Joe Russo’s Almost Dead had just started to groove through their set-opening rendition of “Shakedown Street” when an honest-to-goodness bit of the beach life visited them onstage at BeachLife Festival in Redondo Beach.
Not a crusty surfer-turned-coastal retiree, though BeachLife attracted (and continues to attract) plenty of those. Not a fisherman or a boardwalk busker, either, albeit not too far off.
Instead, over the crowd and onto the stage flew a huge pelican that landed briefly by the side of (seemingly befuddled) guitarist and vocalist Scott Metzger, before bounding off again toward the horizon.
The environmentally minded might point to such a sight as further proof of humanity’s inexorably destructive march across every inch of terrain. But for that pelican—and, perhaps, for the thousands of music lovers who witnessed it—the moment served as a reminder of the harmony that can be found when merging humankind and nature, especially when there are friendly tunes and even friendlier vibes involved.
In just three iterations spanning pre- and trans-pandemic time, BeachLife has managed to embed itself within its surroundings to become a staple of a community and its calendar.
That closeness to the vibe stems, in part, from the festival’s roots at founder Allen Sanford’s Saint Rocke, the now-defunct live music bar and club just a stone’s throw from King Harbor. In outliving (and outstripping) its origins, BeachLife has become a pitch-perfect reflection of and for its surroundings.
The crowd, not unlike the general population of Los Angeles’ South Bay, skews older and whiter than that of larger festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. Perhaps there’s some chicken-and-egg to that, since those are the kinds of spectators whose tastes sit closest to the sonic cross-section of ‘70s classic rock, ‘90s alt-rock, and reggae that comprised the core of BeachLife’s latest lineup.
Then again, it’s just as likely, if not moreso, that the organizers knew their audience and played to them. To that end, they once again nailed nearly every aspect of the event.
Friday saw a smattering of reggae from The Long Beach Dub All-Stars and The Aggrolites, as well as some newer, edgier vibes from the likes of Black Pumas and Germany’s Milky Chance, before ceding to the alt glory of Cold War Kids and Weezer. The latter hit their audience’s collective psychographic profile even more on the nose with a surprisingly throttling rendition of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” in between such Weezer-iffic standards as “Undone”, “Say It Ain’t So”, “Beverly Hills”, “Buddy Holly”, and, of course, their fully assimilated cover of Toto’s “Africa.”
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Saturday brought a similarly curated mix of musical magic to the Redondo Beach Pier. Sugar Ray and Art Alexakis from Everclear did their part to rep the pop rock of the ‘90s and early 2000s, with additional support from Phantom Planet, of The O.C. fame. Capital Cities and Vance Joy catered to those more curious about mainstream youthful music. Reggae came by way of Matisyahu and Michael Franti & Spearhead. And in the spirit of harder rock, the latest rendition of Stone Temple Pilots gave way to a head-banging, night-ending set from The Smashing Pumpkins—though even Billy Corgan dove headfirst into the current reality of Gen X when he brought his son, August Juppiter Corgan, onstage to witness daddy at work.
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Come Sunday, whatever residual angst remained on the sand of the Lowtide Stage had melted away beneath waves of easy listening. From the reggae revival of UB40 and the brass-tastic rhythms of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Ozomatli, to homages to rock royalty courtesy of JRAD, Cubensis and the Devon Allman Project; to the folksier feelings of Sheryl Crow and Lord Huron, every ear was awash in the glory of good vibes.
And that was before Steve Miller Band closed out the proceedings with a track list that helped to make rock classic, including “Fly Like an Eagle”, “Jungle Love”, “Take the Money and Run”, “Jet Airliner”, “Rock’n Me”, and, of course, “The Joker”.
All of this sweet, sweet music came amid the now-familiar milieu that BeachLife has fastened for its increasingly loyal patrons. The steps between the sand at Lowtide and the turf at Hightide were easy enough on the legs—certainly far more manageable than the vast expanses that today’s mega-festivals tend to cover. Folks looking to enjoy some pleasant sounds with their food and art could accomplish both at Riptide, where Cubensis put forth its covers of the Grateful Dead, and Speakeasy, where tidy acts played to even tidier attendees.
In between could be found familiar festival fare from the likes of Spicy Pie, The Middle Feast and The Berlin Truck, among a long, delicious list of food from near and far. For those with more culinary curiosity (and even more to spend), there were catered meals at the Daou SideStage Experience, along with snacks and eats galore at the various other VIP and private cabana experiences on offer around the Seaside Lagoon.
Indeed, it didn’t take long for the folks behind BeachLife Festival to dial in the perfect live music event for the South Bay. Once again, they managed to combine a terrific lineup with a family-friendly atmosphere, in a space that’s big enough for both but not so big as to be a burden to those clomping around in flip-flops.
Just how dialed-in BeachLife truly is will be seen this September, when the festival branches into BeachLife Ranch, with Hall & Oates, The Lumineers, Brandi Carlile, Wilco and Dierks Bentley slated among the headliners.
However much BeachLife expands its brand in the years to come, it can—like many of the great festivals in circulation today—claim to be a glove-like fit for the people and the community that comprise its surroundings, along with the occasional visit from local wildlife.
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