Pacific Festival: The Dunes
September 2, 2012
*Pacific Festival: The Dunes Strips Down By the Sea
*Josh Epstein of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. on Pacific Festival, His Favorite Housewife of Orange County
*Pacific Festival: The Dunes Announced
Mayer Hawthorne had a pretty lofty task in front of him on Sunday night as the headliner of Pacific Festival: The Dunes. Staring out over a sea of sun-baked, Red Bull-chugging Newport Beach party animals, he'd have to effectively deliver an authentic wave of Motown throwbackery to the WASP-iest corner of Orange County…while wearing shorts. By day's end, a glut of nonstop EDM and VIP lounging embodied the spirit of festival –now in its third year. With all the hyper-excitement of MTV Spring Break on steroids, was this crowd they really ready for some blue-eyed soul from the Motor City?
The Michigan-born crooner answered that question swiftly as he launched into a blustering, full-band intro jam that echoed across the water of the festival's seaside stage like a slick, soul revue for the 21st century. Staring out at his own little sea of sunbaked revelers, Hawthorne's saccharine falsetto got an early workout with tracks like “You Called Me” and “Gonna Take a Long Time” from the 2011 sophomore album “How Do You Do.”
Pacific Festival, which moved its party out of Oak Canyon Ranch to the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina, took plenty of risks this year by revamping their third annual summer fling. Those who went to last year's bacchanal remember a very different picture, one where mammoth headliners like Snoop Dogg, Ghostland Observatory and Cut Copy commanded several stages and a lot more people. It's odd to think that a festival brand might be seen as taking a risk by scaling back, but this year's party appeared to do it right, despite the natural habitat of cliche OC snobbery that can sometimes accompany a ritzy location like the Dunes. But any comparisons to an episode of MTV's “Laguna Beach” washed away as the sun went down.
Hawthorne's reputation as a seamlessly charismatic performer may have been earned during his recently-wrapped world tour with his band the County, but it was learned right here in OC. Some may remember Hawthorne playing his first live show ever at the Continental Room in Fullerton, shuffling and sweet-talking on a cramped lounge-style stage surrounded by a packed house. Two years later, returning to headline on of the most buzzed-about festivals of the summer was an impressive, full-circle move.
His showmanship borrowing from legends like Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke, seemed completely original, given his anachronistic stage ensemble. Picture a '60s soul singer hopping around in Angus Young schoolboy shorts while playing an unabashedly cheesy '80s Flying V guitar in the year 2012. It was the kind of lighthearted approach to the genre that resonated well with the crowd as they dug their toes in the sand and packed in tight like a school of sardines out of water. Hawthorne's flashing “MH” stage backdrop pulsed in time with their two-stepping.
The headliner wasn't the only Michigan-based act to take the stage last weekend. Preceded by Detroit's experimental indie popsters Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Mayer was the smooth, Hennessy finish to their complex, intoxicating cocktail of effect-laden noise, sweet harmonies and lumbering percussion.
Fans of the singer got pretty much what they should've expected–a setlist built around sweet, non-threatening R&B with some show-stopping bouts of pelvic-thrusting sexiness courtesy of tracks like “No Strings Attached” and “I Wish It Would Rain” that carried two different eras of libido-driven rhythms: the former–a glossy club anthem, the latter–unadulterated grown folks music.
Throughout the festival, we got a taste of fist-pumping DJs and tropical shirt-wearing dance rock outfits that all had their own individual form of swag that commanded attention. But how many could've effectively told the crowd to put their damn camera phones down and enjoy the show in front of them? After comically posing for a few seconds for fans to get their Facebook photos squared away, Hawthorne graciously asked the audience to put their phones away and live in the moment for once.
Backed by the County (including local guitarist Christian Wonderlick formerly of the OC act the Soul Hustlers), the set wrapped with some gliding, spot-on soul courtesy of Hawthorne's first single “Just Ain't Gonna Work Out” before returning for an encore featuring “Maybe So, Maybe No” and a nightcap of “Henny & Gingerale.” Just before letting the soul magic wear off at the seaside stage– with party rockers, beach bunnies and frat boys gallivanting off to their various after parties– Hawthorne left us with one last final goodbye prayer, imparting some old-school wisdom on the young folk: “Stay in school, don't do drugs eat your vegetables and only floss the teeth you wanna keep.”
Critical Bias: I own a limited edition heart-shaped vinyl that Hawthorne put out for his first single “Just Ain't Gonna Work Out.” Still one of the coolest records in my archives.
The Crowd: Face-painted, half-naked beach folk mixed in with people wearing socks with their shoes who were obviously not from the same part of town.
Overheard: During Hawthorne's song “I Wish It Would Rain” some guy goes “I feel like I should be slowly jerking off to this song.”
Random Notebook Dump: There was a table propped up next to Hawthorne during his set with four key items: A bottle of Hennessy, a tambourine, a small synth keyboard and a bobblehead of himself.
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.