Porter Robinson’s Second Sky reinvented the Oakland Arena in celebration of music’s return [Review]
A venue change announced in mid-August originally came as a surprise to Porter Robinson. Second Sky, which was originally set to take place in Berkeley’s Caesar Chavez Park on the waterfront, was now moving 20 minutes away to Oakland Arena. Disappointed to be losing the backdrop of the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate framing San Francisco and switching it out for what’s colloquially known as “the worst ballpark in America” due to its outdated concrete structure, Robinson decided to instead focus on the production and atmosphere of the venue itself. Besides, the music is the reason why people come anyway. Despite a last minute change of scenery, the focus Robinson’s team poured into the event’s setting paid off tenfold.
Partnering with Nassal, the same company that designed The Wizarding World of Harry Poter and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Universal Studios, the entirety of the Oakland Arena was completely and utterly transformed from core to perimeter. In fact, the parking lot typically used for tailgates before Athletics games (and formerly the Raiders, before they turned their backs on the city of Oakland), became nearly unrecognizable.
Littered hot dog wrappers were traded out for pristine astroturf that coated the entire lot. Floral gates that featured Potaro walking beneath them greeted attendees once they first made their way onto the festival grounds, the beloved Second Sky mascot stopping to take photos with adoring fans. A Potaro stone temple entertained a daunting line throughout the entirety of the festival, while a towering tree provided shade for those who wanted to lie down on the turf, and a crystal garden poised itself as the place to take otherworldly Instagram photos. The single stage itself was framed by passing Bart trains and, once the sun set, the Pisces full moon, adding to the wonder of Robinson’s magical venue.
With just one stage framed by Robinson’s exhibits, which together felt like what could be Robinson’s own Disneyland, complete with food curated from the finest Bay Area restaurants, Second Sky’s comeback felt like an entirely new, refreshed festival experience. Those waiting in long lines for Potaro-themed boba could still see and hear the stage, allowing the audience to not need to miss a second of the music. Robinson’s parents also walked through the crowd sporting vests proudly proclaiming, “I’m Porter’s Dad!” and “I’m Porter’s Mom!” hoping to raise $154,000 for the Robinson Malawi fund over the course of the festival’s run. Robinson and his family achieved their goal for the festival by noon on day two, allowing them to cover the costs of treatment for the entire pediatric Burkitt medical treatment in Malawi for two years.
The crowd remained respectful and orderly throughout the weekend, perhaps collectively overwhelmed by the joy of be together after 19 dormant months without concerts and festivals. Those walking through the event needed to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test prior to reaching the box office, security, and ticket scans. Friends sat on the turf with blankets, enjoying the set and the sculptures that brought Nurture to life around them. Fans sang along during each set and stared in hushed anticipation during silences, with the festival’s second day providing one of the few days of the year that the East Bay is completely devoid of any fog.
With a lineup that included talented acts such as Knower, Wavedash, Jacob Collier, Jon Hopkins, Toro y Moi, Jai Wolf, Madeon, and the debut of Robinson’s Air 2 Earth project, the musical atmosphere matched the physical venue in all the right ways. Each artist put their best foot forward, reveling in the opportunity to be on stage once again. Air 2 Earth welcomed the crowd as they entered, giving a peek into what could be expected from the day while treating fans to Robinson’s latest project. Masked moshed pits made their way through Wavedash, Knower pointed out politics within their visuals, Jacob Collier got everyone grooving, Jon Hopkins threw listeners into a heavenly, complex spiral of feels, Toro y Moi brought out the funk, Jai Wolf played out a flawless session of his biggest hits, and Madeon evoked his best Michael Jackson homage in his fashion choice, while playing out Good Faith Forever to a crowd of galvanized fans.
But the most elating feeling that permeated the entire atmosphere and hung over the venue was the amazement and wonder that festivals had finally returned. With a year and a half spent locked up indoors, wondering when, or sometimes even if live music would be able to return again, Second Sky was coated in the energy of freedom. Freedom to hug internet friends from across the country only seen at a few shows a year, freedom to sit in the sunshine and witness their favorite artists perform live, and freedom to witness Porter Robinson bring Nurture to life before them for its first-ever live performance. It was a special atmosphere—a timely modification to the otherwise familiar feelings of being in the crowd at that concert you’ve been waiting for.
Robinson himself appeared in awe of the fact that his vision for Nurture finally stood before him. His entire set boasted nearly every track from his album, the crowd singing each song back to him as they, and he, wiped tears from their eyes. He stopped the music to chat with his audience a few times, taking moments to soak the entire night in.
“Hello everybody, how are we all feeling? Let me ask you this, who is glad they came here today? I can’t tell you how good it is to see all of your faces again and like, for years, now, working on ‘Nurture,’ I’ve imagined this moment of looking into the crowd and seeing everyone’s hands in the air and singing all these choruses back to me. It’s a total dream come true. I want to say thank you. Genuinely, thank you all so much. This is the best day of my life. Every Second Sky is. So, in the spirit of hearing you all sing back to me, let’s do that on this next one.”
Easing into a softer version of “Shelter” as he sat before the crowd, 40,000 voices sang back to Robinson for one of the most memorable moments of Second Sky’s highly anticipated comeback. Each climactic moment from every song was highlighted by fireworks, adding to the audience’s incredulity. The single opening note of “Sad Machine” threw the crowd into absolute ballistics, and Robinson even threw his set back to “Language” after keeping the song out of his setlists for several years.
Second Sky achieved all of its goals and then some, creating an event that brought fans together as family and provided a loving atmosphere that welcomed them back to live music in the most kind and thoughtful of ways. The festival also successfully presented Porter Robinson’s blueprint for Nurture in the more experiential-leaning lens that the album was written in. If the intent of the record was to express an appreciation for things like the crisp breeze on one’s skin, the soft brush of grass in the cool shade, or the warmth of sunshine on one’s face, those that got to attend the return of Second Sky got to experience Robinson’s vision to its fullest, most robust degree.
Featured image: Charles Kang