The day kicked off with SoCal locals Aloha Radio, a surf rock band whose lead singer has a Gwen Stefani feel circa Return of Saturn. The group was fun and enthusiastic and definitely got their crowd moving. With the recent release of their EP Big Wave Madness they seem to be drawing more attention to themselves.
I bailed early on Aloha Radio’s set because on the main stage the Ken Garcia Band was performing. Garcia’s Latin chill rock not only invited listeners, but his apparent ease on stage made the crowd just hang back and enjoy the music. His niece sang a very emotional version of California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and the Papas, and immediately following, Ken sang one of his many songs about his wife of 30 years. One of the last tracks the band performed was called Gypsy Nights, which Ken boldly claimed Mick Jagger stole the guitar lick from in order to pen Paint It Black.
Next, Common Sense took the stage. This engaging reggae-rock group was, in my opinion, the best act of the first half of the day. They moved the crowd throughout the entire set and even played along with them. At one point, one of the crowd’s beach balls ended up on stage and the front man sat on it…before almost falling off. Their spontaneity and skill were truly entertaining.
Heading to the back area of the festival I found DJ Ean Golden spinning tracks. He was good, spinning Top 40 and even some Dubstep to change up the music some. However, he wasn’t able to draw a very large crowd considering: (a) the placement of the stage (b) Katchafire was on the main stage and (c) it was a mediocre DJ at a rock festival. I understand having a DJ for in between sets but Ean seemed a little out of place.
Realizing that the DJ set wasn’t going to be anything new, I headed over to the main stage to catch Katchafire. Hailing from New Zeland, this seven-piece reggae band has toured internationally and their album Revival went double platinum in NZ. As with the other reggae acts they delivered a solid dosage of chill, laid back fun. They ended their set with Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, which had the whole crowd singing along and feeling at ease.
There was a short break after the Katchafire set that caused JJ Grey & Mofro to go on late. Turns out their bassist was stuck in traffic so one of their guitarist switched instruments in order to keep the show going. The wait was completely worth it - JJ knew how to talk to his audience and command the crowd. His songs were emotional and drew you in – with his perfect combination of blues and rock & roll making every song relatable. I was impressed and highly suggest checking out his music.
Now, unfortunately, as happens at many festivals, I had to miss an act I wanted to see – Blitz the Ambassador because I was too busy rocking out to G. Love & Special Sauce. Seriously, don’t let the name fool you – this band is just fantastic and their special sauce is no joke. There is a natural flow and energy within their music that forces you to stop and listen and the crowd was on their feet for almost the entire set. G. Love was witty and charming, and the outfit as a hole really impressed me with their hip-hop/rock styling. Part of my next paycheck will definitely be going towards buying their music.
The last two sets were Donovan Frankenreiter and Ben Harper. Although good pictures were hard to come by in the sunset, good music was not. Donovan’s set was so relaxed – it was just comfortable to sit and listen to his words. G. Love joined him at one point – which resulted in an increase in praise from the crowd. Overall Donovan was great, but you could feel the anticipation building for the final act of the night, Ben Harper. The audience was enchanted by Harper and who could blame them? There’s no doubt that his performance was the right way to end the night.
While the music was spectacular and I enjoyed my experience – it is worth noting that the festival could have been a bit smoother. Doheny attempted to control money flow by issuing wristbands with scannable parts that permitted patrons to load money onto their wristband. This was the only means by which you could purchase concessions – which resulted in unnecessary delay and a multitude of technical difficulties. Whatever savings was generated by people not stealing from the festival’s coffers were lost on the decrease in efficiency and lost sales due to customer frustration and impatience. I want to be able to hand someone $10 and in return get a burger or fries or whatever overpriced item I choose – but I was not able to do that with ease.
All in all, the long awaited return of the Doheny Days Festival was kicked off right. Good music, fun, and a welcoming environment. I can’t wait to see if the festival comes back around next year.