The sun shone brightly on a beautiful Saturday afternoon for the second day of this year’s West Beach Music & Arts Festival. A crowd, more than double the size of opening day, gathered early to soak up the sunshine and music at the venue.
Many families took advantage of the free admission for children and enjoyed a host of activities designed just for kids, including face painting, arts and crafts playtime, slides and hula hoops. But the biggest treat for the kids came in musical form with their own music stage. I arrived just in time to catch a special children’s set by veteran Philly rocker G. Love. He played an animated acoustic set of special children’s songs that had the little ones singing along and dancing throughout the performance.
I wandered over to the Bashment stage to catch teenage reggae-inspired sensation Pacific Dub. Hailing from Southern California, the young rockers had the crowd cheering and dancing.
Saturday boasted the most musically diverse lineup of the three-day festival, and The Bravery, which played next on the main stage, represented a distinct genre. Like its label mate, The Killers, The Bravery has its roots in electronic ‘80s music. But The Bravery actually has a sound more true to the genre and consequently much more pleasing to the fans of original ‘80s bands, such as The Cure or Depeche Mode.
Hailing from New York, the band usually appears well-dressed in gothlike black suits. But the band, led by charismatic lead singer Sam Endicott, showed up in their version of beach garb in keeping with the theme of the festival. Looking like new-wave rockers on an English beach in the summertime, they tore through their hits on their first two albums and new material from the soon-to-be-released third album. The crowd swelled as they played, and an appreciative audience responded loudly after every song.
I then wandered back over to the Bashment stage to catch locally based band the Sunshine Brothers. I had missed them in an early set the day before, but they played a second set Saturday. One of the big surprises at the festival, I had never heard this clever group of Caribbean music-inspired musicians. Led by Jamaican-born lead singer and guitar player Owen Plant, the band has a crisp, clean sound and had the crowd raising dust clouds in the sand.
After the Sunshine Brothers, it was time to take a walk to the Oasis tent for a few beers to wash down the dance-generated dust. It became apparent that the Oasis tent was more than a DJ venue. It had also become the defacto hip-hop stage, where Northern California jazz rapper Alex Lee and her jamming band LeVice performed. The band played a funky set, borrowing from a slew of musical genres, and it was nice to sit at a table in the back, shaded from the afternoon sun.
By the time I returned to the main stage, most of Saturday’s audience had arrived, with the biggest single-day turnout to date for the 3-year-old festival. Fans frolicking in the sand were singing, dancing, playing and hugging. They were swaying to the tunes of G. Love and Special Sauce, a Philadelphia band with a unique sound fusing blues, rhthym and blues, and hip hop. They have been recording music for more than a decade and have played nearly every major music festival in the country. No stranger to Santa Barbara, G. Love is credited with bringing the music of Jack Johnson to a national audience. The band has a wide fan base, and they didn’t disappoint with a cool set during the sunset magic hour on West Beach.
I trekked back to the Oasis tent as dusk fell onto the waterfront, for more beer and to catch the much-hyped set by Shwayze. The black-and-white duo of rappers blended sounds from techno to acoustic folk into their own brand of hip hop. Cisco Adler already had made a name for himself as the producer of Mickey Avalon hits such as “Jane Fonda” before he hooked up with Aaron Smith (aka Shwayze). Their infectious sound worked well in the electronic-oriented Oasis tent, and the crowed quickly filled the area and danced in frenzied excitement.
I bee-lined it back to the Bashment stage to catch another one of the day’s biggest surprises: Rey Fresco. The Ventura-based band sounded like a veteran band with expert licks in the jam-blues genre. The band is unique in employing a full-time harpist as part of their quartet, but they sound every bit the consummate old-school Chicago blues band. The band was simply awesome. I might have to spend more time exploring the Ventura music scene. Who knew?
Finally, it was time for the main stage headliner, Ben Harper and The Relentless 7. Harper, long a guitar legend, whether it be acoustic, slide or electric, has assembled his most intense band of jam musicians yet with The Relentless 7. The band plays explosive jams, with a retro Jimi Hendrix or Allman Brothers feel. But the unique chemistry of the musicians allows them to put their own stamp on the hard-core jam band genre. The large crowd danced and screamed their approval as Harper tore threw a nearly two-hour set.
As I wearily headed for the exit, I made one last stop at the Oasis tent to take in a bit of electronic DJ Quasar, who had much of the Shwayze crowd still dancing in a techno frenzy. It was truly the most diverse day of music so far at the West Beach festival.
— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.