Last year Southern California, and the entire United States, saw the emergence of a brand-new festival in San Diego: CRSSD Festival. Characterized by a lineup devoid of EDM but instead largely centered on house music and indie electronica, it held two editions in 2015 thanks to the year-round warm weather its home city of San Diego provides. This year, CRSSD’s Spring edition took place across two days this past weekend.
Location, Accessibility, Set-up
CRSSD calls San Diego’s 12-acre Waterfront Park home – a beautiful park with water fountains, grassy areas and incredible views of both the city’s skyline to the east and the harbor to the west. The location couldn’t be more central, only minutes away from San Diego International Airport and a comfortable walk or short cab ride away from most downtown San Diego hotels.
While there was no specific parking provided for the festival, it was easy enough to park a car in the city or at a hotel and walk over. Traffic was never an issue.
It took roughly 45 minutes to enter the festival via the one entrance available. It was possible to buy express entry tickets that skipped the entire line but it appeared that not many chose that option simply judging by the amount of people that were using that entrance. Understandably 45 minutes isn’t a terrible time to enter a sold out festival, but if it were at all possible to provide two entrances it would certainly speed up the entry process.
CRSSD prides itself on its selection of craft beers and local food options and the grounds provided several stands where these could be purchased. We tried several and were impressed by the Spicy Pie pizzas in particular. The beer options were definitely plentiful when compared to most electronic music festivals but also considerably higher in price, mostly $10-12 for a 12oz pour. Mixed drinks were $12 but also smaller than most other festivals.
There was definitely an issue with sound at both the City Steps and Palms stages. While the music was strong and fairly clear towards the front (and definitely requiring ear plugs), it was more than weak at any point beyond the middle of the canopies that occupied the dance floors of both stages. Strangely, there were additional speakers at the very back of each stage but instead of being pointed inwards to create a four-point surround sound system that covered the entire crowd, they were directed further outwards which seemed to not make sense.
Waterfront Park essentially forms a long rectangle alongside the city’s harbor waterfront (hence the name), comfortably providing space for the three stages that took over the grounds for the weekend. The larger Ocean View stage is located on the north side of the park, with the City Steps and Palms stages located further south in a manner that did not produce sound bleeding or distortion between stages.
There was enough space between each to wander around and enjoy the scenery without missing any sets. Essentially, while the festival was sold out and therefore busy, it still provided enough space to enjoy the stages and the beauty of the park.
There was definitely an issue with bathroom layout on the south side of the park between the City Steps and Palms stages. On Saturday lines were as long as 30 minutes, and because the porta-potties were located in a make-shift enclosure it became hard to navigate through the area causing visible upset for several festival-goers. On Sunday more porta-potties were added, appearing to at least alleviate the problem.
It never took too long to grab a drink or get food with plenty of options available in both departments.
Crowd & Atmosphere
Overall the crowd was pleasant and fun. Out to have a great time despite a colder weekend than usual, most attendees were there for the music and to enjoy a selection of DJs and acts that otherwise rarely make their way to the city.
Most people we spoke to were either from San Diego or Los Angeles but we also saw large contingents of travelers from as far as Chicago and New York City. It’s no surprise that the festival sold out after only three editions, considering the beauty of the park and the United States’ lack of non-EDM festivals that primarily cater to house, tech house and techno.
After two impressively warm CRSSD festivals in 2015, this past weekend was colder than usual for the city, in large part due to El Niño’s influence. Saturday was the warmest of the two days, but also the only day that saw rain as a misty drizzle covered the city intermittently throughout the evening. Sunday was slightly colder overall but without rain – honestly perfectly good weather for jeans and a sweater. While temperatures did drop in the evening they largely remained in the mid-to-high 60s throughout the weekend.
CRSSD’s famous sunset lived up to its reputation on both days, and the nature of Waterfront Park’s grass ensured that there was hardly an issue with mud when rain made its appearance briefly. It is definitely safe to assume that future CRSSD festivals will be graced by decidedly warmer climates both in the fall and spring editions to come.
While it’s impossible to catch everyone on any given festival line-up, on Saturday it was Skream and Cirez D that arguably stole the show. The former put on an impressive display for what was to be the first of 5 sets across the span of two days (after-parties included) and was even dubbed by CRSSD as the weekend’s MVP as he subbed in (alongside Tom Trago) for a late Loco Dice, went back-to-back with Jamie Jones at an after-party and played a second scheduled set on Sunday. His one-hour Saturday performance should have gone on for longer, and the crowd definitely wanted it to. High-energy and as usual incorporating elements of house and garage in a fashion that has long become his signature, Oliver impressed with his versatility as always
Cirez D closed the night in style with his brand of slow yet masterfully crafted build-ups and the type of progressive techno that only he delivered at a festival that mostly played house. And to think that he was decidedly even more impressive at the sold-out after-party he headlined later that night. Ben UFO before him delivered strong too, with a selection of carefully picked tracks that had the crowd grooving and ready for the night’s finale.
The fact that Adriatique played only one hour early on Day 2 was possibly the biggest let-down of CRSSD’s scheduling. They brought a brand of melodic, almost meditative deep house that was hard to find elsewhere the entire weekend, yet were given the almost too-usual small time slot artists find themselves playing at US festivals. Regardless, it was beautiful to begin the day with their set at the City Steps stage.
While it’s definitely not a surprise to anyone to see large contingents of Dirtybird apparel-wearing fans at festivals, a strong army of Relief Records fans showed up for Green Velvet’s sunset performance on Day 2. The Chicago legend delivered strong with one of the best sets of the entire afternoon, incorporating a mix of original Cajmere and Green Velvet tracks alongside some of his most popular collaborations with artists such as Patrick Topping and Claude vonStroke.
Maceo Plex closed out the night at the stage taking over from Loco Dice with two hours of heavy tech house grooves and ethereal techno vocal tracks. Elsewhere Dirtybird boss Claude vonStroke brought on Green Velvet for a surprise Get Real performance while Chet Faker drew an expected large crowd at the main stage.
The Music – 4 out of 5
There is no arguing that music, together with the beauty of the venue, is one of CRSSD’s strong points. Something has to be said, however, about the short set times for artists such as Adriatique, Jon Hopkins, Jeremy Olander, Kidnap Kid, Tom Trago and others who were only given an hour of play time. Adriatique and Hopkins in particular were promoted as being scheduled for two hours and while short set scheduling seems to be an endemic problem to American festivals (hardly anywhere in Europe will you see a two-hour set billed as ‘extended’), it would be ideal to at least give an hour and a half for a set to really get going.
It was definitely more than refreshing, however, to see a couple of rare US festival acts on the bill such as Cirez D and Ben UFO. It will be interesting to see if, now that it has cemented itself as a strong member of the dance music festival circuit, CRSSD will take risks in diversifying its line-up with deeper and more eclectic artists in editions to come.
Experience – 3.5 out of 5
Overall CRSSD has built itself tremendously in just a year, with a perfect location and that type of small yet big enough boutique festival that is organized well and provides a good weekend experience for everyone attending. The atmosphere and crowd was generally a fun one and the beauty of the surroundings made up for a perfect two-days of music and fun with friends.
I ran into a friend whose drawstring bag was cut open with a knife and her purse (containing Illinois ID where she flew from) stolen from it on Day 1. This is evidently not the fault of the festival but it’s alarming that someone managed to enter the festival with a knife considering the large list of prohibited items included lighters and cigarettes (CRSSD is a non-smoking festivals and lighters were being thrown away at the entrance even if the person didn’t have cigarettes).
It will be important for 2016’s Fall edition to resolve issues with over-crowded bathrooms and poor sound logistics so as to elevate the experience to the next level.
Value – 4 out of 5
Two-day passes were priced at around $115 when first released. Right before the festival sold out, the same pass was priced close to $200. While not too expensive when compared to most festivals, it is true that Movement Detroit offers three-day passes for a similar price while providing a much deeper line-up and experience.
Craft beers and San Diego go hand-in-hand but $12 for 12oz pours is certainly a little too expensive. $10 Stella Artois and Goose Islands were also more expensive than most other similarly sized festivals I have attended. $12 for a mixed drink wouldn’t necessarily be an issue but at CRSSD the cocktail size was tiny to say the least.
Overall – 3.84 out of 5
There is absolutely no doubt that CRSSD has done a tremendous job in building its brand as a true destination festival. This is in no small part thanks to strong lineups and its impressive festival location. It is in fact remarkable that within a year the festival has already sold out and perhaps understandable that this has resulted in issues with bathrooms and sound logistics. These are growing pains that CRSSD can easily resolve in the years to come.
When all is said and done, CRSSD remains a good value festival in Southern California for your fix of house and indie electronica. We look forward to being back this coming fall for another weekend at the beautiful San Diego location. Meantime, it will be interesting to see if future expansion plans will include a third day or if festival organizers plan to keep it a two-day affair. Fingers crossed that in fall we will see higher temperatures and no rain!