Kicking off Friday afternoon and wrapping up beneath clear skies and a full moon on Sunday, the second annual West Beach Music & Arts Festival came to life on the dusty sands west of Stearns Wharf over the weekend. The three-day festival, one of the few in the U.S. that takes place on the beach, boasted an eclectic (albeit reggae-heavy) musical line-up on four stages, a small vendor village, a staggering assortment of inflatable bouncers and slides, and the usual carnival culinary fare.
Santa Barbara-based Twiin Productions presented an impressive roster for such a young festival, featuring performances by Ziggy Marley, Jason Mraz, Natasha Bedingfield, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and Parliament/Funkadelic with George Clinton. Plugged in among the headliners were Twiin darlings Jackie Greene, Kate Voegele, DJ Matty Matt, Jim Bianco, Iration, and Matthew McAvene. Deejays from near and far (from Santa Barbara’s own Gavin Roy to New York-based Global Noize) spun throughout the festival in the chronically underpopulated Oasis area.
Far from comparable to Coachella or Outside Lands, West Beach has some stripes to earn prior to induction into the pantheon of major music festivals. Some challenges were attributable to the layout of the space. Although the promoters reportedly expected a critical mass of more than 6,000 attendees per day, the maximum headcount at any given time was half that, leaving a vast, desert-like expanse of beach between the stages and creating a dramatically empty feel during most of the daytime sets. The upside, of course, was that there was plenty of elbow room for everyone, as the push-and-shove often associated with music festivals was nonexistent here. The most unfortunate and damaging side effect of the festival layout was the sound bleed. Much to the chagrin of musicians and audience alike, bands frequently found themselves drowned out by acts on the main stage, in some instances forcing them to abandon their sets ahead of schedule.
Although a handful of vendors offered T-shirts featuring original artwork, blown-glass pipes, and colorful hula hoops, the “arts” element of the festival’s title might be a bit of a stretch. Another mystery was the notable absence of the promised local activist groups, despite the promoters’ assertion that nonprofit support is a major festival initiative (the exception being a table for the Friends of the World Food Program, to whom a portion of festival proceeds were donated).
Despite the glitches, Twiins’ sophomore effort deserves props for scoring some very fine talent. Let’s hope they take note and fine-tune next year’s West Beach Festival accordingly-it’s a homegrown effort we’d like to see succeed. The following is a rundown of festival highlights and pleasant surprises.
Carpinteria-based Dominic Balli, winner of the Indy‘s Road to West Beach contest, showcased reggae-rock tracks off their recently released debut album, Public Announcement. Balli’s hopeful lyrics, infused with hip-hop sensibility and intricate, soulful instrumentals, got several of the 200+ audience members on their feet and dancing, but most were content to loll on their blankets, soaking up the midday sun and the band’s atmospheric reggae rhythms.
The ever-smiling Ziggy Marley brought his own positive vibrations to West Beach with two appearances on Saturday. Although his evening performance on the main stage was laden with crowd-pleasers like “Tomorrow People” and “Look Who’s Dancing,” the real delight was his 30-minute set on the Sandbox children’s stage. Noting with a grin that the audience was full of “big kids” as well as small, Marley serenaded the assembled fans with upbeat songs such as “Family Time,” “Walk Tall,” and, from his father’s canon, “Three Little Birds.”
Although some found her thin, little-girl voice irritating, the off-kilter, primal rhythms of Jesca Hoop lent a much-needed indie touch to the festival. Hoop’s spooky, ethereal chanting and self-layered vocals on “Seed of Wonder” and “Summertime” held the attention of the few assembled at the secondary stage, but ultimately, many of them seemed to drift off in search of other sounds.
Big Head Todd and the Monsters
Well over a decade since Big Head Todd and the Monsters have received any significant airplay, the Colorado-based blues-rock outfit delivered a tight and solid set as the evening cooled and the full moon rose on Saturday. Selections included more recent, harder-rocking material alongside such well-aged classics as “Bittersweet,” “Circle,” and “Broken Hearted Savior” from 1993’s Sister Sweetly.
The shrieks emanating from the throngs of teenagers and twenty-somethings pressed against the stage barrier announced the arrival, 45 minutes late, of British pop princess Natasha Bedingfield. With several number-one singles on both U.S. and U.K. pop charts under her belt, Bedingfield has garnered quite a following among young girls, and radio-friendly, upbeat pop numbers like “Who Knows?” and “These Words” may not have won her any new fans, but there were plenty of devotees in the crowd who left happy.
Jim Bianco’s considerable talents were wasted on the sparse, though appreciative, audience gathered before the secondary stage on Sunday afternoon. Another purveyor of indie cred, Bianco also boasts solid musicianship to back it up. His provocative speakeasy style and growling vocals, backed by crisp instrumentals including sax, clarinet, and accordion, were punctuated with alternately bawdy and brooding lyrics on numbers such as “To Hell With the Devil” and “If Your Mama Knew.” Visibly frustrated with the sound bleed from the neighboring main stage, Bianco commented that he was going to buy the offending band’s CD after the show before launching, ironically, into “Sing” (which references lyrics that are waiting to be heard).
The dozen or so fans wise enough to catch violin virtuoso Lili Haydn on the Sandbox stage in the afternoon, prior to her evening appearance with Parliament/Funkadelic, were treated to a nearly private show. Famously dubbed “the Jimi Hendrix of the violin” by P-Funk frontman George Clinton, Haydn has used the classical instrument to explore such diverse genres as pop, punk, and rock. Despite the sound blaring from the main stage across the beach, Haydn kept her composure through the delightful “Strawberry Street,” the poignant “Memory One,” written in memory of her mother, and “Children of Babylon,” an achingly compassionate commentary on the Iraq quagmire and war in general. Apologizing for cutting her set short, Haydn finally explained that she couldn’t compete with the sound bleed, then proceeded to shred through her own glorious, impassioned rendition of P-Funk’s “Maggot Brain.”
George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic
Closing out the festival, P-Funk inducted the crowd into their alternative universe with their anthemic funk jams. The colorful cast of characters, including a nappy-clad Starchild and the pimp-cloaked Sir Nose, had the crowd to their feet and moving to “Bop Gun,” “Atomic Dog,” and “P-Funk,” joined onstage by as many as 20 musicians at any given time. Ringleader Clinton, in all his multi-colored, spiky-haired glory, joined the Funk mob onstage during a rollicking rendition of “Cosmic Slop,” segueing into an electrifying duet of “Red Hot Mama” with RollerGirl Kim Manning. Barely acknowledging the 8 p.m. curfew, the funk collective transitioned to “Maggot Brain,” joined by Lili Haydn, collectively blowing the crowd away and ending the festival on a very high note