

“I hate how they pit bands against each other like this,” said Julian Fernando Casablancas, lead singer of the Strokes, on stage. “If it were me, I’d be at the Godspeed You! Black Emperor stage right now.”

Indeed, Godspeed played an incredible set in front of a relatively small but dedicated audience. Their songs are completely instrumental and tend to be longer than usual, slow-burning up to a rocking crescendo.

Godspeed hails from Montreal, Canada. After three influential albums in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the band went on an extended hiatus from 2003 to 2010. The band doesn’t do media interviews and usually doesn’t allow their music to be used in films, though their songs work perfectly as cinematic scores. They made a rare exception for Danny Boyle’s zombie epic “28 Days Later” in 2002, which featured their song “East Hastings” during the final climactic scene.

To see Godspeed play in Pasadena was a real treat, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Phoebe Bridgers said during her set that she grew up in Pasadena, just eight minutes away from where the festival was held. She learned how to drive in the Rose Bowl parking lot, so she dedicated the next song to all the dads in the audience who teach their kids to drive.

This Ain’t No Picnic was named after a 1984 Minutemen song and one of the first music festivals that Goldenvoice produced in Irvine in 1999, headlined by Sonic Youth and Sleater-Kinney. That was also the first year of Coachella, setting the stage for all the music festivals Southern California now enjoys on a regular basis.

This Ain’t No Picnic was curated by Goldenvoice talent bookers Rene Contreras, Stacy Vee and Jenn Yacoubian with the goal of celebrating musicians “past, present and future” who produce “cutting-edge indie, hip-hop, dance, underground and everything in-between,” they said in a statement. Other notable acts included the Descendants, LCD Soundsystem and Beach House, which put on a trippy, ethereal performance.

Former Rose Bowl CEO and general manager Darryl Dunn, who retired in June after running the stadium for nearly a quarter of a century, told this reporter in the April episode of Pasadena Media’s TV show “NewsRap Local with Justin Chapman” that the Rose Bowl’s “relationship with AEG has been one of the things we’re really proud of.” 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 announced the final list of venues that will host the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico. SoFi was selected, but the Rose Bowl, which hosted the 1994 World Cup final and many other international soccer matches, was not. It was a disappointment for the Rose Bowl Operating Company and the city, which needs high profile events like that to keep the stadium afloat.

The Rose Bowl celebrated its centennial last month and raised $2.1 million from 1,200 attendees for the upkeep and modernization of the stadium, on top of the $40 million raised by the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation. The event also raised more than $500,000 for the construction of a new Rose Bowl sign. The Pasadena City Council recently approved plans for the Rose Bowl Operating Company to explore potential new revenue generating opportunities to ensure the economic viability of the stadium and the Brookside Golf Course.