San Diego should be an ideal location for a summer music festival. While the rest of the US melts in “global boiling,” the Southern California city maintains a more temperate climate, aided by its latitude and ocean proximity. Still, aside from the steady success of CRSSD, it’s also the location of a music festival graveyard, where memories of events like San Diego Street Scene and Kaaboo feel less distant than they actually are. Sitting just to the south of Orange County, Los Angeles, and the Inland Empire, literally millions of music fans are right on San Diego’s doorstep, and it feels like the stars should align for there to be many thriving music festivals with national appeal.
Enter Bleached, the latest festival to give the region a shot. Making its debut in 2023 and using both the same team and location at CRSSD, this new event touched down on San Diego’s Waterfront Park over the weekend with a decidedly Gen-Z-appealing lineup. In fact, the lineup was fascinating in how it eschewed more tried-and-true festival fare in favor of music that’s seen its rise in the streaming era. Aging critics and music fans will often see acts like these on lineups and annoyingly wonder who are the fans that this is for, claiming that the music feels chosen by an algorithm. But, Bleached showed a growing divide between the artists that music publications prop up and those that actual young music fans enjoy.
There were a few artists that checked both boxes at Bleached. Indie-pop darling Ethel Cain, who released one of 2022’s most acclaimed albums in Preacher’s Daughter, was relegated to a 5pm second stage appearance at Bleached, but that didn’t mean the set was underattended or underappreciated — quite the opposite. Cain fully trusted the San Diego crowd to give her slow-building stunners the rapt attention they need, and passionate fans sang along at the top of their voice, often meeting Cain in volume. By the time Cain finished her performance, she made time for MANY weeping audience members, completely losing their shit at a chance to interact with the artist.
Other acclaimed crossover artists saw more mixed results. Caroline Polachek, fresh off the release of album of the year contender Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, gave her all on the Sunday main stage, but might have been a little miscast for the part. With a very young-skewing audience, her songs didn’t garner the reception that most of the other premier talent did, showing that the TikTok success of “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” hasn’t spread to the rest of her oeuvre. Polachek has had multiple eras in the spotlight, including her run with Chairlift, and certainly has built her own fanbase. But at Bleached, a disconnect appeared between the critically-approved tasteful pop of her albums and what can win over a young audience. Perhaps it was the pristine, TikTok-ready choreography that struck the audience as disingenuous, or maybe it was just the operatic vocals that evoke the meeting place between Elvish hymns and The White Lotus theme song that withered under the sunlight. Still, when she closed with her above-mentioned biggest hit, even the skeptical young people in the audience couldn’t help but dance along.
Yves Tumor, playing the second stage opposite Omar Apollo, had a different issue altogether: the vast majority of the crowd was simply occupied doing something else. Tumor and his band of avant-glam style icons began their set with a brief intro from former MTV personality Jessie Camp, and then leaned into their brand of weirdo indie. Tumor, for his part, performed part of the set in the shadows, facing the towering buildings side stage, and later patrolled the photo pit, taking drags from fans’ cigarettes and generally seeming like everything could fall apart at any moment. Having seen Tumor many times over the last few years, this was not the band at their most focused or best sounding, but even here at their most unhinged, it never ceased being captivating, Tumor looked around and saw the low stakes, meeting the moment head-on.
So what was successful at Bleached? Nearly everything else. Headliner and Uproxx cover star Leon Bridges might make timeless music, but he had no problem enthralling the youthful audience, sweeping them up with a tight set of soul, R&B, and rock and roll that defies generations. Omar Apollo won the award for the most filmed set, with a sea of phones appearing from the moment he took the stage. Remi Wolf was every bit the party-starter that her music implies, and Lizzy McAlpine saw nearly every song she performed screamed right back to her.
And for my money, the biggest revelation was Channel Tres. By no means the new kid on the block, the Compton producer/singer/rapper employed a pair of dancers and a clear focus to give the audience something that’s rare to experience at summer festivals: true performance art. Blending house and funk for a sonic presentation that feels very in place in the post-Renaissance world, Channel Tres managed a set that gave drama without feeling overly plotted, the music and performance working in tandem to show an artist in full control of his musical vision. It was electric.
In all, Bleached was a winning debut. Aided by perfect weather and gorgeous harbor views, the festival felt like the ideal intersection between large and local, ushering in buzzy new artists to the marquee positions they’ll soon be inhabiting on the national behemoths. Sure, there was room for growth — some big ticket culinary options could underscore the local-ness of this event even more, though I was plenty happy with Spicy Pie — but Bleached felt pretty fully-formed in its first outing. San Diego just might have just found their next signature festival.
Check out some exclusive photos from Bleached Festival 2023 below.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.
Uproxx was hosted for this story by Bleached Festival. They did not review or approve this story. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.