Rolling up to Riverside County on a bright Saturday morning in September is quite a beautiful drive. The summer heat had scorched the inland empire terrain and cooler temperatures lay just ahead – an ideal time for a weekend of camping. To be clear, the weekend of September 22nd and 23rd, 2018 still brought with it a barely tolerable mid-90s Fahrenheit; luckily, the setting of the first annual Same Same But Different Festival was the expansive shores of Lake Perris to jump into at any time. And, don’t worry germophobes, that lake is much cleaner than it used to be.
Same Same But Different… you know the fest. The one with the radical artwork that kept popping up on your IG feed boasting a funky fusion of EDM, jam band, reggae rock and more. The marketing for this first year fest was on point. Don’t lie, you paused scrolling your feed when you saw it. For those that actually pulled the trigger to camp and commingle at SSBD 1, you know you weren’t disappointed.
It's those little details that made SSBD an explorative enigma versus a musical event.
From the moment you arrived, you were greeted with helpful volunteers directing traffic to your designated campsite or car lot. Huge artwork pieces were scattered strategically around the grounds, the most notable being the erected ‘SSBD’ letters in the stretch of sand connecting the festival to general admission camping. There were also options to create your own art while there, with guided painting lessons from renowned San Diego artist Krystal Dyer. More art installations included an enormous dream weaver blowing in the wind separating the two musical stages and a swinging sculpture of frames on the beach next to the Coconut Cabana. Speaking of, various DJs spun house in that hut for most of the weekend, bouncing beats from the sand to the water in between yoga and meditation workshops. There were hammocks, lawn chairs and pillows a plenty, not to mention fresh coconuts being cracked and consumed for those parched by the sun. A Wilson volleyball replica from the movie Cast Away also resided in Coconut Cabana land. It's those little details that made SSBD an explorative enigma versus a musical event.
Day One was officially kicked off with San Diego rapper Brett Max on the Same Same Stage. (Side note: most of the weekend lineup was San Diegan, including festival co-founders Brad’s and Peter’s bands. Having festy founders drop all production duties to play a full set onstage amidst the madness is a true rarity. And admirable, to say the least.) Across the way on the Different Stage, Galaxe set the mood spinning trancy tunes to chill to. A short 50 yards or so to the right, yoga was taking place in a dome near the front gate; this same tent offered any who wanted to participate hot cacao during a traditional cacao ceremony the following day. The entire atmosphere was a spiritual experience. Around this time, temperatures peaked and most attendees were busy making a floating commune out in the water, with inner tubes, floaties and even water hammocks! Paddle boarding instructors were letting people walk on water too for only $10.
The lazy afternoon continued with music from Trouble in the Wind and Bomb Squad before the band that everyone was waiting for hopped on the Same Same Stage. Award-winning San Diego funk band and annual Mustache Bash staple The Routine took the stage with energy off the charts! People started pouring in from the beach adorning fresh flowers and 70’s outfits to boogie on down. The Family Crest followed before Within, a new age Latin-fusion rock band. Reggae rockers Through The Roots performed next, celebrating a double band member birthday that day, before headliner Lettuce furthered the dance party into the night. Lettuce jammed for hours to a crowd of barefoot, fun-loving, light-showing, completely conscious individuals sharing wine bottles, weed pens and laughter amongst themselves in the dark. The night had only just begun too, for Late Night Radio and Boombox took the momentum up a notch to freak everyone out of their gourds. For those, like me, who have primarily stuck to corporate festivals, SSBD leans more on the Burning Man or Joshua Tree side than the latter. It was pure liberation.
Little did we know the weird had just begun …
Campers awoke to cooler temperatures Day Two, as Fashion Jackson initiated afternoon ambiance. Band of Gringos rocked the Same Same Stage before MDRN HSTRY took the Different Stage to uproarious applause. Festival co-founder Peter Eichar's speech at the end of his set thanking those who turned out for SSBD 1 stayed in the hearts of everyone for the rest of the day. Tomorrows Bad Seeds absolutely annihilated next, with fans skanking and dancing despite beads of sweat rolling down their bodies. The other festival founder took the stage next, playing keys for rock and blues band Broken Stems before sh*t got straight up weird with Knower. Knower proffers an EDM/funk sound which brought out the bizarre in everyone, including a group of guys wearing no shirt and overalls waving corn cobs previously stuffed in every possible pocket. They danced, corn in hand, peeling the husks off semi-seductively as they went and munching down on the kernels raw off the cob. True corn stars, those guys were…
Little did we know the weird had just begun as Capyac took the stage. Capyac is another funky-EDM group of three guys, trading outlandish outfits as they jam. Not only that, but they perform alongside a group of dancers… if you want to call them that… wearing glittery gold capes or traditional lederhosen, interpretive dancing with plastic horse heads and random vegetables. Dirtwire furthered the jam by playing what seemed like every instrument known to man before Moon Hooch’s horn-heavy funk melted minds. Melted into jelly. Sometimes, the melt was so intense, you had to stop all movement and just stare at what was taking place onstage, closing your eyes to really take in the full sound.
Although nearing midnight on a Sunday, no one was ready to stop raging because The Floozies were finally up. The almighty Floozie dance party was the most indescribable sensation of my life. Their lights apparently required a special permit from the city and witnessing them against the smoky, blackened sky was like being on natural drugs. The beat-dropping duo fluidly transitioned from one song to the next and, before we all knew it, SSBD 2018 came to a close. Late night ragers continued with LYFTD on the Different Stage before all adjourned back to their respective campsites. The fest couldn’t have lived up to its name more – all the same bands you know, brought to you so, so different.
Until next year, Same Same But Different remains the best kept secret in the festival business. It embodies what festivals are supposed to be. Maybe one day, SSBD will skyrocket to the ranks of Coachella, but until then, festival purists and event junkies can relish in its underground stature. Well done, SSBD. Can’t wait to see what next year has in store.
Photography by Kristy Rose