The Cruel World Festival returned to Brookside Park at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA for its second year. Last year’s event resulted in such a quick sell-out that demand for tickets caused the promoter, Goldenvoice, to add an additional night. Although Cruel World 2023 did not have the ticket sales to force a second night, the nearly sold-out festival took a turn of events that “magically” gave 80’s music fans a second night of music and quite possibly made Cruel World 2023 one of the most memorable and inspirational festivals in decades. Cancelled talent, last minute replacements, and threatening thunder storms all helped to make the Cruel World Festival the talk of the town.
The day was bright with sun and light clouds, but the crowd was dark with fishnets and black eyeliner – Goth, Electronic, Pop, Rock, Industrial – if it was happening in the early 1980’s, there is a good chance your music heroes will be performing on one of the three stages at the Cruel World Festival. But it’s not just all about the music at Cruel World, the festival has the unique ability to transport each and every one of its attendees back in time – making everyone feel like school just let out and summer break just began.
Main stage headliners Siouxsie (of the Banshees) were joined by a slew of jaw-dropping 80’s music talent: Iggy Pop, Billy Idol, Echo & The Bunnymen, Gary Numan, Love And Rockets, ABC, Modern English, The Vapors, Gang Of Four, The Human League, and Animotion are just a few of the performers that performed on one of the three festival stages. As the show approached, Berkley legends, The Motels, dropped out of the festival – the first of a series of unlucky incidents that in the end, turn out to be happy accidents.
With just a week or so before the festival, New Wavers Berlin, featuring Terri Nunn jumped in to fill the missing slot left by the Motels – making Berlin the only band to perform at Cruel World for two consecutive years. The Cruel World curse continued as Adam Ant announced he was cancelling his Cruel World Festival performance just 24 hours before showtime. At the last minute, UK New Wavers, Squeeze stepped in to save the day and fill the empty slot left by Adam Ant.
KROQ-FM / Sirius XM on-air legend, Richard Blade jump started the Pasadena crowd by introducing acts throughout the day – Animotion, Berlin, Squeeze, The Human League, and Billy Idol. Love And Rockets, whose members were all on stage at last year’s festival in the form of their Goth-Alter-Egos, Bauhaus – performed their first show in 15 years, making the band one of the most anticipated acts of the day, kicking off their 17-date U.S. reunion tour that is now fully underway. Echo & The Bunnymen, who pulled out of Cruel World 2022, was also one of the fan favorites at this year’s event. Q Inspiration Award winner, Ian McUlloch, and his Bunnymen nourished the fans with hit after hit, keeping the Mercy Music Scene alive.
As the music roared on and night moved in, so did Mother Nature, causing Cruel World 2023 to come to an early and abrupt end. Festival organizers were forced to evacuate the crowd due to severe weather and lightning before Siouxsie could take the stage. The weather alert was issued during the sets of Iggy Pop and The Human League – the last two sets before Siouxsie was set to close out the event. Pasadena Fire and Police were forced to order the festival closed to ensure the attendees’ safety.
Just as fast as the fans were forced out of the Rose Bowl area, social media was overwhelmed with posts by disappointed and outraged fans. Festival organizers quickly devised an incredible and truly admirable plan to help remedy the mess that the severe weather conditions created. Goldenvoice announced a make-up date for the following night featuring extended sets by Gary Numan, Iggy Pop and Siouxsie – unfortunately, The Human League was not asked to take part. The logistics and costs involved in pulling the make-up date off is astronomical and it is an incredible feat by Goldenvoice and the Cruel World organizers.
Sunday night’s 2023 Cruel World 2.0 went off without a hitch. Free admission with your previously purchased ticket or bracelet, free parking and over 3 hours of supercharged performances. Festival organizers had plenty of security on hand, food vendors, first aid teams, as well as merch booths for those who may have been forced to leave before buying their Cruel World goodies. Of course, there are the fans who could not attend night 2.0 – especially those who travelled from afar to Pasadena for the event and were unable extend their stay. But, for those fans, Goldenvoice and Cruel World are offering a partial refund for each of their tickets or passes. Sure, it’s not the same as seeing Siouxsie on stage, but it helps take some of the sting away and it definitely shows that Goldenvoice and Cruel World care for their fans.
My wife and I attended Cruel World 2022 and returned to Cruel World 2023, this time with my cousin and her husband. Will we be at Cruel World 2024? Absolutely. In a world of faceless music festivals, Cruel World has the makings of becoming one of the most important and unique festivals of our time.