The Insiders’ Guide to the Treasure Island Music Festival (Updated for 2014)

by Gordon Elgart on October 13, 2014

A Treasure Island sunset, courtesy of Kelly Hoffer

A Treasure Island sunset, courtesy of Kelly Hoffer

This weekend’s Treasure Island Music Festival has quickly become my favorite musical event of the year. There are no conflicting set times, so you can see everyone on the bill. The size of the festival is fairly small, so it’s easy to get around. The setting in the middle of San Francisco Bay is absolutely stunning. And something about all of these combine to keep the people going in a relaxed, pleasant mood that makes being there all the more enjoyable.

Now, you might think going to this festival is as easy as hopping in your car and going to the festival to enjoy some music, but you’d be wrong. Read on, and I’ll teach you how to avoid rookie mistakes.

New for 2010 I guess this is old hat now: The Silent Disco!

Oh, I’ve seen these silent discos. Everybody gets a pair of headphones, and they’re the only ones who can hear the DJ. So if you’re not partaking, and you just happen to walk by, you’ll see a bunch of people who look like they’re dancing to nothing. It looks hilarious. But better than that is to actually get the pair of headphones and be the one looking hilarious. Funny practical joke for DJs: play different songs at different tempos for everyone; then see them try to dance with each other.

Leave yourself enough time to get there

You can’t drive to the festival unless you were fast enough to buy a parking pass. If you’re an average punter, you’ll be taking the bus from Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. If you’re thinking of driving in to the city, remember that you’ve got regular weekend city traffic to contend with, and there are always other events going on. For this reason, I strongly recommend taking public transit. In fact, as much fun as it is to ride the party bus, if you are coming from the East Bay, I’d actually recommend taking the Transbay Bus to the Transbay Terminal, and then grab the 108-Treasure Island. I made it door to door in 45 minutes last year during the BART strike from my apartment in downtown Oakland.

You should hope the traffic looks like this.  All bets are off if there's an accident on the S Curve.

Don’t believe the hype: bring more clothes

This week, the weather has been sunny and amazing, super hot, annoyingly so. But now the forecast calls for hazy and 60s for the weekend. Remember, though: this is San Francisco, and you’re on an island. The weather could be hot or cold, sunny or cloudy, clear or foggy, dry or rainy. It could be absolutely anything. Don’t get caught all the way out there without a few layers. Bring a nice rain jacket if you have it.

It'll probably never look like this, but just in case, don't wear high heels.  The festival is on grass.

Wear sunscreen (literally)

As I said previously, the music festival is on an island. If you’ve never been to the beach before, you might not know that sunlight reflects off of water and can cause you to burn even faster. It can get pretty bright out there. And we’d like you to be safe. Other health advice: bring earplugs because your hearing is a gift you can’t get twice, drink lots of water because hydration is a key to good health, and bring hand sanitizer to limit the effects of cold and flu season on you.

Bring a giant plastic bag; get free stuff

You might be able to find a giant plastic bag on the island, but I say to plan ahead. When you get there, start collecting bottles and cups that people leave laying around on the ground. Some people are too lazy to throw things away. Help them out! Then take all of these recyclables to the Recycling Store, and you can trade them in for goodies. Most likely, these will include things like Noise Pop Festival badges and Outside Lands Festival tickets, along with autographed items from some of the bands on the weekend’s lineup. What you can’t do is dig through the cups and bottles that were already properly disposed. While this takes less time, it’s against the rules and may get you disqualified from your free goodies.

I can hear you right now, saying “why would I want to pick up trash? I’m too good to pick up trash.” Are you too good to spend 30 minutes of your day on getting a few hundred dollars worth of music tickets? I know I’m not.


This guy is going to get all the good stuff at the recycling store.

Get taken for a ride

There’s a giant ferris wheel on Treasure Island for the weekend that provides a great view of the San Francisco skyline. You may look at it and think, “I’ll go on that later” or “that seems a bit pricey.” Our official advice to you is to go on it now. First off, you’re gonna kick yourself if you don’t spend a few dollars to go on a ferris wheel. You’ll spend a year thinking that you just should have gone on when you had the chance. And the reason to go on it now is that the island gets busier as the day goes on, and the line to ride the ferris wheel can get pretty intense. You can miss an entire band’s set waiting on the ferris wheel, and the bands that play at night? They tend to the biggest ones. Don’t miss Janelle Monae’s entire set to ride the wheel; miss one song of Painted Palms.

You'll be able to hear that Vetiver song from the ferris wheel, too.

Bring a poster tube

You’re going to go visit the merchandise booth, you’ll see the official show poster, and you’re going to want it. This I can promise you. At this point, you might be offered a rubber band to carry it, and by the time you get it home, it will be a crumpled mess. Don’t let this happen to you. If you prepare yourself with a poster tube, easily purchased at a store near you, the poster will make it home in pristine condition. (There’s a chance the merch booth will offer poster tubes, but I wouldn’t count on this.) In addition, I know of at least one artist who’ll be selling all sorts of posters at the show. You’ll see these, and you’re going to want one. If you are at all inclined toward posters, bring a tube.

Shepard Fairey did last year's poster.  Good luck finding one of these now.

Shop local

The festival has a feature they call The Treasure Chest. This is how the collection of vendors you’ll find on-site are referred to. When you start shopping around, I’m going to make a quick suggestion: buy local. Some of the vendors are going to be local artists and craftspeople. Others will be straight-up advertising opportunities for giant mega-corporations. Your time on the island is limited–there are few bands you won’t want to watch, regardless of your particular taste. Spend this time supporting your local vendors, and keep your community strong.

Check out the sunset

I lived on Treasure Island a few years ago, and for all the little annoyances that come with living on an island, there are its joys as well. The absolute best part of being there was the view. Looking west toward San Francisco as the sun goes down never gets tiring. So make sure to check it out. Don’t get wrapped up in the band on stage too much to miss this opportunity. Alternately, you could drive over here some other time, or take the 108 bus, but you won’t have a killer band on stage when it happens. Look for it Saturday during St Lucia and Sunday during Washed Out.

Get close to the main stage

I’m about to give away one of my Treasure Island Music Festival secrets. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to want to go back and forth between the two stages all day long. The stages are pretty close together, so this will be easy. What if you want to get fairly close to the Bridge stage, but it looks really crowded? Here’s what you do. Walk along the fence on the west side of the island (house left as you face the stage) and when you get to the trees near the stage, take a right. You’ll then be house-left, only a little far back. For some reason, everyone tries to go up the center or the right side, leaving this area free with plenty of dance space.

Here's a view from right next to the trees I just mentioned.

See the early bands

Noise Pop and Another Planet have been kind enough to schedule an entire day of music for all of us, so please take advantage of this opportunity. You could just show up to see Outkast and Zedd and get “your money’s worth,” but I’d rather make a musical profit on my day. The bands that play earliest each day–Spinning Platters’ favorites Painted Palms and Tobacco on Saturday, and Bleached and White Denim on Sunday–are going to be absolutely thrilled to be playing at such a great festival, and I urge all of you to see them. Bring your energy to the daylight acts and you’ll be met with energy coming back.

Don’t be one of those people who hears, “Oh man Bleached were so amazing! Too bad you missed it!” Be the one saying it. And anyone that gets there in time for Bleached will say that.

Don’t be a dick

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, people have a cool and relaxed vibe at this event. It’s not something I can explain, but it definitely happens. I invite everyone to follow the above credo, and refrain from dick moves. Don’t push people out of the way to get to the front of the stage. If you’re a tall guy like me, follow my Code of the Tall Guy: don’t move directly in front of someone if they’ve been waiting there all day to see a band and let people shorter than you stand in front of you (unless they’re going to drag their 6’4? boyfriend in front of you too. Screw that.) The festival isn’t that big, the speakers are plenty loud, and you can just dance wherever you are.

By the way, the power of these four words is strong. If you’re ever at a show and someone is going a bit too far, you seriously can look them in the eye and say, “Hey! Don’t be a dick!” While this is not recommended on the official Wikipedia essay about this “fundamental rule of all total social spaces,” it works like a charm at a rock show.

Say hi to your friendly neighborhood music reviewers

If you see any of the Spinning Platters crew this weekend, be sure to say hi. Personally, I’ll be there all day every day carrying an iPhone, so if you email me, or any of us, we’d be glad to meet you in person and have you tell us what you love or hate about our website.

Hope to see you there, and have a great time! Tickets are still available, and if you don’t join me, I’ll be pretty bummed.


Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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