There is always a rush of nervous energy lining the gates of KAABOO Del Mar, waiting to get in Day One alongside other early birds at the festival entrance. The fest superseding all other mainstream California festivals might span three days, but there is simply no time to waste. Every moment is spent with intention. The weather was warm and the weekend was only just beginning the afternoon of September 13th, 2019 — Friday the 13th, with a full Harvest Moon scheduled to appear at night. What did it all mean?!? Who’s to say… beyond the obvious joyous journey KAABOO attendees were about to embark on, where music and art and comedy and cuisine collide. KAABOO is known for its ‘MIX’-perience; no two of its events are alike the other.
2019 has been an adventurous year for the fest, branching out to the Cayman Islands last February and the Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium in May. Returning home for its 5th Annual affair, KAABOO Del Mar fans found themselves once again at the renowned Del Mar Fairgrounds: ready for the time of their lives, embracing each other with arms wide open and expecting anything and everything to come their way once inside. Concerning foot traffic flow, KAABOO 5 still had main stages opposite each other, with the slightly smaller Trestles Stage in a new location adjacent to the main Grandview Stage near the front gate, away from its usual nook between racetrack buildings. More layout changes included the Palate + Play Stage, offering musical guests (versus solely chef live cooking demonstration), as well as the elimination of the most intimate Tourmaline Stage for an enlarged VIP section. Don’t worry, VIP ticket holders got their upgraded money’s worth with their very own exclusive ‘Amplify Stage’ this time around. Although more confined, the walkways never got too congested, especially throughout the main drag (KAABOO-levard) proffering vendors, bars and amenities all along the way. Walking along, attendees could branch off to pamper themselves with an all-new, air-conditioned Indulgence building to the right and the familiar art exhibition hall to the left before reaching the Humor Me Stage smack dab in the middle. So much room for activities…
KAABOO has musical genre ADD… and thank god for that!
The weekend officially began with Plain White T’s kicking off the Grandview Stage, followed shortly by the electric acts Vintage Trouble and Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness on the Trestles and Sunset Cliffs stages. As “Hey There Delilah” echoed in everyone’s heads, attendees started enjoying libations, claiming their BASK wristbands for the pool and signing up for the Hendrick’s Gin hot air balloon blasting off just beyond the BASK section. If you’ve never snuck off for that fun flight, you’re missing out on the best bird’s eye view of the Sunset Cliffs Stage! Speaking of the BASK area, the sand was noticeably absent from the Sunset Cliffs perimeter (to the relief of everyone’s calf muscles), yet was definitely present in the all new BASK section: the bougey cabana party on the opposite end of the arena this year, complete with a private bar next to the giant pop-up pool. The sun overhead had people hopping in that pool right out of the gate and props to the sponsored sunscreen companies handing out free sprays to combat the UV rays cascading down. By midday, sounds of REO Speedwagon, Silversun Pickups, Little Steven and J. Human could be heard, followed by Boyz II Men’s throwback dance party by the early evening. Before country star Maren Morris took the stage, some took a comedy break to hear the talents of Kevin Smith recount his near fatal heart attack experience of last year… a tale fraught with fear, anxiety and gut-wrenching chuckles. We’re all happy to hear the comedy king is fully recovered and better than ever, with new movie endeavors to hit theaters shortly!
Ms. Morris sang then about being a 90s baby in her 80s Mercedes, as Grizfolk and The Cult brought alternative and New Wave classics to the forefront. KAABOO has musical genre ADD… and thank god for that! Splicing it up even more, KAABOO made a miracle happen: all surviving members of Wu-Tang Clan came together on one stage to celebrate the first night of the 5th Annual. What about the late, great ODB, you ask? Turns out, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s son stepped up for this one-time performance — looking, acting and rapping exactly like his father. You can see all the other players were relishing in Lil’ Dirty Bastard’s performance. Being more of a bourgeois event, KAABOO Del Mar’s median age and income levels do not typically match Wu-Tang’s fan demographic; Method Man addressed this knowledge gap by abruptly stopping the show to illicitly emphasize that the audience members are witnessing history. All Wu-Tang members united for this night. Get stoked. Get loud. Start moving. Resuming the rap, KAABOO-ers went wild, realizing that this might be the last time these players collide in the flesh. Breaking for Kings of Leon to headline the Sunset Cliffs Stage, the audience flocked back to the Grandview Stage for Snoop Dogg to keep the hip hop party going — complete with exotic pole dancers! It pays the cost to be the boss, indeed. There has to be one other person in the world that purchased that album besides me… With that full Harvest Moon steadily rising over the stage, it was hauntingly beautiful dancing to Snoop’s rap classics, both new and old.
Before heading home, festivalgoers had the chance to gamble at the fest’s hidden speakeasy (if they attained the magic token to gain entry, that is) or snag a set of headphones to rave the night away at the world’s largest silent disco. Sweet dreams, KAABOO, see you in the A.M.
Day Two was the hottest one of the bunch, great for the Top Shelf staff who coincidentally had a BASK pass for that day only. We cannot recount how many bottles were popped in our presence while meandering that crazy cabana… Musically, Beastie Boy Mix Master Mike went on first, with a deejay set full of over-the-top facial expressions and unique hip hop mashups. Punky rockers Badflower and Suckerbox (all the way from the Cayman Islands) followed, with die hard fans singing along to every word, the latter bringing Cayman fam repping their country wrapped in giant flags. What a grand KAABOO Cayman reunion! Also in the afternoon was Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Laine Hardy, Blind Melon and Switchfoot, all proffering prime performances for such early festival hours. Lest we forget, the comedy stage booming, as well as the VIP Amplify Stage with Sir, Please and Tim Reynolds. By the time Bryan Adams was reminding us all how great his “Summer of ’69” was, the BASK section was popping off with enlarged inflatable beach balls bouncing around. Must say, the ‘Summer of 20-1-9’ ain’t too bad either, Adams…
Across the grounds, Foo Fighter drummer Taylor Hawkins took lead vocals in his Chevy Metal cover band, dressed flamboyantly as ever in a large hat and flowy blouse. Cue rich women swooning all over the place. Drool, swoon, drool, cry emoji. Meanwhile, back at the Grandview lab, EDM deejays Cheat Codes made quite an entrance, tossing what must’ve been 300 dollar bills into the air onto front row guests. With that kind of stage antic, one could wonder how the duo turns a profit? Nobody seemed to mind the unexpected revenue though, especially the unpaid photographers in the photo pit where most of the money laid unclaimed. I stuffed one Cheat Code dollar in my shirt before dispersing the rest with the front row. Let’s not be greedy in this life. Turnt and twirling, attendees then tuned in to bands Keuning and Sublime With Rome before taking in the incredible sunset over the main stage for OneRepublic. The Gooms and Squeeze closed down the smaller stages before co-headliners Black Eyed Peas and Dave Matthews Band split KAABOO attendees in two. BEP was sans Ferg, an obstacle halting the group from launching into “My Humps” (to the extreme chagrin of all Black Eye Pea enthusiasts), yet ‘New Fergie’ filled in quite well. The show must go on. On that note, Dave Matthews’ calming energy was a complete 180 from what was going down on the other side of the fest. BEP killed it; millennials rejoiced.
Like the night before, another silent disco allowed after-hour ragers to rave into the wee hours of the morning, with special guest DJ Rome Ramirez (of Sublime with Rome) at the helm. Most guests headed home though, for there was still a full day of KAABOO to be had. Sleep is tight.
The third and final day of KAABOO 5 was one for the record books. World music rising star Xavier Rudd made sure Sunday started off on the right foot, followed by Perta and the funky sounds of Con Brio. If you’ve never caught Con Brio in action, these guys are full of energy, full of funk and ready to rustle up a Hustle. Reggae legends Toots and the Maytals followed on that same Trestles Stage, while Alec Benjamin and Lifehouse held down the main stages for a bit. If Cheat Codes threw around a bunch of cash the day before, I half expected Cash Cash to make it rain cheat codes on attendees. They didn’t though. Opportunity lost. Up, up, down, A, A, B, A. Nintendo Power Magazine. No? Never mind. Cash Cash did, however, cast a flag out into the crowd on top of bumping the biggest Top 40 jams to amplify the heart rate. One of the members even came down to the middle section to mingle with the people while he sang.
At one point, Saget stopped his spiel to declare — once and for all — that he did not, repeat, did not ever, have sex with John Stamos.
The day continued with Edie Brickell & New Bohemians and The Bangles walking like an Egyptian before Bob Saget’s raunchy comedy took over the Humor Me Stage. At one point, Saget stopped his spiel to declare — once and for all — that he did not, repeat, did not ever, have sex with John Stamos. A symphony of boos reverberated the arena. Saget, flabbergasted at the reaction, asked, “Are you really booing me??” He paused and informed us that John and his Stamos sister was in the audience that night. The people have spoken, John.
Back on the music stages, alt rockers The Revivalists (complete with two drum kits) melted the minds of everyone at the Grandview Stage before Sheryl Crow (looking like she hasn’t aged since 1998) went hit for hit at the Sunset Cliffs Stage. Seriously, her breadth of talent is so great, you don’t realize it until you hear all of her hits played back to back to back. After Colbie Caillat and Walden entertained audiences on the smaller stages, it was time for the final acts of the weekend. How had three full days of music flown by so fast? Stoked for headliners, yet sad another sensational KAABOO was coming to a close, attendees chose between Mumford & Sons on the Sunset Cliffs Stage and the dazzling display of Duran Duran on the Grandview Stage. Either choice was correct.
Departing the grounds, a public announcement informed all that this would be the last year KAABOO Del Mar exists. Before you recoil in panic, KAABOO is simply moving a bit south to a new home at Petco Park, rebranding itself officially to ‘KAABOO San Diego’ for September 2020. You probably have concerns like the rest of us do. The Del Mar Racetrack has room to roam, to rest, to romp and rally. Petco seems a bit… small… for the extravagant KAABOO caliber. Not to worry though: KAABOO founders and PR folk have made it clear that it will be bigger and better than ever, with a nice urban twist to the isolated ways of the past. Forget paying for parking, too, with the trolley stops right there. For more information, check out the KAABOO San Diego video below and don’t forget to keep an eye out for KAABOO Del Mar 2019 daily galleries to come!
KAABOO San Diego 2020 official announcement video:
Photography by Sean McCracken