If three-day music festivals don't leave you feeling entertained, then they didn’t do their job. In the realm of captivating competence, KAABOO far exceeds expectations. With street performers parading as wild animals and robots, there’s always something to see and do at San Diego’s world-renowned KAABOO Del Mar.
The 4th Annual began like any other, with anticipation high and gates overrun with early bird attendees. As I pulled into preferred parking, a helicopter flew in low overhead, landing some 30 yards away in the middle of the racetrack. Spectators quickly whipped out phones and hopped on car hoods to get a glimpse of what celebrity just flew to KAABOO. My money’s on N*Sync’s Lance Bass who was sighted around the grounds that Friday… or perhaps Dave Grohl. The gates stayed closed well beyond their advertised opening time that morning; it was never confirmed that the baller chopper entry had anything to do with it, but I still hold firm that it did. KAABOO Del Mar is A-list, through and through.
KAABOO Del Mar is A-list, through and through.
The delay made it impossible to catch openers Diego’s Umbrella and Courtship. although sounds of both were wafting out over the gargantuan gate lines. Moving past security, 90's alt-rockers Everclear were already mid-set performing their hit list across the MGM Grandview Stage and British ska-reggae legends The English Beat were up next inaugurating the Trestles side stage. Each musical stage, with the exception of the smallest Tourmaline Stage, had its own sandy beach to sit and soak up the sun in. Celebrating the end of summer had never been easier. The English Beat came out to uproarious applause and launched into their signature ska sounds before Hunter & The Dirty Jacks continued the party just adjacent at Tourmaline.
Before it seemed like any time had passed at all, it was Nellyville time over at Grandview. The weekend temperatures were peaking, as tens of thousands of Nelly fans packed together to get the best view of the show. Between outside heat and body heat, several festivalgoers hit the ground from heatstroke. Remember folks, it’s important to stay hydrated – even early on! KAABOO security immediately snapped to attention, handing out free Voss water bottles to those afflicted, another perfect example of the upscale treatment KAABOO offers its guests. Speaking of aid, Nelly’s normal DJ was out sick and a sub emcee was attempting to learn the ropes last minute, pushing back his start time. Nelly declared through the mic that he didn’t care if the DJ was on point, he was ready to go! The amateur DJ did an adequate job, only dropping the beat a few times as Nelly and friend went through fan favorites like “E.I.” and “Air Force Ones”. On the OG classic “Ride Wit Me”, the sub-in played the wrong track altogether, but Nelly kept going in stride, not even caring if the mash-up worked with the rhymes. What a true artist to adopt a 'show must go on' mentality in the midst of such a Dilemma… (see what I did there??).
Every person in attendance was already feeling the magic of KAABOO Del Mar by the time The Spencer Lee Band kicked off the Sunset Cliffs Stage on the other end of the fairgrounds. Situated due north, beyond the bougey VVIP area, was the Hendrick’s Gin hot air balloon, taking people 20 at a time high in the sky for a bird’s eye view of the festivities. Hendrick’s Gin has the most interesting interactive installations at festivals, with performers popping out of windows to shout, laugh and juggle cucumbers at passersby all day long. If getting tossed a long-stemmed red rose from an extravagantly animated and mustachioed gentleman in striped trousers doesn’t lift your Spirits, then I don’t know what does. (Spirits… see what I did there??) If there’s one thing that makes my life better, it’s randomly receiving red roses.
Gucci Mane’s rap game upped the gangster factor before Jimmy Eat World’s pop-rock lit up the Sunset Cliffs Stage. Halsey carried on the Top 40 vibe on that stage next, but I was too busy across the grounds fulfilling my lifelong dream of being within five feet of Brandon Boyd, a.k.a. the man plastered all over my binder sophomore year of high school. Photographers had to wait for songs four through six to shoot, so I sat convulsing in the far end of the Incubus photo pit during the first three songs, barely able to contain myself. It was like seeing Santa Clause prance around out in the open, flinging presents for 15 minutes straight, yet none were for you. After I nearly lost my mind sitting through “Megalomaniac”, leg spasms and all, I was finally allowed to get all up front and personal with my favorite band for the first time ever. The hair, the high notes, the heavy emotion embedded in the performance. Brandon Boyd is a god amongst men. Leaving the Incubus photo pit hyperventilating, I noticed between cascading tears and gasps for air that the women in the crowd were locking eyes with me with looks of complete understanding. They knew. They could see what had just happened.
… Bebe Rexha annihilated the stage, barefoot and baring vulnerability.
Blondie is an icon, but after such extreme Incubus action, I was still in too much shock to absorb her full essence. Her neon outfit in the foreground contrasting with the Hendrick’s Gin balloon lighting up the darkened sky in the background was a remarkable thing to witness though. Last, but not least, headliners Post Malone and Foo Fighters closed down Day One. There’s so much to say about Dave Grohl that I cannot even begin to put it into words that would do him any justice.
Day Two was a little cooler – thank the gods – although still a scorcher for September. I rolled in later than expected alongside my best friend who happened to score a ticket for the remainder of the weekend. Our tardiness meant we missed CVBZ and FITNESS though. I heard CVBZ didn’t even show up that morning, but that may have been just a rumor. Both bands are dope in the new alt scene right now, so I was a little bummed that I didn’t catch them while I could. Soul Asylum brought their grungy 90's rock to the day, followed by rockers SWMRS and Better Than Ezra (the latter of which slayed!!!). Speaking of slay, alt-pop queen Bebe Rexha came out to not only perform her Top 40 hits, but to also get personal with the crowd in ways pop artists aren’t prone to do. Hats (and shoes) off to her though, because Bebe Rexha annihilated the stage, barefoot and baring vulnerability. Then, Robert Delong happened. Jumping from joysticks to drum sticks, Robert Delong is a genius of sound and his live show is beyond sensational. Joining him onstage was a bassist and drummer for some songs although Delong did the majority of the work. His new “Revolutionary” single is still stuck in my head, which will, from now on, always accompany the memory of jumping around to it like a 16-year-old with my BFF.
Stealing Oceans was undisputedly the best set of KAABOO 4.
The Wailers brought Bob Marley to life over at the Trestles Stage, followed by Big Boi and Stone Temple Pilots. Reggae, rap, rock, repeat. Well, repeat in opposite order with Billy Idol, N.E.R.D. and Cake. Billy Idol, despite his age, is still living the life of a sex symbol and Pharrell Williams is one classy gent. The one thing that brought the day down a bit was Cake… don't get me wrong, I love Cake more than a fat kid, but it didn’t seem like they wanted to be there. Oh well, off to Tourmaline for the band that, hands down, stole the show. Stealing Oceans was undisputedly the best set of KAABOO 4. With rap, rock, EDM, reggae and everything in between blended into their music, Stealing Oceans was having so much fun onstage, that you couldn’t look away. It was the most epic dance party. Frontman Brian Thompson kept announcing, “I'm Stealing Oceans and these are some of my BEST. FRIENDS.” The camaraderie was visible to all. These boys are true brothers. After they concluded with their mega hit “Follow The Light”, the crowd split to another dance party at disco-funk legends Earth, Wind & Fire and current chart-toppers Imagine Dragons. Do you remember the 15th night of September? I sure do, as my friend and I danced to “September”, chatted up Billy Idol band members and followed the light to Pacific Beach where I ran into my brother dressed as a wizard and all three Hendrick’s Gin hot air balloon homies I made friends with the day before at the same Garnet bar. KAABOO 4 weekend exemplifies the definition of ‘synergy’, let me tell you.
“How could Day Three get any better,” I asked myself. After a quick gym sesh, we headed to the fairgrounds just in time to catch Drew Holcomb and Quinn XCII get Sunday Funday going. Big ups to the Coors Light crew letting us media girls on the bus! TLC crept into everyone’s hearts on the Sunset Cliffs Stage in outlandish outfits and paying tribute to their fallen sister with recorded rap verses. RIP Left Eye. Almost three decades after 1992, these ladies still got it, especially Chilli who inexplicably hasn’t aged a day since. She even up and straddled some lucky guy tied to a chair during “Red Light Special”. You go, girl!
All American Rejects may be considered pop-rock, but their live set is far from easy-listening. Sassy, theatrical and extraordinarily talented Tyson Ritter should be my best friend. Just saying. AAR brings their A-game, busting out songs from their premiere self-titled LP all the way to their latest singles. The 8th grader in me exploded when the first song was “My Paper Heart”, singing along to every word almost involuntarily. Slash slaughtered his set sans top hat (boo, but yay Slash and stuff) and WAR went on at the same time as Boulevards. Boulevards’ funky, fresh jams produced a dance party rivaling Stealing Oceans for best of the weekend. During their finalé song, “Sanity”, lead singer Jamil Rashad parted the sea of dancers for a Soul Train; my bestie and I funked that Soul Train UP. “Why Can't We Be Friends” and “Lowrider” were conveniently back-to-back as we walked by WAR, too. Perfect timing.
Such overwhelming, newfound respect for Katy Perry.
With groove in the heart, I waltzed over to Alice in Chains and then Wiz Khalifa, impressed by both since I never was a big fan of either. “Black and yellow, black and yellow, black and yellow” took me to Jewel, who also hasn’t aged at all in 25 years. And, man, can that woman still sing like a songbird. Led Zeppelin rock god Robert Plant switched from classic songs of LZ to classic songs in general to new age, tribal-influenced solo songs before Katy Perry's world-class, Vegas-style show closed down the weekend. 50-foot flamingos, pyrotechnics, stilt-walkers, dazzling outfits and her acrobatic entourage were enough to marvel over, let alone the facts that this pop princess writes her own songs, plays actual instruments, has the flexibility of an adolescent cheerleader, interjects hilarious anecdotes between lyrics and boasts the vocal range of a choir singer. Such overwhelming, newfound respect for Katy Perry. Placing a giant rocket onstage to finish with “Firework”, Katy killed KAABOO 4.
Letting out to giant Uber lines and laughter of strangers in the dark, the 4th Annual KAABOO Del Mar concluded all too soon. Pre-sale passes for next year are already available and dates are cemented for September 13th-15th, 2019. For more information, visit www.kaaboodelmar.com.
Photography by Chris Gomez