Portola is the newest festival from Goldenvoice. The company is famous for juggurants like Coachella and newer, smaller scale affairs like Camp Flog Gnaw and Just Like Heaven. Based on year one, Portola figures to be a staple of the electronic and indie festival scenes for decades to come. It arrived with a 30 second trailer featuring old footage of iconic SF area landmarks. The entrancing clip was soundtracked by an early Sunday emerging act, the Leeds based duo Prospa and their anthemic “Want Need Love.” Acid-washed b-roll nostalgia aside, the truly mesmerizing part was the bevy of heavyweight acts flashing across the screen.

For fans of all varieties of EDM, this is an absolute eye popper of a line up. For fans who enjoy electronic music, but with a vocal and a hook, and a bit more structure, there’s no shortage of top tier talent. Acts like Jungle, James Blake, The Avalanches, Toro y Moi, and L’Imperatrice brought live band instrumentation into the fold. Acts like Charli XCX, Slowthai, Yaeji, Channel Tres, Dawn Richard, DRAMA and SG Lewis brought the live vocals into their different brands of electro-pop, rap, R&B and indie electro. World-class, cutting edge DJs like Kaytranada, Jamie XX, Peggy Gou, and Caribou provided a glistening assortment of hooks and vocal samples across their sets. And for fans of a more straightforward electronic sound, the industrial surroundings of Pier 80 were a perfect fit for acts of that ilk like Bicep, Lane 8 and Four Tet + Floating Points.

Organizers said on Instagram the name of the festival is an “ode to the Portola Festival of 1909,” which signaled the reopening of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. The founding of a new festival this big proved to also be a seismic moment for local festival goers coming out of the Covid-era fog. It was well structured, with plenty of space at each of the stages. There was easy access to both food and drink, and most importantly bathrooms and water. And the eye-popping visuals behind the two main stages, both the Warehouse and the Pier, were the talk of the festival.

Here is a rundown of two standout sets from the weekend:

Best Sets:

Dawn Richard - 9/25 - 2:55-3:25 - Ship Tent

Dawn Richard has had a one of a kind career. She shares a lineage with girl group standouts turned solo acts like Diana Ross, Beyonce, and Camila Cabello. From 2005-2009, her group Danity Kane dropped multiple billboard chart topping albums. And similar to these diva peers, striking it alone has proven to be an incredibly fruitful decision. Unlike them, it didn’t result in continued mainstream commercial success, but in a cult following and sustained critical reverence. Performing as DΔWN, and now DAWN, she has dropped a string of deeply personal, sonically singular albums. She often draws from her Louisiana Creole and Haitian background, even interviewing family members on the records, like on recent standout “Bussifame.” It provides an engrossing window into her New Orleans upbringing in all its cultural glory. She has worked extensively with indie stalwarts like Dirty Projectors. Her most recent offering, 2021’s Second Line, is in line with the futuristic leanings of contemporary Janele Monae’s classic Archandroid album, both sonically and aesthetically. And while it may not be as chart topping as her previous Danity Kane career, she’s just as much of a “Show Stopper.”

A few minutes before Dawn took the stage at 2:55, the Ship Tent had almost completely cleared out. In a testament to her undeniable sound and stage presence, within a few songs the area was completely full again. She wore a floral patterned one-piece that connected to her cap, the green, yellow and pink pattern accented by the hot pink blazers her two backup dancers wore. Her eclectic set featured covers from 90s acts like The Cranberries, The Goo Goo Dolls and Sade. She seamlessly sequenced “Bussifame” with top track “Dreams and Converse,” with a little bit of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” at the end for good measure. It was the perfect way to kick off the second day.

Channel Tres - 9/25 - 5:45-6:35 - Warehouse Stage

Sheldon Young is a Compton born and raised super talent. He has rapped, sang, and produced his way into the limelight in just a few short years. It seems you can’t read an indie music site or check the features on your favorite act’s next single or tour without seeing his moniker Channel Tres pop up. His breakout single, 2018’s “Controller,” was picked up by BBC Radio 1 and then Triple J, and there’s been no looking back. He’s since worked with the likes of Disclosure, Polo & Pan, Duckwrth and Robyn. Robyn took him out on tour in 2018 right at the dawn of his rise. He’s even had superstar Tyler the Creator featuring on his third EP, 2020’s I Can’t Go Outside. His signature production sound is as instantly identifiable as his dapper style and laid back baritone delivery, and it will continue to set him apart from the pack for years to come.

The spacious Warehouse stage was home to many of the top acts over the weekend. For many, Channel Tres ranked first among them all. He ran through vibey classics like “Topdown” and “Jet Black” early on. He had the crowd transfixed with his silky moves and flashy threads. His black cut off and shades were accented by silver, elbow-length gloves and sparkly black pants. He riffed off his four male backing dancers, each adorning an all-black outfit complete with beret. When he dropped the new Teddy Riley sampling “Just Can’t Get Enough,” there wasn’t a motionless body to be seen.

Photo Credit: Ron Poznansky