Panorama Festival 2018: The Good, the Bad, and the Muddy


What’s a little New York City music festival without a whole lotta rain? This year, the Panorama Music Festival faced the wrath of Mother Nature and came out the loser. 2018’s abbreviated festival — headlined by Janet Jackson, the Killers, and, ultimately, not the Weeknd — was by all accounts a wash, with forced cancellations left and right stemming from the festival’s first-ever rain-out. Vulture was on the (extremely muddy) ground to experience the mess firsthand. Here’s what you missed.

Janet Jackson
Nothing bad can come of a Janet Jackson performance; her oeuvre and artistry were designed for the live spectacle. “It’s a lot of hits, isn’t it?” she said from the stage, seemingly unable to believe how many she had. Miz Jackson’s career-spanning Panorama set included three (3!) wardrobe changes, flawless makeup (yellow eye shadow, hello!), opening visuals speaking straight facts about gun violence and police brutality against black people, some of the original choreography from her iconic videos, and a full ten minutes of Janet pausing the show to drink in the applause from both sides of the stage. (If you ever wondered where Beyoncé learned that flex from … now you know). All that history was bottled into a roughly two-hour performance and still this millennial squealed loudest when she performed “Doesn’t Really Matter” in front of her scenes from The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. I’m completely serious. May no part of her legacy be dismissed!

SZA powering through vocal injury
After severely damaging her vocal cords, it was touch and go whether SZA would ever be able to perform again. But we’re happy to report that she’s never sounded better. There’s renewed confidence in her vocal strength, reflected in remixes to some of her year-old songs to better suit her new range. We’re less happy to report, though, her announcement that in the middle of all this vocal trauma she’s also been going through a breakup! Terrible news for her, great for those of us selfishly awaiting Vol. 2 of messy heartbreak jams.

St. Vincent’s 100 guitar changes
Fine, maybe not 100, but at least ten! St. Vincent, a.k.a Annie Clark, a.k.a. goddess divine, is a world-renowned shredder — one of the last rock stars on the planet whose guitar skills are worth studying. She’s got her own signature guitar line with Ernie Ball, and while those are only available to the public in a few monochrome variations, of course she’s hording a whole rainbow spectrum for her own personal collection. She coordinated her neon orange cut-out bodysuit — and matching knee-high heeled boots, swoon — with a guitar change for every single song, swapping neon blue for neon orange for baby pink with leopard print for matte black for all-white for too many more to keep up with. Color theorists, eat your heart out!

The Wopsters
Or as you may otherwise know them, the rap-game power couple of Gucci Mane and his wife Keyshia Ka’oir Davis. Though some of Gucci’s set suffered from this year’s Panorama Curse with sound issues, he made up for it by bringing out Keyshia during “Lemonade” to steal the show, proving once again why she’s a star in her own right.

Brandon Flowers’s suit
Just look at this beauty:

All that rain
Typically, Panorama’s rival Gov Ball falls victim to the sporadic torrential downpours that can sometimes plague New York City’s summer months, while Pano battles the heatwave. This year Gov Ball did get drenched, but endured. Panorama, on the other hand, experienced its first-ever rain-out. Friday’s set list was cut short when the festival announced it was evacuating Randall’s Island and sending attendees to safe cover from the storms. The evacuation meant forced cancellations for all the day’s biggest acts: Dua Lipa, Jhene Aiko, Migos, and headliner the Weeknd. It also meant the festival lost money by having to issue refunds.

Even more cancellations
Mother Nature continued to be a bitch even after the skies cleared by Saturday. Nearly 30 minutes into what was supposed to have been Lil Wayne’s set on the main stage — he was booked as Cardi B’s replacement — the festival flashed a message on its big screens that, just kidding, Wayne wasn’t even there “due to weather conditions” that had delayed his flight. It’s a crucial update one would assume a major festival would’ve been made aware of sooner than halfway through the artist’s set, but alas, fans were left standing (or, rather, sinking) in the mud. It’s unclear who messed up — the festival, Lil Wayne’s management, or both — but, once again, fans were screwed out of a performer they paid to see.

But Lil Wayne wasn’t the only no-show. Giving far more advance warning than Wayne, Greta Van Fleet announced hours prior to their Sunday set that they would be unable to perform due to injury. According to a statement, their drummer, Danny Wagner, had damaged his fingers to the point where he could no longer properly hold a drumstick and play at optimal ability. It was once again out of the festival’s control, but we’ll blame this one on the Pano Curse, too.

Downsizing
Randall’s Island can generally support at least four stages — maybe five, if you really squeeze — and that is the amount most festivals held on the island usually book. Both Gov Ball and Pano have, in the past, spread their festival across both sides of the field, but this year Pano downsized noticeably, using only one half of the available festival grounds, cutting a stage — wisely, that damned indoor venue — and crowding its remaining three stages onto one half of the field. The clutter meant most set times had to be staggered and not a second overtime; otherwise one stage would drown out the other. The downsizing could also mean the kiss of death for the festival’s future: Combine lower ticket sales, refunds, bad press and fan outrage for poor logistics, and it’s possible Pano could struggle to return for its fourth year next summer. (It’s worth noting that the company that owns its rival, Gov Ball, has not confirmed its other festival, Meadows, will return this year either, meaning the New York City festival scene could be claiming its next victims.)

It is a fact of urban city living that heavy rainfall and our limited open, grassy spaces don’t mix. Gov Ball meets this challenge every year and does what it can to limit the damage, but Pano is still learning. Last year, the floor of its indoor stage caved in due to the mud caused from overnight showers. In addition to causing half a day’s cancellation, the rain at this year’s festival left miserable conditions for the rest of the weekend. We’re talking unbearable amounts of mud. The entire perimeters of the festival map were sinking in, affecting the VIP area by the main stage, walkways to and from stages, and near food and drink vendors. More foot traffic only made for more mud slides.

There’s a solution for this that more festivals hoping to make Randall’s Island their home need to consider: more tented stages, laying down more baseball field-size tarps (especially when you know it’s going to pour overnight), and more additional flooring. Gov Ball is good about setting down temporary tiling in heavy-traffic areas. Pano simply wasn’t prepared, perhaps because its parent company, Goldenvoice — famous for running Coachella — is more used to dealing with the desert.

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