It’s been years since Doheny Beach has enjoyed a large end-of-summer music festival, and the inaugural Ohana Fest wasn’t just a music festival – it was a juggernaut.
Actually, Ohana was its own oxymoron as it was both one of the most laid-back and relaxed juggernauts I’ve ever met. From the snaking, affable lines of diehard ticket holders that formed hours before entry was allowed on Saturday, to the absolutely packed house as the last note rang out on Sunday evening, Ohana Fest was a giant success.
For a newbie festival, it was almost a surprise that it all came together and happened with minimal issue. Sometime in early 2016, buddies Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam fame, and Kelly Slater, one of the most significant athletes of our era, just decided to set the date for a “prolonged concert” in one of their favorite areas, Dana Point. In mere months, their support teams proved that the concept might have been new but they weren’t anywhere close to being newbies to this sort of rodeo. In May, when I first interviewed Chris Siglin, Vedder’s longtime “conceptualist” and merchandiser, he suggested that Ohana Fest could sell as many as 12,000 tickets per day. He was so relaxed about it, I briefly wondered if he’d come anywhere close to his predictions. As it turned out, I’ve no doubt they reached that sales goal or even surpassed it.
To the thousands who descended on Doheny Beach, it was like attending something that had been proving its staying power for years. Yes, there could have been more pop-up bars and food offerings and, if Ohana Fest returns for a second year, my bets are on that minor inconvenience being clearly addressed. Ohana Fest, though, ran like a well-oiled clock.
With just two stages, a large and a small, event organizers were quickly able to breakdown and set up on the main stage while the small stage offered a 15-minute spotlight to a rising talent. Fans didn’t even have to trek across hill and dale to get to the second stage – they could simply turn 45 degrees where they stood and enjoy the opposing stage’s act, then turn back to the main stage, ready for the next show.
Ohana initiators Vedder and Slater were present and accounted for at every turn, too, which delighted the crowd. They introduced favorite acts. They joked with the front row. They sauntered into the photographer’s pit to watch the bands perform, and Vedder would often jump into a set to join the lead in a song or two. They looked like they were having the time of their lives all the day long.
And music talent? Well, the music talent was robust, to say the least. On Saturday, Lily Meola took to the smaller tiki stage, a somewhat undiscovered talent until Slater happened upon her performance in Hawaii a few months prior. It was an absolute blessing that the girl even had two short vignettes as the crowd could have easily listened to this girl sing for hours. She is certainly not undiscovered any longer.
Jack Irons, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer behind the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam also took to the stage on two separate occasions and proved a rousing burst of energy and finesse. His was a mesmerizing performance, all the more appreciated as the stage only featured him. The same proved true on the “small” stage when The Palms and Wilderado offered two short sets each, retiring to a screaming, appreciative crowd.
More well-known bands – White Reaper, Mudhoney, Band of Horses, and X rocked, jammed and pogo-ed at a crazy, high intensity while fellows such as Cat Power, Jonny Two Bags and the powerful Corrine Bailey Rae transformed the crowd into shiny happy people everywhere (to quote yet another band).
At Ohana, even headliners Elvis Costello, Eddie Vedder and Lana Del Rey offered up a less packaged, concert-regimented artist as they favored acoustic performances that beautifully framed their signature voices.
During his performance, Eddie Vedder chuckled about Elvis Costello finally playing on the beach … “it’s right there!” he said, and shook his head in wonder before adding, “Life is so good.”
Indeed, at Dana Point’s Ohana Fest, life really couldn’t get much better.