By Michael Milano
Photos By THT
San Francisco, CA (The Hollywood Times) 6/7/18 – The second installment of the colossal Clusterfest, a comedy and music festival presented by Comedy Central that took place last weekend just outside of City Hall in downtown San Francisco. Current and throwback top tier comics, bands, and solo musicians took to four separate stages, both inside The Bill Graham Auditorium and on an outdoor main stage. There was a wide variety of typical fair food in addition to a variety of gourmet fare, all of which other festivals would truly be envious.
The festival included world renowned acts, ranging from Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” and Australian hit comedian Jim Jefferies, to hip-hop legends Wu-Tang Clan and SF based alt/pop rock icons Third Eye Blind; it was one of the most eclectic lineups on the market this year. A highlight for me was Reggie Watts’ hybrid comedy/music act, which seamlessly blended his incredible music prowess with his natural comedic timing, creating what was essentially a completely on the fly show using nothing but his own vocal loops.
From the very start there were choices that had to be made – do I go see “The Daily Show” live Q&A with Trevor Noah and all the correspondents, or do I go the other route and check out John Mulaney and Nick Kroll, performing a live unscripted version of “Oh, Hello” in which they play two Upper Westside elderly Jewish men, George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon, who hilariously groan on and on about everything from the current economic climate to their fake prank show where they deliver their guests “too much tuna”? That is part of the magic, and also pain of heavily-stacked festivals.
Just like any major festival, it’s not just about booking the best acts, but being able to provide the attendees with a generally good experience all around. Aside from the four stages which hosted the majority of the scheduled lineup, there was also the return of the Paddy’s Pub Bar from the hit FX show “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” Inside Paddy’s Pub, replicas of various scenes from the show were set up for people to use as photo ops. There was occasional live comedy or hosted karaoke and, of course, a bar that served more drinks than the average beer booths throughout the festival.
Casually walking around the festival, you were also sure to see the large Nickelodeon “Double Dare” obstacle course, which literally any kid who grew up in the 90’s would recognize. Anyone could get in line and attempt to get the high score on the obstacle course, living a dream that all of us born around that time wish we could have done then, or just watch and laugh from the bleachers set up adjacent to the action. Keep walking and you’ll stumble into a replica of the town of “South Park”, Comedy Central’s hit animated show, complete with a life size background of the infamous South Park Mountains and shops. Then on to a vast array of themed carnival games and food, all of which laid right under the gorgeous City Hall dome, casting a shadow on first the replica town, and then the rest of the festival as the sun set behind it.
Day one concluded with many attendees most anticipated act of the entire festival, The Lonely Island, led by Andy Samberg with Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, performing their first full live show, reminding the crowd of that plenty of times throughout the set. “We’re on stage, we’re on stage, The Lonely Island is now on stage,” the group jokingly sings out in their opening number, which more than set the tone for the hilarious show that was to come. They played all of their hits that they created specifically for “Saturday Night Live’s” digital short segments, some of which were huge hits even outside of the show, like “I’m On A Boat” and “Motherlover”, to some of their lesser known songs/skits like “Ras Trent” and “Shy Ronnie”. Not only did they impress the crowd with their general stage presence, clever antics and surprisingly good live rap flows, but they also brought out a slew of guests, like T-Pain, Chris Parnell, and even Michael Bolton to perform their collaborations of “Jack Sparrow” and “Incredible Thoughts”. Either a full-fledged original lyric video, clips from the corresponding “Saturday Night Live” segment, or sometimes even both accompanied each and every song playing in the back on the massive video screens. Everyone was singing along, most people in the audience knowing every single word, even to some of their hits from back in 2008. Fans left the Bill Graham grounds Friday night, with energy in the air that was a positive foreshadowing of the days yet to come.
Even though there was seemingly a little bit of an issue with the security line Friday afternoon, Saturday’s lines into the festival seemed to flow much more smoothly. The day started out with a set from the Comedy Central smash hit show “Drunk History” and its creator Derek Waters. They showed some never before seen “Drunk History” clips from the forthcoming season, as well as some behind the scenes footage ;later they took questions from the audience. The day continued with incredible sets from the likes of Jim Jefferies, ‘Shoop’ and ‘Push It’, hit-makers Salt-N-Pepa, Viceland late night stars Desus & Mero, and Nathan Fielder and Kyle Mooney, presenting a collection of off-kilter Youtube videos in a fashion that only the creator of “Nathan For You” could bring to the table. The best set of Saturday though had to have been the entirely improvised hour long set that Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”) and Ben Schwartz (“Parks And Recreation”) performed inside the intimate Larkin Theater, across the hall from the Bill Graham main room. It was as simple as coming out on stage, asking the audience for an idea, which naturally boiled down to…paintings of meat with blood dripping down, of course…and performing an entirely off-the-cuff scene relating to that topic. It was mind-blowing watching these two comedic masterminds slip seamlessly back and forth between characters in such synchronicity that you would have sworn the scene was written and rehearsed beforehand. If you are somehow unfamiliar with these comedians until this point, this writer would highly suggest anyone reading this go out of your way to look more into these guys and their live show, because it was nothing short of incredible.
Just as with any other weekend long festival, Day Three began with everyone’s feet dead from two full days of walking around and dancing from all the great music. But that certainly wasn’t stopping anyone from getting into the festival early to watch “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart do an interview and Q&A hosted by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub. They went over everything they could in the short sixty minutes they had for the segment – the transition between him and Trevor Noah, the new Daily Show host and also a Clusterfest performer that weekend; Samantha Bee’s comments regarding president Trump; and of course, just a little bit about the current state of political affairs since he had left the show.
The day went on to feature a live read of “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” with “Arrested Development’s” David Cross, Thomas Middleditch, Ben Schwartz, Sasheer Zamata, and Jessica Mckenna, with a live band to play all the scene change and background music, making it a much more immersive and entertaining live read than most. The concluding act of the festival was a headlining stand-up set by Jon Stewart, his first one performed on the West Coast in over ten years.
In a climate that suggests the huge music festival bubble that expanded just a few years ago has finally popped, evidence from other festivals like Outside Lands not selling well over the last few years and even the FYF Festival in Southern California getting cancelled due to poor ticket sales, it’s quite telling when a new festival like Clusterfest can succeed. And it isn’t purely by chance. A proper combination of talented performers, accommodating festival grounds, and a price tag that doesn’t entirely break the bank is vital for up and coming festivals; Clusterfest checks all these boxes and more. Sure, there are still a couple of things that could be improved next year, like frequently updating their apps for the most current set times, or better communicating that you need to reserve seats for two of the indoor stages but, honestly all of my critiques are very small and very fixable for next year’s fest. If Clusterfest is able to keep going at their current pace, we will surely see this festival quickly go from it’s inaugural year last year to one of the major festival main stays here in the Bay Area.