Everyone knows the names of the artists at the top of festival bills like Panorama, which kicks off Friday at Randall’s Island Park. The Weeknd, Janet Jackson and The Killers are, of course, three of the biggest names in music.
But for veteran festivalgoers, the gems of the day are often found at the bottom of the poster, those DJs and bands in the smallest font size. They kick off the afternoon on stages much larger than they may regularly play, but are able to win over new fans and entertain the day-one followers who came out in the heat of the day to see them.
“It’s a totally different energy, and a lot of the people there don’t necessarily know who you are or know anything about the music,” says Victoria Ruiz, the lead singer of punk outfit Downtown Boys. “You have a bigger hill to climb in that way. . . . I know a lot of musicians talk about not liking festivals, but I’m really into them.”
Downtown Boys will open the Pavilion Stage at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. They’re veterans of the festival circuit, having played Coachella and AfroPunk previously.
A day earlier, at “The Point” (billed as an open-air club by Panorama), Brooklyn-based DJ Riobamba will get the session started at 1:25 p.m. with a supersized two-hour set. It’ll be the biggest stage she’s played on to this point in her career. For her, getting the party off on the right foot involves both the crowd and, maybe as importantly, the equipment itself.
“I think definitely having a lot more power in the sense of subwoofers and the scale of the sound system itself, I can play much heavier tracks, higher energy tracks thanks to the number of people I can reach,” she says.
That freedom, used in Riobamba’s case to play a different style of music, is also in the sights of the Downtown Boys. Coming from a punk scene that can evaluate some acts based on how “authentic” they are (a standard itself often based on outdated models), the band can let loose a little.
“There are less judges in the court, because everybody’s trying to figure out each other,” Ruiz says. “I love being more anonymous. I feel a little less tied to being this punk musician. I feel a little more free in my performance or what things I get to say.”
And even if the crowds will crest hours later, both acts are still proud of bringing their style of music to a “mainstream” audience, one that looks like a wide cross-section of youth.
“I really like the intersectionality of festivals,” says Joe DeGeorge of Downtown Boys. “There’s so many different kinds of people, coming for different reasons. A space with so many people creates a common ground for people to share ideas and imagine different ways of being. And that’s what I joined this band to do.”
“My favorite part of a gig like this is definitely getting to represent Latinas and music in Spanish because I feel like that kind of music hasn’t always gotten the respect it deserves in these contexts,” Riobamba adds.
“It’s really awesome to be able to push the sound forward.”
Panorama runs Friday-Sunday at Randall’s Island Park. Single day tickets are $99, while a three-day pass is $250. panorama.nyc.