After two packed days of concert-going, I was certainly feeling the long days as I arrived for the third day of Beachlife Festival shortly after noon. Thankfully the line-up was lighter for this final day, so I knew I would be getting home at a more reasonable hour.
Arriving later to the fest, I only managed to catch the last song of The Wailers‘ set; a breezy version of “Could You Be Loved”. It makes you wonder if Bob Marley had beaten cancer, if we might be seeing him headline the festival today? We’ll never know.
Moving over to Speakeasy, I caught the set of singer-songwriter David Ryan Harris. The former Los Angelino (current Atlanta resident) played the kind of mellow, meaningful folk pop that helped launch John Mayer to stardom, and if you closed your eyes, the two singers sometimes sounded a bit alike. Complimenting his sturdy songwriting was Harris’ great dry wit which had the audience cracking up between tracks like “Coldplay” and the moving “Shelter”. Little stories he told, such as about the former track and his young son trying to request it to Alexa, added more humanity to the set and made the singer all the more likable. During one of his songs, he even broke out into little covers of a number of famous tracks (including one by Mayer).
Following his performance of “For You”, I headed over to the Low Tide stage to catch the legendary Mavis Staples. At 83, Staples was by far the oldest act playing the fest this year, yet she still commanded the stage with fire and power. Backed by a solid band, Staples belted out old standards, and recounted meeting the mayor of Redondo Beach, joking she thought he was handsome and was hoping she would become the new queen of the beach (sadly, he was taken). She then pointed him out in the crowd. It was impossible not to love Staples, who continued to let her soul be felt and got the crowd dancing. The audience helped her close things out with “I’ll Take You There.”
I made an attempt to return to the Speakeasy stage to catch Donavon Frankenreiter‘s set, but found it nearly impossible to get close enough to even hear him, much less see him. Clearly the surfer-turned-beach folk musician has far outgrown tiny stages like Speakeasy and should be moved up to the bigger stages for future shows. What little I could hear from my spot in the crowd sounded sweet and soothing, including a very mellow cover of “Fortunate Son”. Finding my attempts to listen in no better than hearing a muffled radio version of his songs, I left Frankenreiter and returned to Low Tide to get in close for The Head and the Heart.
It was clear why this band has blown up as big as they have and gained such a loyal following. Along with being great songwriters, the talented group moved between the three frontmen taking lead on vocals, showing off masterful harmonizing on songs like “Every Shade of Blue” and “All We Ever Knew”. At times, the frontmen got off the stage and up to the gates to sing along with the fans, helping to create that meaningful connection that endears audiences to the musicians they love. At one moment, an audience member asked about Charity, noticeably missing from the stage. Her husband and band guitarist Matt gratefully answered that she was doing well, back at home taking care of their 2 month old baby, but that she would be returning to them soon.
Tracks like “Tiebreaker” and “Virginia (Wind in the Night)” provided perfect moments for losing oneself in the songs, as they rang out in the air as naturally as the beach breeze. When their set ended, there was certainly a feeling of serenity in the crowd, even as many had to rush off to see CAAMP at the High Tide stage. I chose to grab a snack and come right back to get in close for the most exciting part of day three; John Fogerty playing the hits of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
A couple months ago, the news broke that Fogerty had finally, after nearly fifty years, regained the rights to his songs from CCR. It was a joyous victory for the iconic rock n’ roller, and to celebrate, he was finally playing the songs live again. So as the sun began its descent into the ocean, an intro video played on the screens with Fogerty discussing the recovery of his catalog, and the happiness this had brought him. Fogerty’s band (including two of his sons) then took the stage and went right into “Bad Moon Rising”, eliciting rowdy cheers from the crowd. He then wasted no time going into my favorite CCR song, “Up Around the Bend”. Hearing it in this setting, with the golden hour light, was as perfect as a festival moment can get.
Fogerty was clearly having the best time, rocking out with his sons and basking in the glory of his victory. The onslaught of hits continued. “Born on the Bayou,” “Run Through the Jungle,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain”…every song you could hope for. Fogerty took time to pay tribute to his wife Julie, who fought tirelessly to help him regain the rights to his songs. He then played a song he wrote for her years back, accompanied by a photo montage of their lives together on the screen. Fogerty also brought out his baseball bat guitar to launch into his sporty solo hit “Centerfield”. But the emphasis of his set remained on CCR songs.
After a barn-burning “Fortunate Son”, Fogerty and the band left the stage. Thankfully they returned minutes later, champagne in hand, to toast the audience for sticking by them and embracing CCR’s songs after all these years. He then completed the perfect set with the rollicking “Down on the Corner,” and an epic “Proud Mary.” For this finally, Fogerty brought out his entire family (golden retriever included), as fireworks blasted off behind him. If the festival had ended then and there, I would have had no complaints.
But there was one more act that night; The Black Crowes. I have to admit I don’t know many of the band’s songs, so after such a great set by Fogerty (who, let’s be honest, is one of the reasons groups like The Black Crowes exist), it was hard to muster excitement for this last band. But, knowing the tenuous history of the Robinson brothers, who are known to fight and break-up nearly as often as the Gallaghers, I figured it was worth staying to at least catch a part of their set, just in case.
There’s no arguing the group are a true-blue, 100% real rock n’ roll group. Between Rich launching sharp, blistering guitar solos, and Chris’ soulful singing and stage performance, the group are certainly pros who know how to put on a show. And while I wasn’t familiar with most of the songs I heard, swooning tracks like “Seeing Things” definitely stayed with me and made me curious to see if I’ve been sleeping on this band.
But speaking of sleep, I needed some and had a long drive back home to get to. I returned to my car with “She Talks to Angels” soundtracking my exit from the venue. I immediately queued up the one Black Crowes song I knew and loved when I got back to the car and said a fond farewell to Beachlife 2023.