Ohana Fest (Day 1)
Doheny State Beach
At the end of day one of the two day Ohana Festival, headlining artist / festival curator Eddie Vedder informed / reminded festival-goers that "ohana" means "family" in Hawaiian. He then proceeded to thank everyone for being part of the extended family of Ohana Fest and read additional acknowledgments from a list, which named all major participants and departments that had made this day possible. Throughout the course of the day, most members of this ohana had come to enjoy the music of a few select artists, but it was probably Vedder, himself, who experienced the greatest catharsis of anyone.
The festival lineup consisted of musicians that Vedder had either been influenced by or who had inspired him in some way. Each act mounted either the Main Stage or the Tiki Stage, by turns, in order to keep the entertainment flowing throughout the day, and regardless of whether patrons were stretched out on pitched blankets, sitting in the bleachers, or standing in a line to buy food, drinks, or merchandise, multiple screens and a solid amplification system provided universal access to the presentations.
Vedder had very specific reasons for selecting Doheny State Beach as the location for his festival. First of all, listening to Mudhoney tear into a ferocious song like “In ‘n’ Out of Grace” while enjoying a cool ocean breeze and watching seagulls fly overhead enables one to experience the spiritual fusion that music can forge between the violent and calming aspects of nature. It is even possible that non-human chordates enjoyed the festival as, in addition to the birds, several seals were observed hanging around the shallow waters of Doheny Beach. Beyond facilitating this synthesis of art and nature, Vedder revealed both formative and sentimental connections to the area.
He acknowledged the influence that early LA punk band X had on him and joined them onstage for their political song “The New World.” As for the beach itself, Vedder recalled buying the material for his first surf leash at Jack’s Surfboards, in Dana Point, and catching his first waves in the waters of Doheny Beach, at the age of 11. Vedder has since become very well connected with the surfing community, and at one point in his set (of otherwise solo performances), he was joined by surfing superstar Kelly Slater, who played guitar and sang a duet on the Pearl Jam song “Indifference.” Slater has a great voice, incidentally.
As for Vedder’s other influences, his shared affection for Neil Young music was revealed by indie rockers Band of Horses, when they introduced their cover of Young’s “Powderfinger.” Band of Horses, John Doe, and members Mudhoney also joined Vedder at the end of the evening on a cover of Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Beyond the Neil Young influence, there was a bit of Pink Floyd, whose music was covered not only by Vedder [who incorporated a verse or two of “Brain Damage” into his intro for “Sometimes”] but also by Tiki Stage performer Jack Irons, who played a heavily percussive version of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” Finally, there was Elvis Costello.
During his set, Vedder acknowledged the powerful impression that Costello’s “acerbic attitude communicated through [an accessible music style]” had on him. Prior to that, the British pub rocker demonstrated his versatile artistry through a mostly solo set — Vedder joined him for the Brinsley Schwarz song “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” During the set, Costello performed using both acoustic and electric guitars as well as a baby grand piano. Some of his set highlights included relatively straightforward performances of “Veronica” and “Pump It Up” as well as feedback laden numbers like “I Want You” and the epic “Watching the Detectives.”
While a Break-All-The-Rules kind of ethos definitely formed a through line for the day, the beach festival was also sprinkled with various idyllic aspects to accentuate the Hawaiian origin of its title. Several large hammocks were strung between palm trees, Polynesian dancers performed on the Tiki Stage, one of X’s songs (“Come Back to Me”) featured some mellowing vibraphone and sax, and, for the first handful of his songs, Vedder played a ukulele — an instrument which he emphasized was vital in his escape from a depressive spell because “you can’t be too depressed when you [hear the sound of a] ukulele.”
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Highlights of Vedder’s set included “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” “Dead Man,” “Far Behind,” “Parting Ways,” and “Porch.” During his concise hour and a half set, his 21 song setlist also included great covers of “Good Woman,” by Cat Power and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” by The Beatles. In addition to forging an ohana of great musicians and the fans of those musicians, Vedder was proud that he had achieved two things with this festival: 1) that he had provided some groovy tunes for the surfers of Doheny Beach to listen to while they were riding their waves and 2) that he had created a festival where the furthest seats from the stage (the topmost bleachers) were the best seats in the venue.
Also, as is his style, Vedder waxed political a bit by commending California State Parks for their work in preserving the beaches; furthermore, in addition to throwing the fundraising Ohana Festival Luau the previous night, Vedder will donate a portion of the festival’s proceeds to the San Onofre Parks Foundation, a California non-profit which works with the State Parks to preserve and develop California’s coastal parks. On another political note, Vedder mused at how the setting sun reminded him of a certain presidential candidate in that it was orange and it was going down. Given his affections for his inspirations, revolutionary music, surfing, and a nurturing world, it is easy to see that Vedder’s beach party was a great success.