Surf’s Up, Sound On at BeachLife Festival 2021

BeachLife Festival 2021

What BeachLife Festival missed out on with their intended second year in Redondo Beach, CA in 2020 was certainly made up for in this year’s three-day extravaganza. Running Friday through Sunday book-ending the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, it was a celebration, a relief from the couch isolation and a reminder that great tunes and better friends have been missed and that community matters.

The headliners made up a three-headed serpent of fun – the LA rebels – Jane’s Addiction, the Northern California storytellers – Counting Crows and Jamaican peacekeepers Ziggy and Stephen Marley who took on the final set with a lovefest of their father’s iconic Bob Marley classics. BeachLife for many might very well be the first music festival where you can actually dance barefoot on the sand, holding an adult beverage and catching some rays by the ocean (in California at least).

Jane’s Addiction found Perry Farrell in a fringe jacket talking about the things he no longer does like watch TV or check his cell phone, because they’re always such a downer. He also talked about his love of the environment by asking the crowd “What the fuck’s going on with the ocean”? After gushing further on his years in California, Farrell said, “I’ll say it straight, we got the ocean and we got the mountains” before going into “Mountain Song” with Dave Navarro shirtless as always playing guitar with a cigarette casually hanging out of his mouth like a boss. Jane’s Addiction closed their opening night set with the band front and center seated for “Jane Says” and had other moments throughout their time including “Ain’t No Right”, “Been Caught Stealing” and their now-iconic Entourage theme “Superhero”.

Counting Crows captured the heart of the weekend, it was the first festival – and live performance for that matter – for many of the artists. Adam Duritz (whose dreads are long gone) sported some chewing gum during his set and he felt like everyone’s pal, singing along to hit songs and and joining fans on “Rain King” and “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”. The hits were aplenty from set opener “Round Here” to “Hanginaround”, “Mr. Jones” and the wonderful “A Long December”, which was as poignant and relevant as ever (“maybe this year will be better than the last”). But the emotional punch from Duritz and his talented group of musicians came from “Colorblind”, one of those 90s ballads that just stops you in your tracks. Duritz followed the song by admitting to the audience, “I am getting chills and flipping out every time we play shows. It’s been like two years and it’s the longest I’ve gone without playing a show since I was a teenager”. He mentioned telling this story recently at Counting Crows’ first show in Atlantic City and concluded that he was so damn happy. A few songs later was the other moment, “Washington Square” where he talked about AOL instant messaging with some girl (cause celebs are like us too!) The entire band was world-class but standouts of the night had to be Charlie Gillingham, multi-instrumentalist on the piano and harmonica, Hammond B-3 organ, accordion and keyboards as well as lead guitarist Dan Vickrey who lends his vocal harmonies beautifully to lead singer Duritz.

Like Counting Crows, the Songs of Bob Marley set was rescheduled from the previous year (what would have been the 75th Anniversary of Marley’s career). Sons Ziggy & Stephen Marley were the peace and love headliners of the season, providing a lot of optimism as the event closed out. Both brothers took lead on various songs, brightly appearing on stage with colorful lighting and energy with Ziggy singing “All In One” and “Positive Vibration”. Stephen took over for “Jammin'” and concluded asking the crowd to say “Yeah!”, repeating after him twice in unison. The party continued with Stephen-led Marley hits “Three Little Birds”, “Stir It Up”, “No Woman, No Cry” with the crowd singing and dancing along and one of Bob Marley’s other signatures “Get Up, Stand Up” was another highlight to shake off another joyous BeachLife Festival.

Beyond the top-tier acts, like many festivals it was the tastemakers who provided the meat of the festival. With stellar sets from Gary Clark Jr., Cage The Elephant, The Revivalists and Larkin Poe, these talents made an impression. Austin, Texas guitar icon Gary Clark Jr. wore a beanie and a jacket in the heat while smashing through guitar solo after guitar solo with a roaring response from the crowd. He kicked off with “Bright Lights” followed by “My Baby’s Gone” and then proved he’s about as good a vocalist as he is a guitarist with the falsetto-led “Stay” and “Feed The Babies”. The nostalgic-sounding “When I’m Gone” was wonderful and then the energy was back up for the punky rocker “Gotta Get Into Something”. Another highlight of the set was rock ballad “Got My Eyes On You”, with a fantastic vocal marinating with the bass drum and later a huge crescendo of guitars and an overall blasting from the band.

Cage the Elephant (Photo by Ken Pagliaro)

Cage The Elephant was full of both substance and style with the Kentucky indie-rock band’s lead singer Matt Shultz electrifying the audience with his stage antics to match the spectacular light show that was primarily bursts of color silhouetting the band. Shultz’s body was ever so much as important as his voice, flailing all over the stage, dancing, hair-whipping, gyrating and keeping the audience on their toes – he probably learned a few things from Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler over the years. The Iggy-pop supported “Broken Boy” kicked off the set (without Iggy) with the lyric “I was born on the wrong side of the train tracks”, with piercing yellow lights blasting out the outlines of the band. Lots of gyrating continued from Shultz on “Cry Baby” accompanied with some standout guitar and excellent harmonies. The ballad “Too Late To Say Goodbye” was a standout of the set, a heartfelt yet desperate song at the same time and then Cage The Elephant turned it up a notch for another highlight of the night for the garage rock tune “Cold Cold Cold” where Shultz ripped off his shirt. It wasn’t the first of the night’s costume changes – he also took a moment to remove his dark pants during the set to reveal a red pair, later putting the dark ones back on and then rummaging through a Target bag a few times to throw on what he perhaps felt in the moment, like a black hoodie later on. Every song was memorable – from the twangy instrumentation on “Ready To Let Go” to the warped and funky sounds of “Social Cues” which got everyone dancing to the almost non-stop clapping with Shultz getting the crowd rowdy for “Mess Around”. Another highlight was the ballad “Trouble” with the crowd relishing in the delightful “ooh-oohs”. “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”, the band’s earlier hit gave them their Southern rock stamp-of-approval and later “Shake Me Down” was a high-energy moment with the audience singing back the line “even on a cloudy day”. Shultz did not speak much to the crowd but near the set’s end he said, “Thank you for being here, thank you for existing. This will only happen once. I appreciate you”. “Cigarette Dreams” and “Teeth” wrapped up the show with Schultz leaping in the air – the guy walks and dances and surfs on a different axis than the rest of us. He collapsed on the stage for fifteen seconds, grabbed his Target bags and walked off with his band members to “We Are The Champions”.

The Revivalists (Photo by JP Cordero)

New Orleans band The Revivalists were a hoot for BeachLife with their blend of alternative with roots rock, scoring the covered dusk set slot on Friday night. Breakthrough single “Wish I Knew You” was the band’s final song, a showcase of their musicianship and cohesiveness, but their other material held up just as well. “When I’m With You” kicked off the set with its bright, optimistic vibe and the Southern rock vibes kicked into high gear on “Oh No” with multiple vocals and a whole lotta saxophone from Rob Ingraham. Lead vocalist David Shaw greeted the crowd, “Hello, hello, I can’t tell you how good it feels to be outside with palm trees, it’s been a long time”. On “You Said It All”, the cheers were in full effect when Shaw sang “I can’t be the only one, underneath this setting sun” getting into the crowd’s faces and riling them up. Ingraham on the sax was dancing and spinning around on stage taking in the danceable “Criminal” and steel pedal guitarist Ed Williams leaned his instrument forward with the same frantic urgency while the rest of the band matched their energy. The highs and lows of “It Was A Sin” provided one of the highlights of The Revivalists’ set, with rapid clapping from the crowd during the chorus and a peak for the entire ensemble, a true highlight. “Change” offered another danceable moment, with the crowd joining along to the “oohs” as the catchy instrumentation drove the momentum. Shaw remarked after about his love of Southern California, ” I woke up in the morning and did a little Zillow surfing”. “Got Love” kicked off with piercing trumpet and saxophone for a total stank face moment while Shaw sat down on the speaker for verse two keeping the crowd roaring and the upbeat “Celebration” got everyone hooked on the “na-na-nas” with Ingraham owning it again on the sax while the whole band really kicking it up on the instrumental breaks and throughout. Finally, Shaw introduced “Celebration” as a “little song about New Orleans” and all the mischief there, with the musicians coming forward to the stage, getting swampy and dirty followed by their signature hit.

Larkin Poe (Photo by Norm Smyth)

Originally from Georgia, the kick-ass Nashville singers Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe brought their Southern rock to the beach with their own swagger and incredible bluesy rock voices and harmonies. “Summertime Sunset” was completely appropriate in the late summer days in LA with a deliciously-fun dueling sister guitar-off. The ladies’ own brand of fire continued with “Keep Diggin'”, with the unapologetic line “if you can’t stand the heat, better get outta the kitchen, talk is dirty cheap, you know the people gonna listen”.  Megan introduced the other as her big sister and Rebecca introduced her sidekick as her baby sister and the cuteness was over in a snap. From “smokin’ up in church” on “Trouble In Mind” to “ride at your own risk” on “Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues”, there was no shortage of sass. With a natural blend of blues, rockabilly, Southern rock and R&B, the women fall somewhere between Grace Potter and Bonnie Raitt on the blues-rock spectrum. Another standout was their song “Blue Ridge Mountains”, a nod to their hometown and they threw in a cover of Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky” and later played their “spirited outlaw anthem “Wanted Woman” with Megan taking it home on the slide guitar. “Come On In My Kitchen” closed out their bluesy set with powerful vocals and guitars that everyone reveled in.

Festival mainstays and established artists always make for a fun addition and there was no shortage across a number of genres, from Portugal. The Man, Fitz & The Tantrums to Silversun Pickups, Thievery Corporation, Men At Work, The Wallflowers, G. Love & Special Sauce, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Save Ferris, Fortunate Youth, Cam and Sugar Ray. Paris Jackson, daughter of – that’s right the King of Pop – released her debut album “Wilted” in 2020 and played a number of her songs including “Another Spring”. Portugal. The Man made a splash with their electro party anthem “Live In The Moment”, garage band tune “Evil Friends” and go-to psychedelic funk-pop smash “Feel It Still” with John Baldwin Gourley, Zachary Scott Carothers and Zoe Manville shining equally on vocals. Fitz & The Tantrums seem to outshine every past performance of their careers with Fitz and Noelle Scaggs matching one another’s energy perfectly as the duo took on their big hits “Out Of My League”, “Hand Clap” and the ever-soulful “Don’t Gotta Work It Out” and they played some news songs off an album they pretty much never played live before with multi-instrumentalist James King hitting high notes on the sax.

G Love (Photo by JP Cordero)

G. Love & Special Sauce dressed in their finest Adidas track suits and served up a Run-DMC-meets Blues Brothers set, they just needed the Beastie Boys guesting with them. A whole lotta harmonica from G. Love frontman Garrett Hutton made for a funky good time on songs like “Booty Call” and upright bass player Jimi Jazz lit up most of the songs especially “Shooting Hoops”. Hutton may actually be the fourth Beastie Boy rapping and eventually doing a cover of Snoop’s “Gin & Juice”. Special guest Donavon Frankenreiter joined G. Love on guitar for a little bluesfest version of “Sympathy For The Devil”. G. Love even talked about growing up in Philadelphia keeping his harmonica on him at all times to keep from being beaten up.

Country-pop singer Cam made an impression with an entirely new crowd encouraging them to sway from side to side on her hit “Mayday” and brought the feel-good vibes on “Classic” with her exceptional back-up singer Kim Mont. Ballad “Till There’s Nothing Left” was another moment during the set highlighted with beautiful harmonies, “Burning House” was a standout as always and Cam shined on an unexpected but perfect cover of “Zombie” by The Cranberries. Newport Beach’s Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath led his band through hits “Someday”, “When It’s Over”, “Every Morning” and early punk single “Mean Machine” but their breakout hit “Fly” took on a new meaning. Their set was twenty years to the anniversary of 9/11 and McGrath apologetically told a story about meeting a woman on a flight six months after the tragic event. She told McGrath that her husband worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and that she was afraid to fly, that she and her husband used to sing the song and make fun of Mark’s hair but that seeing him on the flight calmed her down. McGrath said, “Just remember how special every day is” and like the lyric, “spread your love and fly”.

BeachLife Festival had beer and wine choices galore, outdoor party games, you were golden if you snagged a spot in the super intimate Jack Daniel’s SpeakEasy nook and there was an art gallery from Punk Rock & Paintbrushes straight up on the beach from a variety of rock stars and surfers like Dave Navarro & PADHiA, Brian Bent and one-of-a-kind surfboards of Steve Caballero and Tony Hawk. There was simply too much music to catch it all, but whether concertgoers caught a breeze, a brew or a familiar melody there was something for everyone. We cannot wait for 2022. Maybe this year (2022) will be better than the last.

Top photo courtesy of JP Cordero.