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Marcus Rosario

Portola Festival proves SF is dance music city

Marcus Rosario

As I stepped onto the grounds, I couldn’t help but notice the subtle changes from the previous year. Portola felt different but in the best possible way.

One of the most noticeable improvements was how the festival organizers handled the crowd and sound. Despite a few hiccups, like the fluctuating volume during some sets and performances, the overall experience was elevated, creating an uplifting positive atmosphere. Although the familiar AstroTurf from the Pier stage was absent, festival-goers adapted, still finding their space to lie down and lose their minds to the music.

The lineup was curated to cater to diverse tastes young and old and it promised a weekend of musical ecstasy, literally. I attended both days of the festival and saw a variety of acts - my favorites were Polo & Pan and Tokischa. Polo & Pan's visuals were stunning, and their energy was so radiant and joyful. For Polo, playing in San Francisco was extra special.

“San Francisco is a really important city for me as a musician. I lived here in 2006 and started DJing a bunch and wrote a first album for another band. And it was such an important step after coming back to Paris,” he said. “so San Francisco is a bit part of my DNA and a bit part of Polo & Pan, because it was a brick of what we've built together. And we also found an amazing audience here.”

Similarly, Little Dragon also had a connection with the city. “ Yeah, I think San Francisco has always been a special place for us,” said Erik Boden, a member of the Swedish quartet. “I think the first show we ever did in the U.S. was in San Francisco. So we've always had a lot of special, wonderful fans here and a lot of great shows.”

Tokischa's set was fun and provocatively entertaining, and her tribute to Madonna was a highlight. Honorable mention to Eric Prydz - his set was a feast for the eyes and ears, with his high-tech dystopian future visuals.

I had a wonderful time at Portola and believe it's a fantastic addition to San Francisco. It brings a new wave of musical energy and audiences that may not normally come to the area. Despite its corporate origins, it still feels fresh and can benefit the city immensely. The Bay Area is often overlooked for big touring artists from other parts of the world, so Portola helps align with local promoters' efforts to bring more to our community.

For Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, radio stations like KALW also serve an important role in bringing music from the world to the SF community. “As a Belgian, I feel it's so important to have radio stations as yours, that never underestimate their audience,” said Adigéry. “ it's just the responsibility, I think, as a radio station, to keep surprising your audience, and I'm super, super grateful for you listening to us and sharing your platform with us.”

“I think it's so important to have good radio that supports independent music and make people discover new music,” Bolis added.

The San Francisco Bay Area has always been a hub for cultural innovation and music. In my conversations with some of the performers, it became clear how significant its influence has been.

Marcus Rosario