One thing that remains consistent with BeachLife Festival is the talent and they brought it last weekend for BeachLife Ranch‘s second edition Friday through Sunday at Seaside Lagoon in Redondo Beach, with The Doobie Brothers sharing their 50th Anniversary Tour, country superstar Brad Paisley wrapping the fest, Jack Johnson bringing the seaside vibes, country veteran Wynonna sharing stories and tearing through hits, and outlaw country talent Cody Jinks rocking out. As with other BeachLife Festivals, this fall 2023 Ranch had something for everyone, with eclectic sounds, from country-pop to Americana, reggae to soul, blues to Southern rock, also including Chris Issak, The Avett Brothers, Midland, Shakey Graves, Parmalee, Bahamas, Blackberry Smoke, Yola, The Marshall Tucker Band, Keb’ Mo’, Larkin Poe, Easton Corbin, Amanda Shires, Rome & Duddy, Laci Kaye Booth and a special Guinness World Record by Devon Allman and Donavon Frankenreiter (who concluded a tour of 50 shows in 49 days in Redondo). There were decades-old hit songs, new material and all sorts of collaborations and surprises, which BeachLife excels at. A number of covers from recently fallen music stars also made an appearance including hits from Tina Turner and Jimmy Buffett, performed by Jack Johnson, a Harry Belafonte classic by The Avett Brothers and a standout guitar moment from Larkin Poe covering the Allman Brothers. Rome mentioned Jimmy Buffett during his set and also had one bar of Nickelback that was amazing. Yola covered Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love”, Parmalee took a stab at The Killers “Mr. Brightside” and Usher’s “Yeah!” (the day he was announced as the 2024 Super Bowl halftime performer).
Headliner: Jack Johnson
Hawaiian singer-songwriter Jack Johnson played a total of 21 songs during his headliner slot on opening night, Friday. He featured two of the days’ top acts, Bahamas and The Avett Brothers and threw in a few covers as well. The set kicked off in beachfront fashion with the easy-going, nostalgic “Do You Remember”, with the star in a simple hoodie, followed by “Inaudible Melodies” with its timeless message about moving too fast and slowing down. Johnson’s first cover was the unexpected but excellent Tina Turner smash “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, with great keys from Zach Gill, accompanying the singer. “I got a lot of really good friends here, I was hanging out with backstage”, shared Johnson. [We heard surf buddy Kelly Slater was there for the show]. Catchy pop-rock tune “Flake” had nice harmonies, good falsetto and a little scat singing blended with a little of Mungo Jerry’s 1970 classic “In The Summertime”.
Johnson continued with a rhythmic “Upside Down” with the crowd singing along, while the full band and organ brought the live magic to one of the artist’s most beloved songs. “Bubble Toes” continued to keep the musical talent and energy up, strumming the ditty and sounding really strong live the whole way through including the “la-da-da-da-da-das”. The talented Zach Gill (who mostly played keyboards) commanded the stage with his melodica skills and then returned to bang the keys, impressing fans as they sang along with waves crashing on the screen behind the band, and Johnson rapping a verse at the song’s end.
New song “Costume Party” was met with red, blue and purple lights, a relaxing song combined with very cool percussion, and Johnson tried a bit of a party trick, blowing a bunch of notes like a champ into beer bottles. He introduced his band members which also included Merlo Podlewski on bass and Adam Topol on drums. Bahamas’ frontman Afie Jurvanen joined Johnson and the band for “Breakdown” with Johnson on ukulele and they continued with a cover of “Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric, a rockin’ song with blue lights flashing on the musicians. Johnson then told a story of his parents growing up in Manhattan Beach and his dad sailing to Hawaii by himself. “I just found out this morning that this is the harbor he left from”. The crowd cheered all over and Johnson added how special it was to be there, dedicating the next song “I Got You” to his parents. The love song had Johnson whistling and he also mentioned his wife in the dedication.
Donavon Frankenreiter was brought on stage for his “Heading Home”, a great collab and Johnson highlighted Frankenreiter’s Guinness World Record earlier in the day, which was achieved with tourmate Devon Allman. Other highlights included the always-pleasant “Banana Pancakes” as well as a poignant cover of Jimmy Buffett’s “A Pirate Look at Forty”. The Avett Brothers joined Johnson for a pair of glorious, harmonious cover songs that were vastly different, including MGMT’s “Kids” and Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” and Johnson concluded the night with his band on “Better Together”.
The Avett Brothers brought music mastery and delightful harmonies throughout, hitting at the heartstrings with numerous ballads and getting the crowd dancing for others. The North Carolina folk rock band included seven musicians, including brothers Scott and Seth Avett on a number of instruments, Bob Crawford on double bass, violin and background vocals, Joe Kwon on cello and background vocals, Mike Marsh on drums, Tania Elizabeth on fiddle and the Avett’s sister Bonnie Avett-Rini on piano. “Satan Pulls The Strings” was the perfect, bluegrass-meets-Southern rock tune to kick things off with amazing four-part harmony. Warm guitar strings took a different direction, with the other strings from Kwon and Elizabeth complementing the guitars on the beautiful song which turned into a folk party by the end, showcasing an incredible group of musicians.
“Let’s keep it going ya’ll”, said Seth. The Avetts’ version of “Old Joe Clark” had some rapid clapping from the crowd while Crawford’s upright bass was facing Kwon’s cello for a great instrumental; Crawford meanwhile shared an excellent sense of dynamics. Seth started off the vocal of “Vanity” while Scott took the next part while playing the keys. Though they may not get this description all the time, it took on a bit of a rock opera vibe, in the best way, with pretty falsetto and fans clapping the song’s pattern by the end. “Murder In The City” had the crowd whistling along following the brothers’ beautiful harmonies. Crawford came to the front of the stage with his upright bass while the two brothers joined a mic for one of the most delicate moments of the night, the folky “I Wish I Was”, with the purity of Scott and Seth’s harmonies, gentle guitar picking and Scott on banjo.
The Avett Brothers’ “At The Beach” was apropos since the crowd was literally on the sand for the performance, complete with feel-good whistles and the band encouraging the crowd to sing on the “bam bam bam” moments. The beach vibes continued with a cover of Harry Belafonte’s “Jump In Line (Shake, Senora)”, a true crowd pleaser with some extra flair from the string instruments. The brothers did their passionate singing/spoken word/rapping on “Talk Of Indolence”, with Seth dancing around while playing guitar, while Scott played the keys, and the whole crowd clapped to the rumbling drums. “I and Love and You” was beautiful and powerful at the same time, with a spiritual element that made the crowd holler and sing along over beautiful harmonies. “Ain’t No Man” brought the fun, upbeat feeling back to the set with the brothers each taking over vocal moments for the funky, rock-blues tune with a lively five-part harmony, including Avett-Rini who came forward from the keys to sing with her brothers and the string players. The lovely folk ballad “No Hard Feelings” wrapped up a memorable set, with the Avett bros’ superb harmonies once more.
Canadian act Bahamas, led by Afie Jurvanen brought some tastemaker flair to the festival, shining with inviting vocals and some seriously talented musicians including Christine Bougie on guitar, Don Kerr on drums, Mike O’Brien on bass and Felicity Williams on vocals. The band jammed and set the pace of their set with “I’m Still” and continued with folk-rock ballad “Working On My Guitar”, with pretty harmonies from Williams, joining Jurvanen. Groovy blues-rock song “Opening Act (The Shooby Dooby Song)” showcased a wonderful voice from Jurvanen and equally stunning vocals from Williams, combined with a standout guitar solo and overall standout jazzy inflections. “All The Time” had that killer bassline from Bougie, incredible falsetto from Jurvanen and ethereal echoed vocals from Williams that made it really special live. Blues-rock song “Way With Words” was a complete highlight, with more amazing bass and guitars, a pleasant vocal from Jurvanen and excellent “mmm” harmonies from Williams. For sure one of the best of their set. “Caught Me Thinkin'” was that perfect BeachLife song, with fluttering guitars, an excellent song and production across the board that made the crowd scream and could give anyone complete stank face, it’s that cool.
Elsewhere, Austin’s Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia) had some stellar moments on guitar, showing off his unique blues-rock voice on “Built to Roam”, singing rather passionately on piano rock ballad “If Not For You” and reminiscing on his days living in SoCal with a pretty falsetto on a song about nearby “Century City”.
Texan singer-songwriter Laci Kaye Booth played the Speakeasy stage and her smoky vocals shined on “Pretty Little Pistol” while playing acoustic guitar and finishing the phrase “you’re a pretty little pistol, but I’m a smoking gun”. Her California-ready tune “Too High” was also a standout, a song she called “happy and a little sad”.
Nashville-based Pillbox Patti brought her hungover-chic country-pop sensibility with lots of stage presence. Think instead of Kesha on the bathroom floor, Pillbox Patti on the bathroom stall floor at a dive bar. Humor aside, Patti has a ton of vocal talent, she’s especially stellar on the unapologetic “Die A Redneck”, she dropped plenty of swagger on “Eat Pray Drugs” and her ballad “Few People” was nothing but the truth. Patti also gave a fan wearing her Eat Pray Drugs t-shirt a special moment when she grabbed her phone and recorded her performance directly onto the device. If country music wants to take a risk and get a little refresh with female artists, Pillbox Patti is unpredictable, hilarious and a total disruptor.
Headliner: The Doobie Brothers
Like the inaugural BeachLife Ranch, a legacy band slot brought all sorts of new memories to the beach like last year’s Hall & Oates, but this time it was The Doobie Brothers‘ turn. They stopped by for SoCal fans during their 50th Anniversary Tour and despite a slight audio hiccup at the beginning, seven musicians were in fine form. Vocals alternated between talented singers Michael McDonald, Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston and John McFee (who all play numerous instruments), joined by the sensational Marc Russo on saxophone, John Cowan on bass and vocals, Ed Toth on drums and Marc Quiñones on percussion and background vocals.
Following “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)”, “Rockin’ Down The Highway” was led by Patrick Simmons in a gray hat, mentioning prior how happy The Doobie Brothers were to be playing on the beach. “You Belong To Me” was sung at the keys by McDonald, with Russo on the saxophone next to him. Michael McDonald’s voice has not aged at all, he’s like a fine wine and a soul master. A nice sax solo from Russo and alluring oohs and harmonies from the other singers brought it all together. “I want to welcome you all to our 50th Anniversary Tour”, said Simmons. “We want to thank you for supporting us all this time.” He introduced his bandmates and said, “It’s a pleasure being here this evening”. “Clear as the Driven Snow” had really pretty harmonies between Simmons, Johnston and McFee, showcasing their solid sound during the early 1970s, complemented with great guitar instrumentals.
McDonald had a killer piano opening joined by Russo, while McDonald sang “It Keeps You Runnin'”, with more excellent harmonies from the full band. McDonald’s voice on “Eyes of Silver” was so pure on the fun live song, with great guitar moments from Simmons as well as Russo’s saxophone. John McFee led the next song “One Step Closer”, which he wrote, blending with McDonald’s voice and later four of the musicians joined in on the chorus. McDonald led “Minute by Minute”, belting wonderfully with four of the musicians singing background, reaching their falsetto voices nicely with some equally excellent piano. Simmons was now playing a Barbie pink guitar and apparently got the memo on the color of the summer for a good rock song with great cowbell. The ensemble vocals were tops, harmonizing with the energy clearly up during “Jesus Is Just Alright with Me”. Some organ and guitar moments stood out and the crowd sang along and cheered by the end.
McDonald kicked off the band’s 1979 smash “What A Fool Believes”, with marvelous falsetto from the whole band, all of the percussion and instrumentation was tops, along with the saxophone, guitars and keys. Simmons had one of his top vocal moments of the night on “Long Train Runnin'”, with another rousing sax solo courtesy of Russo, a blended drum section with Toth and Quiñones and some stellar guitar solos. Elsewhere, the roots rock/bluegrass tune “Black Water” was a pleasant change of pace showing off this rock band’s range and getting the crowd amped up. McFee played violin, complemented by some dark and organic guitar strums, Simmons took the vocals and after singing about the “Mississippi” (river), he changed the lyric to “California moon”, earning screams from fans as they continued to sing along. Big chords from Michael McDonald introduced “Takin’ It To The Streets” as Russo played along gently and the song quickly built up with some big moments from Russo, golden keys and vocals from McDonald and a fun gospel element from the whole band that truly made it the timeless hit that it is. Tom Johnston took hold of the final tune, “Listen to the Music”, getting the whole beachfront crowd singing and dancing along in unison.
Headliner: Cody Jinks
The other Saturday night headliner was Cody Jinks, who closed the night with his own brand of outlaw country, in his signature beard, fitted jeans, black shades, a black tee and a hat. The set really came alive for “Mamma Song”, as the Texas native played guitar while hitting some pleasant dynamics vocally. Some twangy guitars elevated the sound and Jinks landed next to a bandmate on guitar at one moment. The harmonies stood out during “We Get By”, with a lightness to the song like comfortable Zac Brown Band with a pleasant guitar instrumental. Country singer Pearl joined Jinks for his song “Must Be The Whiskey”, a bluesy pleaser. “So you gotta be kinda crazy to do this for a living”, said Jinks. “Actually all the way gone crazy”. Jinks fittingly played his 2019 tune “Same Kind of Crazy as Me”, a real outlaw song with a couple members of the band harmonizing wonderfully with the star. Jinks impressed on his ballad “I’m Not the Devil”, with a solid vocal, singing clearly and giving off some feels, partially from the alluring guitar detail. “I just gotta say this, I got to meet Wynonna backstage and she was everything you would hope she would be”, said Jinks. “I don’t know why I’m going on after her but there’s been some kickass music today”. Following a really lively Social Distortion cover of “Reach for the Sky” with great guitars, Jinks continued with recent hit “All It Cost Me Was Everything”, a Southern rock ditty that lived up to its title. Jinks’ hit “Cast No Stones” about no judgment of others was met with two musicians harmonizing and it was one of the best of the night. Jinks shared with the crowd that he wrote “No Words” 20 years ago this month, showcasing a really nice vocal and the lap steel guitar was the focal point on the bluesy “Somewhere In The Middle” with more stellar harmonies.
In the 1980s and 1990s, among a male-dominated slate of artists, Wynonna was the female country darling and she just performed at the inaugural People’s Choice Country Awards and accepted the Country Champion Award for her contributions to music and years in the spotlight. Wynonna (Judd’s) set felt like a reunion with SoCal fans, playing a number of solo hits as well as songs that made she and her late mother Naomi (of The Judds) household names and American treasures. In fine form, The Judds’ “I Know Where I’m Going” was a strong soulful kickoff with drummer (and husband) Scott “Cactus” Moser harmonizing with the star. She later played harmonica and offered some lovely falsetto notes at the end. Wynonna was glammed up in all black —a sparkly long sleeve jacket, sunglasses and her signature bright red hair.
On “Ain’t No Thing”, Wynonna brought her show woman attitude to the twangy, swampy tune, grabbing the mic stand, dancing around a bit and singing the hell out of the song with her hot band. “It’s all attitude, girls”, said Wynonna. “Thank you for letting me show up tonight. I’ve been on the road for 40 years, since I was 17”. The diva was in full effect, powerfully singing her heart out on “Rock Bottom”, with lots of “ooh hoos” and smiling between her vocal inflections. Wynonna shared stories about starting out in 1984 and performing her debut solo tune “She Is His Only Need” from 1992, which she added fans made into a #1 and completely changed her life. The beautiful ballad included wonderful phrasing from Wynonna and Cactus harmonized well while the singer who had her arms out like she was flying a plane on the final instrumental. “I flew all the way from Nashville” just to sing here today”.
“Music is a healer”, said Judd. “This is the song I want to be remembered for, about the greatest thing, that is love”. “Only Love” had waves crashing down on the screen behind the musicians and Wynonna had really strong control of the melody, showcasing a time when vocals were more of the focal point than most anything else. One emotional highlight of the set was “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Old Days)”, a nostalgic tune Wynonna called her “favorite” after offering to the audience to get into some country. Judd strummed her guitar and held the melody close to her heart throughout while fans joined in on the lovely chorus. “That was worth the trip right there”, said Wynonna, and you could tell she was happy to be there. The Judds’ “Love Is Alive” was next, an easy, breezy song with pretty piano accompaniment. She followed it with “Something You Can’t Live Without”, which she blended with a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love”. Another cover had Wynonna completely in her element, crushing Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” with her band (especially the guitars) in total high gear. Wynonna took it back to the gentle guitar for The Judds’ “Mama He’s Crazy”, tapping into her unique voice, growl and power once more.
Nashville-based sister duo Larkin Poe (Rebecca and Megan Lovell) completely dominated on their Allman Brothers guitar cover of “Jessica”, which truly felt like they had landed on the stage from another era. Larkin Poe also impressed with their catchy songs “Georgia Off My Mind”, “She’s a Self Made Man” and their infectious “Bad Spell”.
Keb’ Mo’ offered a subtlety to his country blues sound, originally from Compton and now based in Nashville. “Life Is Beautiful” was a timeless, beach-friendly tune with standout piano from David Rodgers. “Bring It On Home To Me” was a wonderful moment for Keb’ Mo’, a completely effortless, soulful vocal.
Headliner: Brad Paisley
From the first notes to the last notes, Brad Paisley’s headline set to close out the Highlands Stage and BeachLife Ranch Festival was an explosion of blistering guitar playing, catchy hooks, and lyrics delivered with a wink and a smile. There was “Ticks”, a brief “Love Boat” cover leading into “Water”. The sentimental classic “Waitin’ On a Woman”, a brief “Purple Rain” moment at the end of “Last Time for Everything”, and the anthem “This Is Country Music”. Happy to be performing in Southern California again, Paisley said, “Whoever thought of having this festival here was a genius” said Paisley as he stood on the stage extension surrounded by the audience in the perfect weather looking off toward the beautiful glowing lights throughout the festival grounds. Then it was back into shredding guitar some more and swapping guitars between every song and alternating solos with the Fiddle and Pedal Steel Guitar players, especially on the ridiculously fast and virtuosic instrumental “The Nervous Breakdown”. A big surprise mid-set when at the conclusion of a song he autographed his guitar and handed it to a young girl at the side of the stage, saying “That’s how you create a Taylor Swift”. At another point in the performance four members of the military came on stage and Paisley and band paid tribute to them, then everyone shared some cans of beer. 2002’s hilarious classic “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song)” led into 2004’s hit “Mud on the Tires” to close out the main set. After a brief moment everyone was back to finish out the night with a massive audience singalong for 2005 hit “Alcohol”.
Dripping Springs, Texas’ own Midland played the final set on the Lowlands stage where the three singers included a batch of their own country radio hits like “Drinkin’ Problem” and “Burn Out” as well as covers of Garth Brooks’ “Much Too Young” and Jerry Reid’s “Eastbound and Down”. It was another fun set to watch and bassist/vocalist/jokester Cameron Duddy was hard to take your eyes off of as he slinked around the stage and hit various poses throughout. Yes, that Cameron Duddy, the same guy who directed possibly the greatest music video ever, Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic”. The entire festival grounds lit up when he led the band through Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town”, one of the rocking-est parts of the entire festival.
As the day started to cool off and a breeze flowed in from the bay, the coolest of them all, Chris Isaak took the stage with a highly decorated blue suit, joined by his sharply-dressed band for a rollicking set that ranged from rockabilly to blues to ballads and back with his falsetto delightfully interspersed throughout. Isaak and band made extensive use of the stage extension out into the crowd to get up close and serenade throughout the set. From “Somebody’s Crying” to “Wicked Game”, from a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” to “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” the fun never stopped. “Dancin’” featured the longest held vocal note of the festival, which got the crowd all fired up. The set closed on a mellow note with “The Way Things Really Are” and its classic country lope.
When North Carolina’s Parmalee hit the Lowlands stage, 90% of the younger audience members were already there and ready for them to play. The crowd took part in singing hits like “Carolina”, “Just the Way”, and “Take My Name” as the band played one of the most country radio-tinged sets of the weekend. Singer Scott Thomas, his drummer brother Matt Thomas, and guitarist Josh McSwain cruised through their polished and fun set with some excellent sounding bits of covers interspersed throughout including The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” and The Kid LAROI’s “Stay”. But the cover of Usher’s “Yeah” was the most unexpected, and most excellent cover of the set.
Like the Doobie Brothers, South Carolina’s The Marshall Tucker Band is celebrating 50 years together and brought their Southern rock-meets-Americana-meets-roots-meets-country sound to the Highlands stage for an afternoon set filled with long jams and extended solos from guitar players and flautists alike. Singer/tambourinist Doug Gray invited the whole crowd down to Myrtle Beach, before telling the crowd they were going to turn everyone Southern. “Running Like the Wind” and “Heard it in a Love Song” highlighted the early part of the set, followed by “Take the Highway” and “Fire on the Mountain”. Things wrapped up with the band’s biggest hit “Can’t You See” and the whole audience singing the first verse and continuing the singalong throughout the song.
Bristol’s Yola made a splash in the Americana scene after the release of Dan Auerbach-produced album Walk Through Fire and some legendary performances at the Newport Folk Festival, but her BeachLife Ranch set featured classic soul/R&B-infused songs from the more recent album “Stand for Myself”. As the band grooved through “Barely Alive”, sped it up for “Starlight”, and pulled out the disco for “Dancing Away in Tears” the crowd filled in from the other stages and cowboy hats everywhere were seen bobbing to the music. Wah-wah guitar in some spots and drum solos in others filled in around the powerful vocals, and so the most eclectic set of the weekend washed over the sunny crowd to everyone’s delight. A cover of Anita Baker’s 1986 hit “Sweet Love” was another crowd favorite later in the set, which wrapped up with the timeless title song from “Stand for Myself”.
In closing, another varied, wonderful BeachLife Ranch with the weather holding up, the fans partying, singing and dancing along and a ton of talent and special guests. What stands out the most are Brad Paisley’s guitar skills, Wynonna sounding like a superstar and looking grateful to be there among fans, The Doobie Brothers’ massive hits and some storytelling from Jack Johnson. The new catwalk on the main stage was a welcome addition this year and it seems spacing was better planned for both VIP as well as some vendor areas. On the experiential side of things, big props to King’s Hawaiian, who sponsored the Lowlands Stage, where you could grab a tasty chicken slider on your way to see The Avett Brothers, Midland or The Doobie Brothers. Their placement was perfect. A shout out to Waterloo sparkling water for keeping the crowds hydrated all day with a variety of flavors to sample. Celsius was there as well to offer a little energy, Brixton had custom cowboy hats to shop and Jack Daniels offered a lively karaoke stage for festival attendees to stumble upon or join in with a killer rendition of their favorite tune. And finally, volume.com was there to stream the BeachLife festivities and performances as well as replay of your favorite acts.
Words by Michael Menachem (Friday and Saturday) and Tim Aarons (Sunday)
Photos by Tim Aarons