By: Lina Lecaro
Crowne Plaza Hotel
Tiki culture celebrates all things tropical kitsch–from vibrant floral fashion to colorful rum cocktails–but there's a lot more to this scene than dress and drink. At Tiki Oasis, the biggest gathering of tiki heads in the country that just took over San Diego's historic Crowne Plaza this past weekend, music and art were not only highlights, they elevated the annual event to another atmosphere. Oasis takes on a different theme each year and 2015's was, fittingly, "Tiki in Outer Space," which not only allowed for some wild ComicCon-esque costumes, it also signified what's going on with the resurgence of this aesthetic itself. Once explored, most who visit the world of Tiki, never want to leave.
Hordes of Oasis' attendees (mostly from LA and OC, but some from all the around the world) took off work early to kick off the weekender on Thursday at San Diego's scenic Bali Hi restaurant, located seaside on SD's Shelter Island. A Polynesian buffet and live performances outdoors provided the perfect warm-up for the maelstrom of mai-tais, music, seminars and sales ahead the next few days.
Rum symposiums, pin-up makeup and posing classes, historical lectures, plus car, fashion and art shows kept the next few days full, with everyone swooping up merch by Shag (opening a flagship store in Hollywood next month), mugs and carvings by Tiki Diablo (who now has a hot line of garden décor sold nationally at Home Depot) and clothing by brands such as Steady and Unique Vintage. DJs spun throughout the event including poolside, where many congregated in day-glo swimsuits by day. Later, burlesque shows and "Room Crawl" parties overflowed with a deluge of drinking, dancing and vociferous bands til the wee hours. Basically those who stay in the hotel don't sleep, and it seemed nobody wanted to.
Though there isn't one "tiki sound," certain genres tend to complement the vibe best here, particularly exotica, lounge, surf, and rockabilly. Thursday's Bali Hai headliners, the Tikiyaki Orchestra, rep these styles and more, incorporating TV and movie soundtrack references as well as spaghetti western and crime jazz moods. Led by OC composer Jim Bacchi, the band also have fun with their stage shows, and this year, they came on stage looking like astronauts, later to reveal KISS-like space rocker garb. Tikiyaki also performed at the "Lost In Space" Tiki Magazine room party a couple nights later, a bash that saw a line snaking around an entire floor of the hotel Saturday night.
Between Oasis' live entertainment stage and the infamous room crawls, there was plenty of aural amusement all weekend including some stellar performances by tiki scene favorites including Jason Lee and the RIP-Tides (lead singer Lee is one Oasis' and San Diego's most recognizable characters, both for his hair-raising surf guitar shredding and, well, his hair itself) and The Ding Dong Devils (LA rockers playing from their well-timed new record, "Space Fezcapade"). Surfy acts included The Phantom Surfers, The Neptunas, and Spain's killer quartet, The Els A Phonics, while '60s grooviness was repped by Man or Astroman?, The Rosalyns, The Outta Sites and The Chocolate Watchband.
All the bands are booked by Oasis creator Otto Von Stroheim, and his punk rock background (before moving to San Francisco, he threw rockin' shows in his Venice Beach backyard) allows for a lot of wiggle room when it comes to finding acts that fit each year's theme. This is where Tiki Oasis really pushes beyond the niche, and it's a good thing. Other sonic highlights this year came from a Little Richard cover band, The Little Richards (led by the Robert Lopez aka "El Vez") and new wave-y wonders The Phenomenauts from San Francisco.
Oasis' retro sci-fi theme this year not only made sense historically (the world was as obsessed with space in the 50's and 60's as it was with tropical escapism), it worked within the realms of contemporary nerdom in which we all live today. Ultimately, we all have the same pop culture references, and even niche sub-cultures are accessible to all in the hands of the right curator. Tiki Oasis gets it. Tiki culture is hot with the mainstream right now, but when and if it wanes, it wont matter for this crowd. And yes, they already have a killer theme planned for next year: Monsters! We can't wait to see what they scare up in 2016.