Not to be That Guy, but I went to the original Clusterfest two years ago, and I freakin’ loved it! Last year, I don’t remember the specifics, but I just wasn’t able to make it. I do remember hearing about it after the fact and regretting not making Clusterfest a priority, so this year, when they announced the lineups, I immediately got online and gobbled up a weekend pass and a nearby hotel room. I tried to get my friends to do the same, but it wasn’t meant to be.
I flew out of Seattle last Thursday, June 20th, and went immediately to my hotel (around 7pm). The Hayes Valley Inn, which was just a few blocks away from the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. It was also a pretty good deal, considering the neighborhood (and San Francisco in general, or “Frisco” as the locals prefer we call it). After checking in, I realized why.
No in-unit bathroom, but there was a sink, so at least that’s something. Also, no in-unit air conditioner. Fortunately, the weather only scraped 70 degrees when I was down there, so I was able to leave the window open during the day to keep the room bearable. I was in room 302; there was no elevator. But, walking up to the third floor isn’t THAT bad. Our floor had two toilet rooms (about the width of an airplane bathroom) and one room in between with just a shower. Of the three times I bathed down there, the room was only occupied once, but I was able to hop in an hour later with no problem. These were all minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of things, because what I was paying for was the centralized location.
First thing’s first, after I unpacked and set up my room, I left to grab a bite to eat. There was a pizza place not too far called Baiano Pizzeria, and I’ve gotta say, in my limited experience with Frisco pizza, they make the best in the city! It’s all about the crust for me, and theirs is just wonderful. I had a slice of pepperoni & olive and relished every bite.
Second order of business, I needed some legal weed to enhance my festival experience. So, I found The Apothecarium, and I purchased a 6-pack of cookies; by the end of the long weekend, I would have consumed 5.5 of them.
Then, I got a bottle of water and packed it in for the day.
On Friday the 21st, Clusterfest wasn’t set to open its doors until 4pm, so I had a whole day to kill. I started by taking a Lyft to the Hollywood Cafe near the Wharf. Then, I wandered all around the Wharf, taking a million pictures, like this one of Lombard Street:
It was probably dumb of me to eat a big breakfast when I was going to spend the morning at the Wharf, because I was too full to partake in all the fresh seafood around me. But, whatever, I had places to be. Specifically Amoeba Records (because I refuse to let a Frisco trip go by without a visit to my personal Mecca).
I purchased 5 albums I don’t need, as well as 2 band posters I don’t need. I have a problem.
I ended up walking all the way back to my hotel from the Haight/Ashbury area, which was probably a mistake since my feet were already sore that morning (mostly due to how old my shoes are, and certainly NOT because I’m out of shape). Even after all that, I still had about an hour to rest up before entering the fest.
Here’s everything I saw on Day 1:
A Conversation With Fred Armisen & Amy Poehler
Black Thought (stand up set)
Jeff Ross Roast Battle
I’m not gonna lie to you, Sinbad was a huge draw for me, and he didn’t disappoint! The first half of his set felt like off-the-cuff riffing on the city, and he murdered everyone. Chad Daniels was one of Sinbad’s openers and he was hilarious as well.
The Roots were another big reason why I had to go this year, and they’re always amazing. Their guitarist is fantastic, and probably doesn’t get enough credit. I ended up going to see Black Thought on one of the side stages, because I couldn’t tell why he was performing with a bunch of stand ups. It turns out he actually does stand up himself and was terrific!
The last time I went to Clusterfest was my introduction to Nate Bargatze, who has quickly become one of my all time favorites. Well, if 2019’s Clusterfest is going to be known for anything, it’ll be the first time I’ve seen Dusty Slay, who is a treasure! I can’t wait to see him again!
I’ll also say that Chris Distefano is another comedian I’d never seen before, who is also hilarious and someone I’ll make a point to see if/when he comes to town.
Day 1 was closed out with the Jeff Ross Roast Battle, which was okay, but it seemed like the comedians they brought out weren’t totally up to the task.
I had planned to do some more city walking in the morning of Day 2, but my plans quickly changed when I woke up. For starters, my feet. You guys, my feet were KILLING me. On top of that, the back of my neck was severely sunburned. And, if I’m being honest, I was a LITTLE hungover. So, I found the closest restaurant that served what I needed, which was a place called Stacks.
After that, I just showered and sat in my room watching Parks & Rec reruns until 1pm (the room did have a television, thank Christ, though imagine the smallest flatscreen you’ve ever seen and reduce it by 50%).
Here’s everything I saw on Day 2:
In Conversation: Comedy & Mental Health
R U Talkin’ R.E.M. Re: Me
The Conversation was with Michelle Buteau, Tig Notaro, Neal Brennan, and Jeff Ross, which I feel like had a lot of potential, but was a little depressing (though I feel like the panel was at least 25% stoned, so some of the rambling was pretty entertaining).
The R U Talkin’ R.E.M. show was awesome, because Peter Buck was a surprise guest. He ended up playing a couple songs with the cover band that they brought out.
This was the day notorious for all the over-crowding. The Bill Graham Auditorium had everything I wanted to see for most of the day, so once I got there for the R.E.M. show, I just stayed in my seat. I got up once to get a beer (leaving my hat on my chair) early on in the day, but really from Chelsea Peretti onward, there was no leaving unless you wanted to lose your spot. Indeed, by the time her show started, people were sitting on the stairs all the way up, and standing in the aisles down below, to the point where the mass of bodies made it impossible to move. Security tried to disperse things, but there was just nowhere for anyone to go. By the time Mulaney took the stage (for the first of his two sets), it was uncomfortably hot and uncomfortably crammed with people. My claustrophobia was starting to get the better of me. If that place had a fire, we would’ve all been goners.
I was more than happy to stay in my seat, because of the sunburn. By the time Mulaney’s set ended, it was dark outside, and safe to walk amongst the people again. I got some more alcohol, got some food in me, and just kind of wandered around waiting for the Leslie Jones show to start. I saw a big line of people facing away from the Bill Graham Auditorium, so I decided to see what exactly they were waiting for. At first, I thought it was a line for the port-a-potties, because that’s the direction they were going. But, that wasn’t it. So, I followed it around, and wondered if there was some other attraction on the grounds that I’d yet to see. Then, I thought maybe they were waiting in line for one of the shows on the side stage. I got all the way down there and finally saw the sign that said it was a line to see Mulaney’s second show. This line wrapped around the entire interior of the festival grounds! At first, I thought maybe security had forced everyone to exit in between his sets, but after reading about Clusterfest’s over-crowding issues online, I think these were people who were just waiting to get inside, and they’d been trying for 3+ hours! I have to imagine that it cleared out quite a bit after Mulaney’s first set, but I wonder how many people stayed for both (I caught the tail end of his second set, and it sounded like he finished with the same closer, so I don’t think he did two completely different hours of comedy).
The highlight of my weekend was seeing Leslie Jones. Oh my god, she’s easily the best part of SNL, and she was easily the best part of Clusterfest. This time, they only had one outside stage; in 2017 they had two. Where the main outside stage used to be was just more food and drink stations. Where the smaller outside stage was last time, is where they put the main outside stage this year. So, not as much room for people to stand, but Clusterfest made up for that by putting the biggest comedy names in the Auditorium (which is why we had so much over-crowding).
Of the comedians I’d never seen before Day 2, I’ll say that Sheng Wang was the highlight for me. I ended up seeing him again on Day 3 and he was one of the few comedians I saw twice who had all new material both times.
Day 2 closed out with a wild Girl Talk show in the Auditorium. The place was damn near empty — show started at midnight, though I saw people leaving the festival as early as the end of Mulaney’s first set — so I had a primo seat in the balcony while I got my drink on. I had been listening to Girl Talk on my phone during any down time, standing in lines and whatnot, and it’s amazing how different his shows are. He’s really doing it live down there! I’ve listened to his albums so much I feel like I know them by heart, but all the stuff I heard on Saturday was brand new mixes.
I bagged out on having breakfast on Sunday the 23rd, in lieu of waiting for that pizza place to open up at 11am. I bought a large pie for take-out and had that to eat on before I left for Clusterfest, and after I returned at the end of the night. That would save me at least a little bit of money, as all the food in the fest was predictably over-priced.
Here’s everything I saw on Day 3:
Comedy Bang Bang, ft. Lauren Lapkus, Rory Scovel, Ego Nwodim, & Chris Redd
I didn’t really know what to expect from the CBB show, because I didn’t know who any of the improvisers would be. I figured Scott Aukerman would just pull from whoever was performing at he fest, but he brought Lauren who is just the best! Rory was already there, so that was a no brainer; he is one of the funniest people on the planet (he played Jaskie Raskie Taskie from just outside of Maskie, Montana). Ego has been on CBB a bunch and she fit in really well with this group. Chris Redd was someone I never would’ve expected, but he not only tore it up, but he brought this weird almost dangerous vibe that totally shook everything up. If this was a regular episode of CBB, it would’ve easily landed among my all time favorites.
And to think, there was danger that I might not have made it in. See, it was supposed to be in the regular auditorium, but they moved it to one of the side stages, as the conversation with Fred Armisen & Colin Jost naturally had more appeal to the general audience.
See, this year, they made you download the Clusterfest app, because with it you could reserve your spot inside one of the two smaller indoor stages (Larkin & Polk). They strike me as being pretty similar in size, but for some reason I failed in every attempt to get a ticket to the Larkin Stage (Polk, I was able to get inside 100% of the time, so go figure).
Unfortunately for me, the next show I wanted to see was also in Larkin. They have a standby line for these smaller venues, but by the time I got in line after CBB ended, it was kind of crazy. Once the regular ticket lines, as well as the VIP lines, petered out, they started letting standby people in. It was announced after a bit that they were running out of room, so a bunch of people left to go to other shows. But, I want to say a good 50–60 people stayed in, including me. Luckily, they managed to find room to cram us all in there, so I got to see Rory do stand up.
I was supposed to see Tig as the headliner for this show, but she was also headlining the next show I was planning to go to (with Todd Barry), so I opted to leave before she got on, lest I be bombarded with more repeated jokes. Since I needed to pee and sit for a while, I feel like I made the right choice.
Getting those two hours to sit made all the difference, because once again I wanted to see a show at Larkin, and once again I couldn’t get a ticket through the app. So, I got in the standby line a good 45 minutes before the start of the next show, and made it inside no problem. Colin Jost was the whole reason for this, as I missed his earlier conversation with Armisen, and wanted to get a taste of what he’s like outside of the Weekend Update setting. As you’d expect, just a ton of killer jokes.
I did end up leaving before he was totally finished, as again I had to pee. I also wanted to make sure I got a good seat for the festival headliner, Patton Oswalt, who was up next. Considering how densely packed it was on Saturday, I knew there was a chance I’d be sitting on the stairs, or at a funky angle, if I didn’t get there early. So, yeah, I regret nothing. I got to sit down, I had an excellent seat in the center of the auditorium, so fuck it.
I guess if I do regret anything, it’s not opting for the VIP package. That’s probably the worst thing about what’s happened to Clusterfest. I don’t remember there being such a huge VIP presence in 2017. They saved the whole lower floor area in the Auditorium for VIPs, so everyone else had to sit in the balcony (and, even the first few rows of THAT were saved for VIPs). There were also lots of VIP-only seating for the outside stage as well. All of that is a collosal bummer, but I get why they do it. People are willing to pay that much (hundreds of dollars more than regular passes), so you might as well take advantage.
But, all of that aside, Clusterfest is still the best-run festival I’ve ever been to. They schedule things out so there’s time to see everyone you want, and they were even really cool about getting as many of the standby people inside as they could.
The drinks were rough. 16 ounce IPAs and hard ciders were like $15 with tip. A slice of pizza was something like $11. The best thing I had was the chicken & shrimp paella. $16 for a serving was a little rough, but they gave you so much that ultimately it’s probably the best value for how much food you get. They also had this donut place that served apple fritters with chocolate sauce drizzled on it; seriously I could’ve eaten 50 of these.
Finally, like last time, they had a replica Seinfeld apartment. You may recall I tried to get in last time, but the lines were insane. Well, this time, they allowed you to make reservations through the app. But, I got in there on Friday without one, during one of the more popular shows, and was able to get right in. I took tons of photos here too, but you get just the one (follow me on Instagram if you want to see more).
Until next year, Clusterfest.