June 6, 2014

Chipotle’s Cultivate Festival, put quite simply, was full of our two favorite things: food and music. The music paled in comparison to the festival itself, which was where the real magic lay. Despite the heavy fog and cool temperatures, those who turned out for the festival were clearly having fun enjoying the food, exhibitions, chef demonstrations, free samples, and the overall atmosphere of contentment in Hellman Hollow.

Many people only showed up for Neon Trees at the end of night, since the lineup earlier in the day may have been slightly less than compelling for most. However, due to the fact that the festival was free, the amount of people coming and going throughout the day gave the festival a unique vibe. Hellman Hollow was full of people just going with the flow, giving the festival that laid-back, free-spirited atmosphere that’s hard to come by at most festivals where the attendees are paying more than they’d like to be. Perhaps because it was free, or perhaps because there wasn’t any one particular must-see act, the constant flow of people just enjoying themselves was extremely refreshing.

Chipotle made smart, economically-minded decisions in choosing the menu for the festival, ultimately settling on soft tacos, gorditas, and rice bowls from their newest offshoot, Shophouse. Shophouse follows Chipotle’s build-it-yourself style of operations and transfers it into the realm of Asian-inspired food. The lines for the food, and the idea itself, made us think that this would be the best thing to happen to fast food since Chipotle itself. Unfortunately, we were very mistaken. While an ingenious idea for food, the dish itself — a rice bowl with meatballs, mango slices, cabbage, green bean slaw, cilantro, and fish sauce — was less than appealing. Slightly defeated, we threw them in the trash.

Luckily, the rest of the dishes featured the flavors we have come to know and love from Chipotle, and they certainly did not disappoint. Nor did the other vendors at the festival. The Artisans’ Hall was rounded out by Pop Nation’s healthy and delicious popsicles, Hodo Soy’s spicy and tangy noodles, Ritual Coffee Roaster’s bold and deep coffees, and the many meaty offerings of 4505 Meats.

With the paltry mainstage lineup, the festival’s primary emphasis was seemingly on the food. A tent dedicated to chef demos was one of the definite highlights of the day. We were able to see Amanda Freitag of Chopped fame, and Minh Tsai of Hodo Soy. While Freitag undoubtedly put on a better, more entertaining performance, it was incredibly interesting to learn about the fine art of tofu making from the man who brought sofritas to Chipotle.

American Authors, the opening band of the afternoon, performed with high energy to a crowd of people dancing along to their short set. Smallpools came on next, blowing through half of their music in what they referred to as “about five minutes,” while cracking jokes about the fact that when people Google their band name they get posts about the injustice of keeping killer whales in small pools. The phenomena inspired their song, “Killer Whales,” which they wrote as a way to redeem themselves. Then came Charlie XCX, drawing more people away from the food and to the stage area. After her came Andrew McMahon, who played through his (along with the rest of Jack’s Mannequin’s) album Everything In Transit in its entirety.

The headlining act, Neon Trees, put on exactly the show that was to be expected of them by the festival goers who had spent the day in the park and the fans that came just for their set. Opening with “Love In the 21st Century” while joking about Tinder and the perils of finding a masculine-looking man, the band launched right into hits from their newest album. Of course, their older fan-favorites, such as the anthems “Animal” and “Everybody Talks,” were the crowd-pleasers they were meant to be, getting the majority of Hellman Hollow up on their feet and dancing. Frontman Tyler Glenn was absolutely spritely as he danced about the stage, putting on an entirely entertaining show. He ended the set and the festival by thanking the crowd for not being pretentious, thanking Chipotle for putting on the festival, and telling us what we already knew, that our city “is a fucking dream.”

Image courtesy of Chipotle