The first ever BeachLife Festival took place last weekend in Redondo Beach, and was one of the best times ever. My brother, Paul, and I were called in to pinch hit for our friends at Juice Magazine and already had plans for the first two days of the Festival, but Day Three made us wish we'd been there the whole time (especially for Chevy Metal and Tony Alva's band, His Eyes Have Fangs). What a great day!
There really isn't another live music festival situation on the beach in Los Angeles, so I have a feeling this one is only going to grow way huger in the years to come. There were definitely naysayers leading up to BeachLife, but they should all be zipped up now, as it was one of the more impressive festivals I've been to in a while, in an absolutely excellent location. The grounds were big, but not too big that you couldn't get back and forth between the High Tide, Low Tide, and Riptide stages quickly and easily.
As it was Cinco de Mayo, the festival goers were extra festive, and more than a few sombreros were spotted in the crowd. We were a little late due to our own Cinco activities (Happy Birthday Mia!), and just missed the set by our homies, Venice. We cruised the grounds to check it all out, and there was plenty to entertain. Food booths, beer and wine gardens, a Body Glove bar, art tents, little shops, games, and all of the music, of course. It was a family affair, as kids ran wild - and so did their parents. As the headliners each day were all Senior citizens (Bob Weir, Brian Wilson, Willie Nelson), many of their fans were too, which made for a nice mix of people from all ages, all digging the day together.
We had found parking a few blocks away, so it was an easy stroll into the Festival grounds, and as we could hear bass thumping over by the water, we headed first to the Low Tide stage on the sand, just in time to hear Colin Hay begin. Only we couldn't hear him. He was singing away, but the mics had cut out so we only saw moving lips. Workers scrambled as Hay and his band stood side-stage waiting, but no one really seemed to mind. Beach balls were being batted around the crowd, beers were flowing, and people were just stoked to be there. Soon, the mics crackled and Hay returned, saying, "That was an example of some REAL Men At Work! Let's enjoy being down by the sea - by some coincidence of nature, I have a song called "Down By The Sea"! Hay's voice rang out clearly, and was met by shouts from everyone, happy to have the sound back. That right there was the only glitch I saw the entire day, which is pretty impressive for year one of any Festival. The song was perfect for the setting, and everyone was into it - especially the female saxophonist.
The classic "Who Can It Be Now" was next, and got the reception that every band's big hits get. "People think we're Australian, but we're really Scottish," said Hay, which was news to me. He introduced his wife, singer, Cecilia Noel to the crowd, and she joined the band for a cover of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" that everyone loved and sang along to. We stuck around to hear the Men At Work classic, "Overkill", and then headed over to the High Tide stage to catch the Blues Traveler set.
The High Tide stage was all fake grass, so everyone had set out beach blankets and towels, enjoying the sunshine and taking a load off while stagehands set up for Blues Traveler. We had only been standing there a moment when John Popper walked on stage to the tune of "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp." He looked more slimmed down and healthy, shouting out, "What do you say, let's boogie!," and lit into an extended harmonica jam to get things going, which led into "Things Are Looking Up". The electric guitar player was shredding for this number, and shared solos with the bassist while Popper already took a break. He came back for the big Blues Traveler hit, "Run-Around" and while everyone was real happy about that, they were even more into their cover of Sublime's "What I Got", this being the South Bay after all.
We followed the pelicans flying overhead back to the Low Tide stage to catch Big Head Todd and The Monsters. Big Head Todd Park Mohr was all decked out in a tropical shirt appropriate for the beach scene, as he led his band into "New World's Arisin'," and got the crowd going. Their big hit "Bittersweet" was next, and got the recognition it deserved from the BHTATM fans.
This seemed to be a good time to head to the Body Glove Bar for a drink, so that's what we did. We ran into Marky Lennon from Venice, and were again bummed that we hadn't made it down there in time for their set. We checked out the Rip Tide smaller stage, and a band I hadn't heard of yet was rocking pretty hard - Lost Beach. People were into it, and that's another thing I like about festivals - the discovery of new bands!
There was workers or volunteers all around, holding up signs letting you know they were the people to ask questions of. There were garbage cans and recycling bins underneath their own little tents, so everything looked nice and tidy all day. There were smiles on every face that you passed by on this gorgeous day, and I can only imagine that this festival will live long and prosper. We cruised back to the High Tide stage while making these observations, and got there just in time for Grace Potter and The Nocturnals. Who I love.
It was nice to see a female on the big main stage, and Potter made it all her own. In full hippie-chick mode, with fringed vest and floral vest, she took to the stage dancing from the get-go. They went right for it, playing her rocking "Medicine". "Thank you for coming, Redondo Beach is an amazing place! I've been here before, but never like this (me too!)!" Because this was Redondo at its finest.
"You all look so colorful out there! If you're chilly, dance harder!" Some high clouds had rolled in and some jackets were being put on at this point, but no one seemed to mind, and did indeed dance harder. They next gave us "Ah, Mary", and Potter brought out her signature Gibson Flying V guitar for this one. The band went briefly into Jackie DeShannon's "Put A Little Love In Your Heart" before seguing into their own "Empty Heart". There was a big crowd gathered, and they now all loved Grace Potter if they didn't know her before. She was ripping on the organ when we left to post up for Ziggy Marley, and we heard a great cover of "Son Of A Preacher Man" as we were strolling.
A big crowd had already gathered for Ziggy Marley, as what could be better than listening to reggae while smoking and smiling in the sunshine on the beach, actually on the sand at the Low Tide stage. I was hoping Marley would play his Dad's "High Tide and Low Tide" for the occasion, but he came dancing on to the stage to his own latest one, "I Will Be Glad" from Rebellion Rises (which the drum kit also said). When they finished, Marley yelled, "JAH, Rastafari!" and people went wild. Then they played the title track, "Rebellion Rises" with its chorus, "Who change time?" and we'd all yell back, "WE change time!" Because we are the People.
Marley brought his kids out to join him for "World Revolution" and held the mics to the little boys to sing the chorus with their dad - as Ziggy no doubt did with his own Dad back in the day. The kids were dancing and smiling away, clearly having a ball - as were every single one of us there. They fist bumped their dad and left the stage to cheers, as we watched the next generation of this peace and love loving family dance off. The crowd was super diverse and unified in their joy. "Justice" sung with fists raised, led into "Get Up, Stand Up" and everyone sang along to that classic rebel song.
"Them Belly Full" had everyone following the instructions of the song to "Forget your sorrows and DANCE!" There were no sorrows here on this day, and the whole place was dancing there on the beach as the sun began to sink. "One Love" was beautiful to witness, as it really felt like that.
"It's good to be on the beach!," shouted Marley. "You gotta keep the beach clean! We gotta leave a good planet! I don't want to live on Mars!" and that was also the song they played next, from the Fly Rasta album. We stayed for "On A Beach In Hawai'i (or Redondo, as it were)", and it was real hard to leave, but there were no press photo passes given out for the Willie Nelson set happening next over at the High Tide stage, and we wanted to get as close as possible. It was hard to hear Marley playing "Coming In From The Cold" on the wind instead of right down front, but Willie ... come on.
We squeezed in with everyone on the VIP platform, and the entire area was already engulfed in a cloud of weed smoke for Willie. Things were running a little behind schedule, so by the time Nelson took the stage, the sunset was bright orange and there was stiff competition for where to look - at the stage or the natural phenomenon going on - but then you realize Nelson is 86 years old and a natural phenomenon in his own right. I felt emotional. They opened with "Whiskey River" and the crowd just ate it all up. Nelson played his trusty Trigger, and the guitar is even more bashed up than when I saw it last summer at the Hollywood Bowl.
"Still Is Still Moving To Me" was up next, and the sunset was only getting better. The festival organizers must have been high-fiving each other and popping bottles at this point, because the backdrop was truly exceptional and as beautiful as you could wish for. People were passing joints between strangers, toasting each other, and generally just ecstatic to be right there. The screens showed some extra happy older ladies right in front, singing and dancing and laughing and LOVING it. I was so happy for them ... I was so happy for all of us. Because it was very moving to see so many people so collectively happy and all in agreement for once - that Willie Nelson is an American Treasure and we love him. "Whiskey For My Men, Beer For My Horses" and "Good Hearted Woman" showed off Nelson's 88 year old sister, Bobbie, banging on her piano like someone half her age at least.
"It's All Going To Pot" and "Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die" were a pair for the smokers, who only smoked more as these were being played, as they all sang along lustily. Nelson introduced his son, Micah ("The Particle Kid!"), who both sang and played guitar along with his Dad. "If You've Got The Money, I've Got The Time" and "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" were next, but I think there were several Mamas who did not heed that advice, as there sure were a lot of cowboy hats in the house. Nelson would kind of talk/sing at times, but every time he got to the word "Mamas" he growled it extra firm and loud. With gusto!
"Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground" featured a solo on Trigger that prompted me to say to my brother, "This is American history!" as we watched. "On The Road Again" only solidified that fact, and showed off how very beloved Nelson is, as the entire joint belted it out word for word. A drunk guy climbed a palm tree behind us for a better view, but the distraction was brief, as Nelson swung into "You Were Always On My Mind" and I got emotional all over again. Respect was shown, and as loud as it had just been, it was now silent as an "Awww!" was said in unison at the beautiful song's start. "Shoeshine Man" and "My Favorite Picture Of You" were also both great, and then the nearly 90 year old played a new song, "Ride Me Back Home" and it was an instant classic. Bobbie Nelson played a solo that prompted my brother to say, "This train ain't stopping!" cracking me up.
Nelson through his autographed cowboy hat into the crowd just then, and the whole place again went AWWWW! Whoever grabbed that thing is stoked. Nelson left the stage briefly, to return in his signature red bandana over his braids. "Georgia On My Mind" had everyone swaying together, and then it was time for the full church revival version medley of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?/I'll Fly Away/I Saw The Light" Lights came up on the crowd as everyone clapped and sang along to Bobbie tearing up the keys, and John Popper came up to rip through a harmonica solo for it. It all built up and up until the last chord, and Nelson shouted, "Thank you! We Love you!" while waving to the crowd. Popper played him off the stage as no one wanted to let him go. It was really touching to see so much unity and love in action ... all together there on the beach.
Congratulations to BeachLife Festival on a wonderful first event! We're already looking forward to next year! Thank you!
*Photos by Paul Gronner Photography
** Photos of Willie Nelson by Jessie Lee Cederblom for BeachLife