The Wailers at the Catalina Wine Mixer.
The Wailers at the Catalina Wine Mixer.
Eran Ryan

The Catalina Wine Mixer is Still the Best Party Off the Coast of Long Beach

Catalina Wine Mixer
Catalina Island
September 22-24, 2017

Calling the Catalina Wine Mixer a music festival is probably a bit of a mislabeling, but — regardless of what type of event you consider it — it’s undoubtedly the best time you can have on the other side of a $74 (round-trip) Catalina Express ticket.

Rather than dilute itself with trendy bands and overpriced food vendors from the mainland, the 2.5-day cultural experience does a pretty phenomenal job of delivering exactly what its diverse target audience is looking for. From the Will Ferrell-loving college kids to the senior citizens who simply couldn’t resist the promise of a wine-drinking event on the beaches of Avalon, the third annual Catalina Wine Mixer had something for everyone.

Considering that Friday night consisted exclusively of a screening of Step Brothers and costume party to follow, it was really more of a preview and warm-up for the rest of the weekend than a vital part of the festival itself. Musically, Saturday and Sunday packed as much of an appropriate punch as one can expect for a small festival on a secluded island.

G. Love and Special Sauce at the Catalina Wine Mixer.
G. Love and Special Sauce at the Catalina Wine Mixer.
Eran Ryan

With easily the best lineup in the Wine Mixer’s brief three-year history, things kicked off on Saturday when G. Love and Special Sauce deliver their signature bluesy alternative hip-hop during a solid afternoon set. A few hours (and several drinks, for most of the audience) later, the current incarnation of the Wailers took over to play through their legendary catalog for the evening. If you’ve never seen a few hundred extremely drunk (and extremely white, for the most part) concertgoers try to dance and shout-slur “Buffalo sol-jah! Dreadlock rasta!” or incorrectly mumble each verse of “Three Little Birds” a stone’s throw from the ocean, it's a sight worth beholding.

Although Sunday’s lineup didn’t have the historic jammin’ capabilities of the first full day’s, the entertainment factor was at an all-time high to close the weekend out. Mixed among a couple of beach-friendly acoustic-tinged acts and the catchy hipster electropop of GGOOLLDD, the most memorable set of the afternoon came from the hardest-rocking yeti/Bigfoot-like creatures on the planet, PPL MVR. Seriously, if you’re not familiar with PPL MVR (who might be 75 percent of Brand New according to some dark corners of the internet, but probably aren’t), take some time to look into them as soon as you finish reading this — you won’t regret it.

Before the perennial headliners in the Dan Band took the stage later that night, unannounced special guest star Dirt Nasty (or Simon Rex, if you prefer his acting career) gave the sloppily drunk crowd a frat party-like performance for the ages with singalong renditions of tracks like “I Can’t Dance” and “My Dick” while stealing sips from the wine glasses of several willing audience members. With much of the older attendees either already on the ferry back to the mainland or hiding out in the swanky VIP section (which featured free wine, party favors, and pretty solid lunch and dinner spreads aside from an exclusive view and clean bathrooms), Dirt Nasty was arguably the perfect choice to rile the younger generation up for the Dan Band — and even better on the drum solo during the famous Step Brothers rendition of Andrea Bocelli’s “Por Ti Volare” later in the evening.

The Dan Band at the Catalina Wine Mixer.
The Dan Band at the Catalina Wine Mixer.
Eran Ryan

Unfortunately, there was a slight drop in momentum as the power went out as soon as Dan Finnerty and his backing band hit the stage. But as the consummate professional (comedian) he is, Finnerty flawlessly played it off into heckling and complimenting various members of the crowd — which is usually at least half of the Dan Band’s set anyway. Once the speakers and lights returned, Finnerty and his cohorts were happy to give the rowdy fans their now-iconic covers of artists like Rihanna, Shakira, Christina Aguilera, and (of course) Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

All in all, going to the Catalina Wine Mixer for the music alone doesn’t really make sense (unless you’re a diehard fan of PPL MVR, in which case I can’t blame you), but having an excuse to go get drunk with your friends in a beachside paradise is never a bad move. Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see how the event chooses to grow and expand, as it seems like the best party off the coast of Long Beach is certainly still in its infancy. But no matter where the festival decides to take things in the future, one thing will always remain constant: It’ll still be the fucking Catalina Wine Mixer.

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