Tucked away in the Escondido Woods of Felicita County Park “A Ship In The Woods” inaugural festival was a sight unseen to many of its San Diego attendees.

Built To Spill

Those who experienced the weekend’s festivities were either pleasantly surprised or greatly dismayed by way of their constricted expectations. Sure it had the run of the mill checklist: food vendors, drinks, art installations and diverse musical landscapes associated with contemporary music festivals. What separated it from the pack was a different approach to its tastes, portrayal and design. More significantly and inspiring, “Ship Fest” was a fracture and great improvement from what has characterized San Diego’s atypical music/art gatherings.

Blessing the site and captivating the small crowd early enough for the opening ceremony was Pall Jenkins and Lori Goldston. Listening to the duo I sat on the grass in an anxious slumber still shaking off the bad decisions of the night before. Mr. Jenkins has always anchored himself in a haunting persona; his voice has this uncanny ability to stir your insides while lulling you to sleep. The two played new tunes from a collaboration with one another, Jenkins droned on a few chords, manipulated his guitar sound with effects pedals, and bowed his saw, while Goldston adorned the music with elegant melodies on her cello.    

The ladies in Hexa followed suit with a table tipping sound of their own, stirring a dark spiritual gospel with vivid lyrics and seamless arrangements.    

After Hexa, I wondered through the old oak grove behind the stage and took a gander at all the interactive installations as Hiro Kone infected the sound waves with glitch structures of 21st century tribalism. There was teddy bears hugging an embankment for dear life, a totem of drums, trees of life growing from a stream with stained glass leaves, a fumigation tent covering a playground, a high five challenge (I Won), a peoples opera and a interactive synth known only as the Omni Echo that would synthesize and distribute your voice to different sides of the room.

Lonnie Holley broke my heart with his song about humanity in which he improvised lyrics on the process of creating a sculpture he made to bless the festival. “I fell down while gathering sticks to stick together… mankind must stick together”. Beautifully poetic and honest I could not help but smile at the childlike profoundness of this gentleman.  

Ice Balloons clearly the brainchild of an autistic post-punk rock savant gave the day a much needed kick in the ass. Their ballistic employment of jarring sound textures, fuzzed out bass riffs and pin pricking drums is the reason this New York super group has gained such notoriety.

Closing out the 1st day was Shabazz Palaces who illuminated the stage while sun softened. Palaceer Lazaro formerly of Digable Palanets breathlessly and poignantly performed his jazz conscious raps with the reveling percussion of textures supplied by multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire.


Day two kicked off with local dream pop freaks Spooky Cigarette.

This quartet has gained many deserving praises by playing their unique flavor of genre jaunting dream psych, and pop séance. On the surface the music appears as a harmless circus of sound but upon a deeper contemplation is a far more damaged, insightful and intelligent art flick.

EMA sang beautiful dissociative vocals over a melancholic synth in a rickety installation that was clearly modeled set from an 80’s television sitcom.

My ears perked and were draw up to the looming music of TJO, who sardonically made light of her dark musical impressions, while in the company of such a serene setting. Her lyrical passages and the cadence in her voice were absolutely astonishing.

Led by Doug Martsch, Built to Spill took the stage as a sonic apparition. The band was tight and Mr. Martsch manipulated his guitar and its tone with such mastery. Using an Echoplex and floorboard of pedals he pushed the signal into fuzzed fields of circuitry and dream mazes. That man can play a guitar, he’s got so many tools at his disposal from seamless melody, to choral passages, to angular riffs, that he has no problem implementing in a single song, not to mention he sings his heart out. They put on a great show and it was a privilege to end with such       

Like any festival there has ever been or will ever be, one thing is for certain and that is the long list of inflammatory complaints, and over zealous praise that soon surfaces after its wake. Perhaps, the attendance was not what they expected perhaps it was a far cry from the world populated by EDM neon bracelets and giant stages filled with demi gods and rock and roll dinosaurs. Museums are filled to capacity with this shit and I personally prefer a more realistic approach to the vibrancy of a gathering, I want something palpable, something I can touch. This is not to say this festival doesn’t need to tweak and iron out the many complaints I heard rifled out about fringe eccentrics and price of admission. What should be recognize and appreciate is what “Ship Fest” did, it took a chance on a city long devoted to generic street/art/music fairs whose lack luster passion for culture is nothing more than a demoralizing venture. I hope for the sanctity of all who attended “Ship Fest” the expedition continues onto new frontiers. I hope that its efforts to inspire promote and elevate our cultural and artistic dialogues stretch further and dignify what is possible when San Diego invests in the arts.

Review by: Rory Morison
Photos by: Josh Claros