BeachLife Festival spotlights John Fogerty, The Black Keys, Gwen Stefani, The Black Crowes

Though the outside temps were the chilliest they have been for a BeachLife Festival, the 4th annual three-day Seaside Lagoon event at Redondo Beach was packed with hot talent across the board, kicking off on Cinco de Mayo. The headliners drew massive crowds, including blues-rock duo The Black Keys on Friday, ska-reggae-pop superstar Gwen Stefani on Saturday and Southern rockers The Black Crowes on Sunday. John Fogerty took a sort of co-headliner slot on Sunday, performing with his band (which includes his two sons) for a rousing career-defining set of Creedence Clearwater Revival songs as well as solo material, performing arguably the most exciting set. The Woodstock alum toasted his fans, celebrating the news from earlier in the year which granted him ownership and global rights to the CCR catalog after a 50-year legal battle. It was also one of the first handful of dates of The Celebration Tour which recently stopped at Radio City Music Hall and which hits Red Rocks this summer. The Beach Boys’ Mike Love and actor/musician John Stamos were even there to support the rock icon. This cycle of BeachLife also seemed to have a number of sibling acts in the mix in addition to the Fogerty bros, including sisters Aly & AJ, twins Tegan and Sara, the twin Ernst brothers of SHAED and of course The Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson and his brother, guitarist Rich. The other news from the festival is that BeachLife Ranch, which returns for a second time September 22-24 will be headlined by Jack Johnson with the remaining two headliners and other acts revealed on May 16. will announce the forthcoming news then.

BeachLife Festival had their always awesome blend of genres and styles, from blues rock to folk, reggae to soul and indie-pop to Latin, with memorable performances from Mavis Staples, The Head & The Heart, SHAED, CAAMP, LP, Poncho Sanchez, Aly & AJ, Pixies, Dispatch, Sublime with Rome, The Airborne Toxic Event, Iration, Tegan and Sara, Band of Horses, Kurt Vile, Modest Mouse, Noah Cyrus, Trampled By Turtles, Shwayze, Sugar Ray (who have performed every BeachLife) and more. There was no shortage of adult beverages, friendly vendors of all types and yummy treats to indulge in while stumbling upon the acts on the blacktop at the RipTide stage or while looking through original artwork and grabbing some shade in the SpeakEasy. Here are our thoughts on the headliners and our other top act from each day…

Friday, May 5

The Black Keys brought their blend of blues and garage rock for a 19-song set that included three covers, serving up a number of hit songs with other favorite album cuts led by Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney and their accompanying four musicians. “How we doing?,” asked Auerbach. “Let’s get warmed up, c’mon!” and they kicked the show off with “I Got Mine,” with lively guitars and the crowd singing along, followed by the anthemic guitar vamp of “Your Touch.” A slick guitar opening launched “Your Team Is Looking Good” with oranges and reds lighting up the stage for the timeless rock & roll tune. Auerbach gave a shout to Carney on the drums and mentioned how glad they were to be playing on the beach ahead of the soul-rock “It Ain’t Over” with groovy geometric shapes floating on the screen behind them in hues of blue and pink, which would only have been elevated with three background singers. “Gold on the Ceiling” was incredible, with killer guitar solos and overall it was a major crowd-pleaser, with Auerbach’s voice hitting its stride.

The Black Keys’ version of Big Joe Williams’ “Crawling Kingsnake” was a really exceptional showcase on guitar followed by garage rock perfection on their version of Richard Berry’s “Have Love, Will Travel.” Auerbach’s falsetto shot to a whole new level on “Everlasting Light,” with stellar dynamics from the entire band, offering many interwoven moods in the same standout soul-rock tune as exciting lights flashed and fans’ hands were up rocking out. “Next Girl” was an entire vibe with red and blue meshing wonderfully on the stage, psychedelically matching the song. The striking bassline drove along “Fever” with the squeaky-yet-pleasant synth from Ray Jacildo coupled with a little tambourine added in. After previous versions of songs from the 1940s and 1950s, The Black Keys’ cover of 1967 hit “The Letter” by The Box Tops was a welcome moment with multiple colors blending behind the band on the screen. The wompy guitars were a highlight from Andy and Zach Gabbard, on guitar and bass, respectively and their harmonies fit perfectly with Auerbach’s voice as lights flashed in reds and yellows for the exciting song. The crowd went wild for the “da-da-da-da-da” fun of “Howlin’ For You” with a killer guitar vamp and the drums pounding from Chris St. Hilaire. 

A bluesy “Ten Cent Pistol” found Auerbach kneeling halfway through for a funky guitar solo and on “Tighten Up”, the signature whistle started off a completely timeless and even cinematic song that had fans singing along. It was simply one of their best of the night. A couple of the band members harmonized wonderfully on the entertaining “Wild Child” and on “She’s Long Gone” the blues rocker had more epic guitar moments. Spotlights hit Auerbach for the gentle acoustic opening of “Little Black Submarines”, beautiful with the crowd singing along with a soft hum and the lead singer switched guitars and went from 0 to 60 for the rockin’ second half. It was a sea of fans jumping in place and dancing along to the pure garage rock magic of “Lonely Boy”, with fans joining the “whoa-oh-oh-ohs.”

Indie-pop trio SHAED was a major highlight on Friday, with Chelsea Lee and her husband Spencer returning to the stage for their first SoCal shows since 2021 (they played The Venice West last week too) along with Ernst’s twin, multi-instrumentalist Max. The Washington, D.C.-based trio kicked off with poppy tracks “Osaka” and “Part Time Psycho” and slowed it down for the down-tempo “Melt” with Chelsea Lee’s voice shining throughout. Following a couple more songs, the band really impressed with outstanding harmonies on the acoustic guitar-led ballad “Famous” with Lee’s voice soaring and the falsettos beautifully balancing the melody. After the new song, Spencer talked about having a baby about a year ago with Chelsea and he added that they think about their little June all the time. It introduced quite possibly the best song of the day, SHAED’s new “Rockets”, all about their daughter. Lee completely embodied the song with her body, belting beautifully like her life depended on it, smashing her vocal, singing “I’m just so in love with you / I don’t know what the hell to do / You’re the brightest thing alive, like a rocket in the sky” as the brothers added the cherry on top to the band’s three-part harmony.

Mid-tempo “High Dive” was next with one of the bros on drums and the other on guitar for the feel-good reggae-pop number. “WLWD” was a soulful, Amy Winehouse-inspired tune with an alluring vocal, simple drum beat and bass and a blend of a little psychedelic electronic. The down-tempo “Visible Woman” had Lee slaying her vocals once again with the twins tag-teaming on the drums. Following the song, Chelsea reminded the crowd that talented people also have to take red eye flights, since they were playing their best friend’s wedding the following day. There were more surprises in store as SHAED performed a truly incredible, seaside-ready cover of Franki Valli’s 1967 classic “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” with the Ernst brothers’ guitars and controlled vocals accompanying Lee. SHAED leaned into their pop and electro-pop sound that started the set with one of their early songs, the funky, new wave tune “Name On It” with hot bass from Spencer and Chelsea kicking into the air at one point. The spectacular set wrapped with SHAED’s massive hit “Trampoline”, with the brothers doing live whistling to start things off as the crowd joined in on the lyrics. The guys took the drums together, smashing as Lee felt the grooves and kicked into the air once more, cleverly timed to a chime in the production.

Saturday, May 6

Gwen Stefani dazzled as always with nearly 30 years of hits spanning No Doubt’s early punk, ska days and reggae-pop moments as well as her solo pop material, plus a cover of The Paragons’ “The Tide Is High” (also made famous by Blondie). Plus there was a moment of the Eve-featured “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” during one of Gwen’s costume changes. Out of 21 songs, about half were No Doubt hits, from “Ex-Girlfriend” and “Bathwater” to “Hey Baby” and “Spiderwebs.” On the Gwen solo material, everything from “The Sweet Escape” to “Cool” to “Hollaback Girl” made the set list. Stefani’s colorful performance found the entertainer working the stage, kicking her boots in the air, riling up the crowd and singing her heart out in her hometown region (Orange County is close enough!) For more on Gwen Stefani’s show, check out our review of the Bud Light Superbowl Music Fest at Arena (from February 2022) which featured a similar show with Stefani’s yellow zebra print outfit and vibrant dancers. Stefani’s BeachLife set included five songs that were not played at Arena including “Baby Don’t Lie,” “Bathwater,” “The Tide Is High,” “Used To Love You” and “Luxurious.” During the underrated No Doubt track “Bathwater,” Stefani was shown in 1920s-style pinup images while her trombone player elevated the song. The non-album single “Baby Don’t Lie” was a welcome addition, as many may have forgotten about this global-sounding anthem. Following the pounding drums of the lively “Sunday Morning,” Stefani addressed the crowd, “Redondo Beach! What? You came to see me? I feel like we have fast-forwarded for a while but now we are here face to face. You are my homies. This is my hometown, this is my life because of you.” Her encore included perhaps the two most popular songs from No Doubt’s era as well as Stefani’s solo material, “Don’t Speak” and “Hollaback Girl.”

Dispatch has been kicking around for 27 years and the Boston-based roots rock band that formed in Vermont offered a lively show for the beach crowd on Saturday, along similar lines to what Michael Franti & Spearhead, Black Pumas and The Revivalists succeeded at during previous BeachLife fests. The bright and beachy vibes of Chad Urmston’s voice (and massive curly hair) and guitarist/vocalist Brad Corrigan’s equally-impressive voice and stage energy were perfect for the setting, complemented with a special live painter throughout the set. The packed crowd was treated to jammy, rap-rock show starter “Here We Go” followed by 2021 album title track “Break Our Fall” and then roots rock song “Elias” sung in Shona, a language of Zimbabwe. The crowd was moving to the band’s jamming on “Fallin'” with lively guitars and hot drums from J.R. Reilly and bongos from another band member. On “Bang Bang”, Corrigan (on drums) and Urmston (on guitar) harmonized beautifully on the refrains and sounded slick on their rapped verses, not to mention a solid guitar solo which brought additional energy. Dispatch’s roots rock and folk beauty came through on two 2017 songs off America, Location 12 including the folky “Midnight Lorry” and uplifting “Only The Wild Ones” with four-part harmony between the two guitarists singing along with both drummers. It emerged as a carefree, danceable, ska-flavored ditty and was one of their best of the day with so much precision on the instrumentation front, but also on the harmonious vocals. On “Letter To Lady J,” five band members harmonized, and the folky romp-turned-dance party found Corrigan going wild smashing his tambourine with drum stick at the front of the stage with Urmston on guitar for another lively tune with lights flashing under the sun. The entire crowd sang along and had their hands up for Dispatch’s final song, “The General,” gathering for the lyric “go now, you are forgiven” with fans singing in unison. The “wo-yo-yo” call-and-response felt so good and left everyone with a total high.

Sunday, May 7

Southern rockers The Black Crowes took off with their headliner slot with the noise and chaos of “No Speak No Slave”, with a total of eight musicians including background singers. “Alright, Sunday night at BeachLife, let’s go!,” said lead singer Chris Robinson wearing a rich-looking black jacket with studs and stylish white boots. “Sting Me” was next, with a killer vocal from Robinson and a piercing guitar solo from Rich Robinson with four-part harmony from Rich, Sven Pipien on bass and Nico Bereciartua on guitar joining Robinson under a purple stage wash. Eric Deutsch’s organ was incredible on “Twice As Hard” with the guitars hot and Chris Robinson prancing around the stage like a peacock. Robinson grabbed the mic stand with force a few times and the harmonies were on point for the hard rock tune while the fans were loving it. “We’re very happy to be here tonight,” said Robinson. “We like a good Sunday night show, so let’s rock.” Red and yellow lights flashed during the entertaining rockabilly of “Thick n’ Thin,” another high-energy moment with Robinson making his presence known. “Soul Singing” had more amazing group harmonies, with background singers Mackenzie Adams and Leslie Grant adding a gospel flavor and another powerful vocal from Robinson. The bluesy ballad “Seeing Things” was described as a “Sunday morning song” and offered a change of pace and a good showcase of Robinson’s vocal tone and control, belting like a boss. The organ solos were perfection once again from Deutsch and the blue lights overhead were a stunning contrast to the orange/pink sunset in the background.

The instrumentation was rockin’ and lively on “My Morning Song” with Robinson wailing away under blazing red lights and lots more harmony from band members and the background singers. “By Your Side” was a total stank face tune with more epic vocals; Robinson danced in place and offered up another crazy good guitar solo. The more mid-tempo “Wiser Time” provided another wonderful moment on the keys from Deutsch followed by a pair of gentle guitar solos. Chris Robinson really owned the stage on “Stare It Cold,” dancing with the mic stand and in between his vocals, adding some “bib-itty-bop” scat singing ending with a bit of a rockabilly and gospel flair. Robinson mentioned Otis Redding as being “the greatest soul singer” and The Black Crowes performed their hit version of the classic, “Hard To Handle” with more standout organ and a perfect vocal from the lead singer. The band’s other massive hit was next, “She Talks To Angels,” with acoustic guitar opening the heartfelt power ballad. “Thorn In My Pride” offered some relief from the hard rock to another more organic Southern rock tune followed by the band’s 1990 debut single “Jealous Again” and finally the blues-rock song “Remedy” concluded a fiery show.

John Fogerty‘s performance at BeachLife really stands in a class of its own, clearly the most thrilling and best of the fest, playing 17 songs total, 14 of which were Creedence Clearwater Revival classics. Fogerty was joined by his sons Shane (guitar, vocals) and Tyler (guitar, vocals), celebrating his long-overdue ownership to the rights of the Woodstock-era band that first made it big with 1968’s “Suzie Q” (not on the set list). John Fogerty’s appearance at BeachLife fulfilled slots that created a sense of community and unity in the past from headliners like Willie Nelson, Steve Miller Band, Brian Wilson, Ziggy & Stephen Marley but this one may have exceeded all with Fogerty at 77 years young but looking and sounding like the rockstar he always was. The Low Tide stage on the sand was the place to be at sunset, packed with fans for an American treasure with Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” appropriately playing on the speakers ahead of the set. A short intro video with John Fogerty saying he now owns his songs brought the crowd to an eruption of cheers and smoke dramatically enveloped the stage, surrounding Fogerty as he entered for a stacked show of hits as well as some poignant moments. “Bad Moon Rising” sounded as pure and perfect as ever with the rock star in his usual Western look with a checkered shirt, jeans and a bandana around his neck. The fans were loving it and didn’t even have the chance for a proper applause because the band transitioned quickly into the iconic guitar-driving “Up Around The Bend,” with Fogerty sounding super strong vocally, and his sons harmonizing and playing guitars along with another guitarist. 

“I’m so happy to be at Redondo Beach and I’m so happy to have my songs back,” said Fogerty. “C’mon y’all.” The guitar lick on CCR’s “Green River” was so magical, a blend of rock ‘n roll and psychedelic with a big guitar instrumental that kept things hot. “Born On The Bayou” was stellar (with cowbell), and the very song that kicked off CCR’s Woodstock performance in 1969, reminding fans that they were in the presence of a rock god. “Oh man, how y’all doing?” Fogerty told a brief story about the red Rickenbacker he was holding that he purchased in 1969, which he played at Woodstock. Years back he had given it to a 12-year-old and his wife Julie tracked it down gifting it to Fogerty for Christmas 44 years after he had given it away. He added that he wrote the next tune “Who’ll Stop The Rain” on that very guitar in California, and the crowd went nuts, followed by more outstanding harmonies from the band. From the opening notes of “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” the crowd was aware of the song with its twangy guitar, bopping and dancing, while an accordion player added amazing flair to one of the best of the set. Like the recording, there was even the brief tempo change that slowed down by the end, and then sped up again. “Travelin’ Band” had its rockabilly moment with the vocal sounding in the spirit of Little Richard, with super high energy, sensational keys and felt like it was pulled right from the 1950s era despite being released in 1970. “Run Through The Jungle” was a brilliant classic rock performance, with badass guitars and Fogerty played some harmonica solos. He mentioned his songs Shane and Tyler on stage as well as his beautiful wife Julie, who was responsible for getting his songs back. He talked about the song “Joy of My Life,” which he wrote a while back for his wife and the band played while private wedding photos in black and white and short clips of the couple played on. It was the first Fogerty solo song and the crowd joined in for the emotional lyrics including “must be the luckiest man alive.”  Saxophone player Rob Stone entered the stage at just the right moment for a brilliant solo, arguably the most epic solo for a featured musician at BeachLife 2023.

It felt like a guitar hero situation on the fast “Keep On Chooglin'”, a big rock moment with a lively guitar vamp, guitar improvisation and more harmonica from the legend. Fogerty introduced Richie Millsap on drums, Jesse Wilson on guitar, Bob Malone on the keys and his boys. Fogerty talked about his daughter Kelsy, who he called “a rainbow in his life” and added that there is a rainbow in the next song. “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” was that song, with the golden hour’s rays shining on the band and the crowd as they echoed the lyrics. It was a huge highlight from John Fogerty’s set with cheers all around following the popular tune. The organ was pounding for the up-tempo “Hey Tonight” and then Fogerty played his other two solo tunes of the night, starting with clever drumsticks and organ on 1985 hit “Centerfield,” with his voice soaring and everyone on the beach singing and dancing. Then his 1984 hit “The Old Man Down The Road” offered the “hidey-hidey-hide” swamp rock with twangy guitar goodness and Shane Fogerty had a standout guitar solo, facing his famous father in a guitar battle. The guitars and drums powered the forceful “Fortunate Son” with more impressive keys and an overall outstanding version that had fans glued and cheering along. John Fogerty did an unexpected encore, returning to the stage saying, “I have the best job in the world.” He did an actual toast on the stage for his songs but added that it was also for the fans loving the songs for so many years.”Down on the Corner” created a party on the beach and John Fogerty and his band concluded with “Proud Mary” with Stone back on stage with his sax, smoke was blowing again and his Golden Retriever named Creedence was on stage for the Southern rock favorite.

Other Moments

Mavis Staples at 83 years young was a total gem, smiling throughout her soul, R&B, funk and gospel tunes including The Staples Singers song “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me),” “I’m Just Another Soldier,” and “Handwriting on the Wall.” Joined by two guitarists, a drummer and two background singers, Staples sang about peace and love and fighting the good fight, performing with passion and getting the crowd clapping along. Guitarist Rick Holmstrom led The Staples Singers tune “Respect Yourself” with Staples pounding a fist in the air a few times. Staples addressed the crowd, saying “My family, The Staples have been taking you back for 74 years years…and I’m not tired yet.” Staples reminded her fans to “look out for the slippery people” and she played her family’s funk smash “I’ll Take You There” with the beachfront audience grooving and singing along in unison. Mavis even hushed her band for an a cappella moment that truly unified.

Other acts that were heavily buzzed about include indie-folk band CAAMP who have become a fixture for festivals this year, performing a number of their popular tunes including “Vagabond,” “By and By,” “Officer of Love,” “Believe” and “Peach Fuzz.” Seattle-based six-piece The Head and The Heart had a stellar set anchored by songs off their most recent 2022 album Every Shade of Blue including the title track, “Virginia (Wind in the Night),” “Tiebreaker” and “Don’t Show Your Weakness” as well as previous hits “Lost In My Mind,” “All I Ever Knew” and “Missed Connection.” Glorious harmonies and fan interaction were abundant with instrumentation and melody that evoked moments of Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles and Elton John/Billy Joel and the only true missed connection was band member Charity Rose Thielen’s absence. New York’s LP showcased her wonderful, alluring voice on songs like “Everybody’s Falling In Love,” “Lost On You,” “Goodbye” and brand new song “Golden.” Sisters Aly & AJ harmonized beautifully, taking turns on lead vocals and playing a number of songs off new Americana-pop album With Love From including “Tear The Night Up,” “Talking In My Sleep,” and the rather catchy “After Hours” as well as their popular hit “Potential Breakup Song.” Toronto punk-rock foursome The Beaches offered a lot of sass on “T-Shirt” and “Money” and played new song “Blame Brett” all about lead singer Jordan Miller’s first break-up, harmonizing wonderfully throughout their set with sister Kylie.

Words by Michael Menachem
Images by Tim Aarons (Gwen Stefani photo by JP Cordero/BeachLife)