From September 10th through the 12th, Redondo Beach hosted it’s second annual Beachlife Festival, a well-curated music event that catered to its older-skewing audience both with its line-up choices and overall respectable set-up. To attempt to review an entire festival would be a long and tiresome affair, but here are some highlights and recaps of the three days.
Of the festival set-up itself, it’s clear Beachlife understood that they were setting up in an upper-crust town with an older clientele, and so Coachella this was not. While the crowds were sizable (especially Saturday), the event never felt unwieldy. There managed to be space to sit and relax without having the stages be half a mile apart. Lines for food and drinks were all reasonable, and for the most part, the bathrooms were kept clean. Prices for food and drinks were high as expected, but there were spots to grab free ice cream and coconut smoothies which were very welcome during the hot first days. The two main stages were placed in front of artificial grass and sand, allowing for comfortable spots to lay out a towel and sit down if desired. This year, the new Speakeasy stage was added – an intimate, fully shaded space which hosted solo acoustic acts (often punk rock frontmen breaking out solo sets).
As Beachlife is one of the rare fests that offers both single-day and three-day passes, it smartly curated the line-ups for each day to appeal to specific crowds. Friday’s line-up focused more on harder alternative rock; Saturday brought a mix of classic adult contemporary groups and 80’s ska and synth pop sounds; Sunday focused more on reggae, blues and jam band style acts. While I did my best to catch as many bands as possible, a new for rest and pacing require some music breaks throughout the three days.
Friday began with a solo set from Face to Face‘s Trevor Keith, playing acoustic versions of tracks like “Blind”, new solo songs, and a selection of covers (Zach Bryan‘s “Headin’ South”, Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros‘ “Coma Girl”). While usually an intense presence with the rest of his band, Keith seemed humble and jovial in this solo setting. Next were 90’s ska survivors Save Ferris, who probably would have been a better fit for Saturday’s line-up, but the company they were keeping didn’t prevent them from bringing a fun, skank-worthy energy. Frontwoman Monique owned the stage with a palpable stage presence. Back at the Speakeasy stage, The White Buffalo played an acoustic set to a large group of clearly die-hard fans. Despite his imposing presence, WB’s deep, resonant voice and calming stage presence make it easy to see why he’s gained such a strong cult following.
The remainder of the day featured Silversun Pickups, Cage the Elephant and Jane’s Addiction. Cage’s performance was one to talk about, and overhearing conversations afterwards, they clearly blew away some of the older crowds who were unfamiliar with them and won some new fans. Frontman Matt Shultz, through the set, stripped down to just a pair of long underwear, and proceeded to redress himself up until the show’s end, all while breaking out his Iggy Pop-cribbing moves.
Saturday was clearly the main day for the fest, completely sold out and crowded early. Beginning the day with The English Beat was the right choice. While the group had split with the late Rankin Roger years before, the group still had a new toaster to accompany frontman Dave Wakeling as they busted out classic 2-tone tracks. The vibe was positive and joyful, and the group sounded great. While I personally would have loved to hear a couple of the newer tracks from their last album, they smartly brought out the hits for the festival crowd. Continuing these vibes was Sugar Ray. Mark McGrath knows exactly who he and his band are and where they fit into the music ecosystem, and on stage, he plays this up with gratitude and self-deprecation. And despite some feedback, the group’s hits still had the audience singing along and enjoying themselves like it was 1997 again.
Reliable groups like The Mother Hips and The Wallflowers came next. Jakob Dylan‘s voice is still a treasure, and carried well over the golden hour crowd. One of the highlights of the day came from Men at Work, the Australian group known mainly in the states for their hit “Down Under”. Despite distractions from some unwelcome giant beachballs (courtesy of South Bay shoe company Skechers), Colin Hay‘s band elevated their catalogue with a crack group of new players (all immigrants from Cuba and Latin America). “It’s a Mistake” sounded better live than on record, “Who Can It Be Now?” stirred the crowd with its sexy sax work, and the classic “Down Under” was extended into an impressive jam.
Closing the day was the Counting Crows. Adam Duritz, sans his famous dreads and beard, looks a bit like if you mashed up Patton Oswalt with Scott Stapp, but damn he’s a fantastic frontman. Known for taking the group’s hits in new directions on stage, Durtiz found a great balance between experimentation while also not altering the songs so much so that they became unrecognizable. Hits like “Mr. Jones”, “Long December” and fan-favorites like “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” drew waves of love from the crowd. The band played their entire new Butter Suite EP as one piece (as intended), and while this was met with appreciation, the crowd was clearly more enamored with “Hanging Around” and “Rain King”.
Sunday had a mellower vibe. G. Love & Special Sauce kicked off the day with their signature mix of blues, funk, and hip-hop inspired jams. The group’s casual, friendly vibe and killer instrumental skills appeased their die-hard fans, and they did surprise the crowd with a nice tribute to Charlie Watts, breaking into The Rolling Stones‘ “Sympathy for the Devil”. Fortunate Youth played the type of reggae that has been synonymous with the South Bay since Sublime ruled radio, with tracks about good times and good weed. The band of locals showed plenty of love to their hometown crowd, who reciprocated in kind.
The main draw of the last day were the final three headliners; indie rock superstars Portugal. The Man, genre-fluid Ben Harper, and the Marley celebration. While going into their set not considering myself a huge fan, I found myself appreciating Portugal’s “Live in the Moment” and “Modern Jesus” more after hearing them live. Harper’s crowd embraced his harder-rock and longer jam moments more than I did, but there is no denying the beauty of songs like “Diamonds on the Inside”, “With My Own Two Hands” and “Burn One Down”. And the man is an incredible musician, listening to his slide guitar instrumentals was one of the most quiet and holy moments of the weekend.
Closers Ziggy and Stephen Marley brought a big band to bring the songs of their father to the crowd who had clearly grown up hearing Bob’s music. Since none of us will ever get to hear the actual Bob Marley live, this was certainly the next best thing. “Three Little Birds”, “Jamming” and “No Woman, No Cry” are beyond being just good songs; they are classics in every sense of the word. There is a unifying quality in them and Marley’s other hits, and listening to them with a large crowd was a beautiful, communal experience.
Festivals are hard on the body, even while they exhilarate the spirit. Beachlife was worth the physical hardship, because I certainly left feeling I had experienced a great selection of live music. Below is one of many playlists you can find inspired by the festival line-up that you can dive into today.