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How Arroyo Seco Weekend Became the Perfect Rock Festival for Families

Pasadena festival combines heavy sounds and kid-friendly vibes

Somewhere between Millennial-skewing Coachella and the Baby Boomer-targeted Desert Trip is Arroyo Seco Weekend — the perfect festival for older millennials and younger Generation Xers who want to balance music with their family responsibilities.

Celebrating its second year this weekend, Arroyo Seco has carved out a niche where it has become the festival catering to families. Admission to the festival is free for kids 10 and under.

Located at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl and the surrounding Brookside Golf Club, Arroyo Seco enlisted Neil Young + Promise of the Real, Kings of Leon and Robert Plant as its headliners, all of whom have fans in an older demographic and aren’t festival regulars. It also scored rare appearances by ’90s alt-rocker Alanis Morrisette, ’80s pop-rock outfit The Bangles and Brazilian singer-songwriter Seu Jorge — all of whom might be considered nostalgia acts, if the packaging were different.

Festival organizer Nic Adler says that the music focus of Arroyo Seco was to “rediscover” established rock bands, and that Goldenvoice chief Paul Tollett booked the festival to reflect that theme.

“There’s a nice sense of rediscovery,” Adler said of the festival’s lineup. “For me, I remember something as simple as pulling out a cassette — or CD back then — in my car and finding something that I hadn’t listened to in so long. I think that’s something similar with this lineup and you rediscover acts you haven’t seen for a while.”

Cruising around the grounds, it’s easy to see why it worked. Throughout the idyllic weekend, parents wheeled strollers or played with their kids in the grassy areas, while others watched their children in the KidSpace tent, where they banged drums, rolled around and made souvenir paper guitars.

Adler says that the focus on families, in particular ones with parents in the mid-30s to early-40s age range, will differentiate Arroyo Seco from other festivals. Convenience, especially for festival veterans who are sick of paying for things like parking, is a big part of the Arroyo Seco experience.

“We looked at this more as someone gaining, rather than losing, a festival,” Adler said. “I have two kids and the amount of work it might take to get to a destination festival is a lot of work. We wanted to do stuff for this festival — like free parking — to make it appealing. It’s the festival where you feel totally comfortable bringing your kid with you and allowing them to run around. We still love music, we still love being in social situations, but also like things to be a little bit easier.”

Adler estimated 25,000 attendees over the weekend — just like last year. In addition to the tunes, families could enjoy some of the best restaurants in Los Angeles and Pasadena on-site. They could chomp down on pizza from Jon & Vinny’s, a score a burrito from Kogi or indulge in any of the plentiful vegan options. For people who prefer high-end cocktails versus soggy festival beers, there was an area dedicated to curated drinks.

The laidback atmosphere is something the artists have noticed too. Performing in front of a slew of families can offer its share of challenges — in particular trying to feed off the not-so-raucous energy of seeing toddlers hoisted on their parents’ shoulders — but mostly, artists respect that children are being introduced to music. Lisa Coleman of The Revolution — who knows about eclectic audiences from the band’s years with Prince — believes festivals like this could provide bonding experiences.

“Festivals like this weekend’s Arroyo Seco Festival, are a kind of perfect forum for The Revolution, as we have learned from the small amount of touring we’ve done the last couple of years,” Coleman said. “It is the best feeling to hear all the stories, and meet the families who have been able to share so much through their shared musical taste. More than that, they get to spend more time together! What could be better than to feel free while together with your family? Especially right now. We are seeing how precious family is in the news in so many ways.”

“I attend festivals based on two factors. The lineup and the location. This festival has nailed both of them,” said Allen Stone, who performed on Sunday afternoon.

Some folks spent their time hanging out on blankets picnicking, while others roamed.

“We don’t want to tell people how to enjoy their festival,” Adler said.

He hopes the festival will instill the spirit of rock and music in general, especially in children.

“It makes people happy,” he said. “You have your kid dancing around and parents smiling — there’s something natural about that that says you’re in the right place when you see that.”