Review by Alex Alford, Photos by Brady Cooling Photography
There’s nothing that celebrates California quite like KAABOO Del Mar! 3 days of music, comedy, food, art, sunshine, and fun. A nearly perfect weather weekend brought forth festival-goers from all over to the Del Mar Racetrack near San Diego, CA for these very reasons. KAABOO has been able to create a very eclectic and jam packed festival experience over the last five years; one that can fit the taste of nearly any music or art lover possible. Every band is a new genre and even a new era of history ranging from contemporary to the 70’s.
Day 1 musically was such a fun day of bouncing back and forth amongst the Sunset Cliffs (main stage) and Trestles and Grandview Stages across the racetrack. A nonstop day was one of the best that I have personally experienced in all of my years of festivals. Starting it all off was Vintage Trouble and their incredibly animated and fun frontman Ty Taylor. Vintage Trouble is a group that I have been waiting to see for years after seeing other people’s photographs and stories of this great band. Needless to say, they were the first band I saw of the whole festival, and they are still one of the ones I am thinking of still a week later. This set included everything from some of the best funk and soul, crowd surfing multiple times, jump roping with his microphone cable, running around the stage and pit, and energy from all the band.
On the day of music also sadly marked the passing of the great Eddie Money. To which his longtime friends and fellow 80’s artist REO Speedwagon played tribute to him during their set; along with all of the greatest hits and getting the crowd involved in the early afternoon. KAABOO was taken back a few decades earlier with some powerful ballads, guitar solos, big hair, and this band rocking out to the faithful audience.
Right across the festival we were brought some nostalgia back to the 90’s with the smooth R&B soulful sounds of Philadelphia’s finest, Boyz II Men. The group dressed in their traditional all white outfits and Philadelphia Phillies hats were one of the best shows we saw of the weekend; very surprising at that. They captivated the crowd with their on-point dance moves, three part harmonies, and gaining the love and passion from the crowd and their energy sent right back to them. I have listened to B2M for a little being a child of the 90’s, but this was definitely one show that I walked away and continued to listen to more than others.
The vibes rolled on into the late afternoon as the sun began to set along the palm trees of sunny California. I decided to take this opportunity to go see some comedy for the first time in forever after a friend gifted a ticket. This was a very special event because it was none other than Kevin Smith aka Silent Bob of Clerks. Being a lifelong fan of his work and the movie series I knew we were all in for a treat. It was a very intimate setting underneath the cover of the Humor Me tent. Kevin went into his routine discussing his daughter, past relationships, family, career, and most humorous/scary his recent health scare and heart attack.
Kevin was observably not the heavy set guy from Clerks with a hockey jersey, but was a 70 pound lighter version of himself. He had a heart attack a few months back after filming a TV special; to the point that he did not know he was having one because he was so high. It was a weird feeling to be cracking up about someone almost dying, but his delivery and story telling ability made this impossible to not do.. He transformed his life to becoming vegan, caring more about his health, and working on new projects with his best friend Jason Mewes aka Jay.
The set I had wanted to see since this festival was announced was the Wu Tang Clan’s 26th anniversary of the 36 Chambers. One of hip hops best groups playing the songs from one of this genre of music’s gems. Each of the members of the band took the stage and performed, even the late ODB’s son Young Dirty Bastard filling his role. The group thanked the west coast for their continued love and bleeding the soul and heart of hip hop apart from their NYC roots. It was a cool moment to see. Seeing people of all ages and backgrounds in the crowd come together to sing is what music and hip hop represents.
After a quick turnover and after a fiery and passionate Kings of Leon set, the legend from the LBC, Snoop Dogg took the sold out crowd by storm. Featuring everything from massive joints, pole dancers, dog mascots, and an entourage and visuals that only the Dogg himself would need. This man has been a legend and polarizing figure in hip hop and music for over two decades. Seeing him dance and do his thing onstage made me realize that he has one of the best jobs and lives you could ask for. Seemingly smiling the entire time, he thanked the home state crowd for their love. Uncle Snoop did not disappoint.
Day 2 at KAABOO may have been the hottest of all 3, but coming from the east coast originally the 80 degree temps and cooler nights are a thing I could get used to and welcome. I spent the first portion of the day checking out many of the craft vendors from some of the best in clothing, boutique items, alcohol/food vendors and inside of the art gallery; which luckily was air conditioned and featured some of the best artists showcasing their huge range of work. This reflects one of the strong themes KAABOO puts off in giving back to art and letting this be a focal point of the festival; whether in the gallery or on one of the many murals outside that were completed by the end of the event.
The first group to hit the stage was none other than Asbury Park, NJ’s finest, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. Bringing the blend of blues, soul, rock and even some older musical elements to get the early crowd moving in the sunshine. These beach rockers brought the NJ feeling to the coastal vibe of KAABOO along the Pacific Ocean in beautiful Del Mar. The breeze from the ocean picked up throughout the day, as did the continued music.
SD’s own rockers Switchfoot took the crowd by storm. I remember being obsessed with them as a kid watching them on MTV and loving their sound and music videos; seeing this translate live was no different. They brought their high energy and passion out with every passing note. Lead singer Jon Foreman even remarked about not liking being onstage much and wanting to come out into the crowd; which he indeed did for nearly half of the show. Coming off a show in Mexico City, they were delighted to be just a few miles from home along the shore of San Diego. This was such an incredibly powerful and energetic set that so many were blown away by.
Feeling the nostalgic vibe from past performers; Blind Melon came up in the heat of the day with the sun blaring down on their newest singer and member Travis Warren. Warren was in jeans and his face was blood red from the heat as well as his pure emotion from each song. Channeling the spirit of the late Shannon Hoon, Blind Melon has kept their 90’s soul and moving songs alive over a decade later. This was a truly special moment for myself, as my mom showed me Blind Melon when I was a baby; and yes of course the bee costume. Even with all of their hits they still played some newer songs of their newest album as a group. Regardless of who is in the band, they still brought out the raw energy, pop sound, and grunge that exemplified their career and fame of the 90’s today.
Another bit of 90’s were the reincarnation of Sublime with Rome. Being from right up the highway in Long Beach, it was great to see original member Eric Wilson rocking on the bass with so many tattered stickers and colorful shorts. Sublime is another band that looking around you saw so many different people coming together for their music. Seemingly timeless even thought it was in some people’s lifetime only 20 years ago. Playing all of the classics from the bands catalog and even sprinkling some from their new album that took years to complete but sounded very much on point with what you would expect from these guys. You can’t help but feel so alive listening to Sublime miles from the ocean with the warm California sunset beaming down from above.
Capping off this epic night of music was Dave Matthews Band with a spectacular 2 hour closing set. The band who are composed of some of the best musicians and pure talent in the world have been showing their skills since the early 90’s as well. With the dynamic sound and range DMB possesses, they covered a variety of bases with a stellar cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” for a middle of the set dance and sing-a-long party for the capacity crowd underneath the moonlight. They jammed through an amazing “Back in Black” into “Staying Alive” and “Fly like an Eagle” all medleyed together for a very unique trio of classic rock covers. This was a highlight of the festival for myself as DMB is one of the most phenomenal groups in music today, and this only proved what so many think. The cool night ended with an amazing fashion, and still one more day of fun to go.
Day 3 was finally here and we were all ready to end this amazing, sold out, 5th year of KAABOO Del Mar out with a bang on another gorgeous California day. As the early crowd fizzled into the fairgrounds we were all blessed with the positivity and uplifting sounds of the amazing Xavier Rudd all the way from Australia. He is someone that myself has been listening to for over a decade and has eluded me since then, but finally got the chance to see him live! Xavier Rudd uses so many different instruments in his music; including a didgeridoo which he played out in the crowd on the catwalk, so many different woodgrain guitars, and even playing the drums at the same time as three different instruments. He and his band always give back to the indigenous roots from their native Australia, and promote a message of unity, love, inclusion, and happiness for all. It was the perfect way to start a Sunday and really set the message for the rest of the day.
In keeping with the same spirit set in motion, the sounds of legendary Jamaican reggae legend Toots Hibbert and his Maytals filled the air. Fit with a full backing band and a sense of fashion that resembled a metal artist; he rolled through the California coast dancing and singing with that cool and irie Caribbean vibe. Reggae music is something that stretches amongst all groups of people and ages; truly “One Love” and the ideal artist to continue the positivity and music that had been established on this day already from the start.
One of the most exciting acts that have quickly climbed up the musical ladder is none other than New Orleans based The Revivalists. From appearing at festivals and small venues they have built an almost cult like following cleverly titled “RevHeads” and have been on every major festival and venue in the country; even some large commercials. Each of their songs and albums get better and better, and they were one of the most high energy and exciting sets of the entire weekend. It felt like none of the members stood still the entire electrifying set.
A very special moment featured comedy legend Bob Saget joining the Revs for an amazing version of The Who’s “My Generation.” Such a cool nod from older talent to the new generation of music. Another group that was an excellent early set was Con Brio, who were brought out by The Revivalists for a special rendition of “Got Love.” To end it strong in true California fashion; they worked 2Pac’s “California Love” into their widely popular “Wish I Knew You” to finish out their time onstage.
While everyone continued to “soak up the sun,” it was time for Sheryl Crow who brought her rock/pop/country sound to the Sunset Cliffs stage. She is a performer that should not be defined by the songs that made her the star she is today, but her amazing stage presence, musical ability, and truly putting on one of the best shows; and being one of the baddest female rockers. Rocking amazing dazzling jeans and sparkling shoes; she strutted up and down the catwalk giving back the energy from the sunshine to everyone in attendance at KAABOO.
As the stunning sun began to set over KAABOO we were giving an amazing late summer sunset to cap off the weekend of fun. It was time for Mumford and Sons to hit the stage. These English guys have been electrifying audiences all across the globe for a few years now and they have so many smash hits and still maintain their roots with acoustic instruments, folky sounds, different harmonies, and the passion and love for their music and fans even as superstars. They brought four of their core members to the front of the catwalk multiple times for stripped down versions of some of their biggest songs, including “Little Lion Man.” It was such a powerful moment to hear them in such an almost “intimate” setting with tens of thousands of screaming fans whilst they were in front giving it their all. The band did not cease to disappoint as the final group to hit and end the music at KAABOO. Another great performance and this beautiful experience was done for the weekend.
With all of this, during the late afternoon on Sunday; KAABOO announced a new partnership and ownership taken by Virgin. With this is a multi year partnership with Petco Park and the San Diego Padres to move the festival to America’s top ballparks starting in 2020. The five hugely successful years were ended at this moment and a new chapter is ready to be written in downtown SD. This move will surely represent some changes in the way things look and maybe are, but nonetheless the same spirit and passion of KAABOO and the loyal festival-goers will live on and continue no matter where the event is held.
KAABOO is more than a music festival, it is an experience. One that represents California and all that it exceeds at. Whether that is music, food, comedy, art, culture, and all things under the sun. KAABOO Del Mar was one of the best events that I and Brady at Live Music Daily have had the chance of covering, and we are already looking forward to 2020 with this new venture of KAABOO San Diego. Mark your calendars and we hope you will be there next year in SD!