BY DANIEL MORTENSEN, PHOTOS BY NICOLE ESPINAPanorama NYC kicked off its inaugural run in New York City this past weekend. This festival is the newest project of Goldenvoice, organizers of multiple music festivals nationwide, including Coachella. It’s hosted on Randall’s Island, situated between Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan; not the most accessible location in the city but many attendees are probably used to it — Governor’s Ball lived in the same space only seven weeks prior. And with the competition so recent in public memory, Panorama’s organizers put a lot of effort into creating a unique summer experience for the New York City festival scene.
Stay cool in a cool place
The music may have been fresh but the daytime temperature was stuck in the mid 90s throughout the daylight hours of the festival. Panorama did its best to help attendees stay hydrated and comfortable, with free water refill stations around the festival grounds and a lightly tented area just before the main stage that let out a fine, refreshing mist. Volunteers and medical staff also went around handing out bottles of water throughout sets later in the day. Between the tech exhibits, sponsored lounges (MTV, Amex, HP, Google Play Music), and the Parlor Stage (depending on the line), attendees could easily find a way to get out of the heat.
The stand-out indoor feature was THE LAB, a series of interactive tech/art hybrid installations. Long lines made most of them a little difficult to use. The centerpiece of the series was a 70-foot planetarium-style dome, where hypnotic imagery was played over the surface to audience after audience. Another unique experience was Despacio, the 50,000 watt sound system and designed by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, audio engineer John Klett, and David / Stephen Dewaele of 2manydjs. 11-foot stacks of customized amplifiers seemed to play music through your whole body.
Besides the numerous anti-Trump screeds by performers like the Arcade Fire, Run the Jewels, The Julie Ruin, and others, Panorama also reminded attendees of the upcoming election via the voter registration non-profit HeadCount. Representatives stationed themselves near the main walkways with registration forms and approached festival-goers casually about registering throughout the weekend.
My god, it’s full of stars
For many of Panorama’s biggest acts on the main stage (as the official website says: It’s a 30’ tall ultra high definition video screen wrapping 170’ around the stage), producers paired the musical performances with stunning visual feasts in the form of light shows, installation-style film loops, and excellent videography. The production for Arcade Fire, Major Lazer, Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels, and LCD Soundsystem took full advantage of the massive lighting and visual effects. In the future, this should probably be a prerequisite for main-stage booking. FKA Twigs and Sufjan Stevens would have made better use of the space than Kurt Vile and the Alabama Shakes. They’re great performers but not really known for putting on a visually compelling show.
The best bathrooms ever
No, seriously. Rather than limited porta-potty access, the temporary restrooms at Panorama were air-conditioned, even in the general admission areas. The water worked. Soap and paper towels were freshly stocked. I’m still reeling.
What didn’t work
Capacity Issues, or: Fear and Loathing in the Parlor
“Let’s go to the rave tent”, one eager young man shouted to his friends on Sunday afternoon. Get in line, pal. Although this small tent-enclosed third stage of Panorama looked all but deserted for the early Friday sets of Lloydski and Madlib, any concept of personal space had been forgotten by the time DJ Khaled’s slot approached on Friday night. About half an hour prior to the start, it started getting uncomfortably crowded and then at some point, festival security seemingly surrendered any concept of regulating the entrances and exits. Fans jammed themselves through every available door during that late-to-start set, flooding the floor of the tent wall to wall (the VIP area evaporated to make more space). One British attendee was overheard imploring security to intervene, citing the Hillsborough tragedy. Luckily, no similar harm came during the performance. Security tightened for the stage the next day but the demand stayed high. Lines for popular acts like Alunageorge, Kaytranada, Tourist, Classixx, and Holy Ghost! stretched hundreds of feet away from the tent entrances.
In contrast to the rest of the thoughtfully-crafted Panorama layout, the Parlor stage was incomprehensibly small for the kinds of artists booked to play there. It’s the only “what were they thinking?” moment of the weekend, but it’s a big one.
A wide black curtain rolls out between two stage hands to obscure her entrance. It disappears to reveal Sia, dancers around her waist to mimic an intricate crinoline dress. They pull away and Sia launches into “Alive.” The drama on stage is palpable.
Then Sia stays on a box to sing for the duration of the set, while dancers re-enact her music videos alongside a prerecorded performance on screen. Zero crowd interaction, except a brief “Thank you” after the finale. The dancers and Sia herself stood so far back on the stage that the periphery of the crowds could only see the prerecorded video. The vocals were evidently live but the other mechanics of the show left audience members to audibly speculate whether the artist prerecorded her performance as well.
FRIDAY IN PHOTOS
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Broken Social Scene
SATURDAY IN PHOTOS
SUNDAY IN PHOTOS
The Front Bottoms
Run the Jewels
Kurt Vile & the Violators