In the hours before sunset on Friday night, West Beach not only looked like a desert, but felt as unpopulated as one. Makeshift palm trees failed to distract from the dust-bowl feel, and the ocean was completely hidden from sight by a sizable black fence encompassing the grounds. Wanderers aimlessly roamed the sand, and the first performers of the afternoon played for next to no one. On the electro stage, 3 p.m. performer DJ Katchafiya drew no spectators whatsoever. Generally, the festival did not stray from an overwhelming reggae theme. Two environmental activists groups set up tents in the midst of the vendors’ village, but the focus was unquestionably on hippie and Rasta culture. Sales folk sold henna tattoos, cotton sundresses, glass paraphernalia-esque jewelry, incense, and hula hoops. On the music side of things, Loomis & The Lust dished out a cover of MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” riding on the electro band’s massive wave of popularity. Meanwhile, on the electronic stage, Josh Payne creatively integrated hand drums into his set, keeping to the reggae theme of the event.
By sunset, the Santa Barbara Police Department estimated about 1,000 people had showed up to the festival, while organizers expected between 3,000 and 5,000 attendees. Once the sun set and the booze kicked in, the crowd’s enthusiasm grew. By the time Steel Pulse took the mainstage, a substantial crowd had gathered and a cloud of smoke floated above their heads. Bassnectar, the electronic headliner of the night, was also a huge crowd pleaser. He was the only performer during the last hour of the festival Friday night, making the tent around the electro stage seem fairly full. Presenting the crowd with what he calls “omnitempo maximalism,” Bassnectar’s set truly had no rules or limitations. For West Beach, the deejay fused together an hour of fierce bass with strong flavors of reggae and hip-hop. Despite the omnipresent dust from the sand and relatively low attendance characteristic for the first day of a three-day music festival, Friday night at West Beach proved to be a good time for all who took it in.
Entering the West Beach Festival on Saturday afternoon was a bit disorienting, but after trekking through what seemed like miles of sand, Still Time, playing on the fest’s mainstage before The Bravery, held their own in the chaos of the festival. The San Luis Obispo band’s set grew increasingly more engaging, and by the end had most of the beer garden and a sizable crowd dancing along. At first appearing a little ordinary, the band seemed to impress most festival-goers with their strong stage presence and catchy upbeat songs. After delicately stumbling through a sea of music enthusiasts napping on blankets, a closer view of the next band, Pacific Dub, proved to be worth the effort. The young reggae band, though visually reminiscent of a group that might play at a house party, nailed their set, building slowly to the final song that had all of the more outgoing members of the festival dancing to their traditional beats and exceptionally enjoyable vocals. The highlight of the festival for many, The Bravery, who took to the sand and the sun next, came on in full force. Though slightly out of place musically, as the lead singer Sam Endicott joked, the band brought a much needed energy to a very relaxed set of musicians. The band, hailing all the way from New York, delivered a flawless performance, interacting with a somewhat lackadaisical crowd, and playing new tracks off their yet-to-be-released third effort, Slow Poison. Lead guitarist Michael Zakari‘s high energy – and the band’s overall unique post-punk sound – made for a great compliment to the festival, and though few had come just to see them, many left talking about them.
G. Love & Special Sauce, who took the mainstage next, fit the mood of most attendees perfectly, with songs titled, “Peace, Love and Happiness,” off his latest, Superhero Brother. Though slightly lower energy than The Bravery, G. Love didn’t disappoint, playing many well known songs that had anyone who knew the words signing along.
Tomorrows Bad Seeds performed songs from their upcoming album, Sacred for Sale, set to be released this fall. The Southern California-based reggae-rock group serenaded a cluster of bikini-clad fans in the midday sun. The group put an energetic spin on the traditional reggae genre by adding an upbeat rock twist. Their stage presence excited revelers and raised the bar high for subsequent acts.
The next band, Through the Roots, took to the fest’s stage inside the beer garden. Their unique sound, boasting big band undertones and hardcore rock interludes, resonated through the sandy strip, attracting a larger crowd than the previous musicians of the day.
Isla Vista-bred band Iration was next in the spotlight. One of their set’s highlights was “Cookie Jar,” moving fans to sing along with gusto. Their appeal seemed to stem not only from their neighborhood history, but their ability to relate to the audience. Songs like “Walk of Shame” recounted drunken nights and beautiful women, scenarios most any college student can connect with. Iration ended their show with a bang, leaving with a kick-ass guitar solo while vocalists took swigs of whiskey on stage.
Sashamon, a native Hawaiian artist with a sound to match, followed close behind. His band’s blend of dub, reggae, and surf-rock ushered a sense of peace over Sunday’s sun-soaked crowd. Sashamon had the audience swaying to fan favorites like “Peaceisafiya” and “Necta (Butterfly).” It was his delicate vocals supported by the ukulele-sounding melody that drew in “an audience bigger than Molokai.”
After arriving a little late, Santa Barbara-based band Rebelution received a warm welcome from a smoke-filled sea of followers. Their authentic reggae sound combined with positive lyrics drew the biggest crowd of the afternoon, with roughly 6,000 in attendance. The atmosphere of the 4:20 p.m. appearance was reflected in their stoner anthem “Green to Black.” Featured on the list of the festival’s Picks of the Day, the band delivered a performance that didn’t disappoint.
While Rebelution proved a difficult act to follow, the Dirty Heads held their own during a 40-minute-long side stage set. A reggae-hip-hop hybrid group from Huntington Beach, the band made good use of its time, dishing out effortlessly eclectic beats and guitar licks.
As part of their Back in The Trenches Tour, Pepper took the stage shirtless and face painted, captivating the crowd for an hour and 15 minutes. They delivered a bold performance, complete with vulgar commentary, featuring hits like “Give It Up.” The Hawaii-based group seemed to mesh perfectly with the West Coast, inciting even young guests to surf the crowd to their pop-metal rhythms. As the sun set on West Beach, they even reminisced about their first wild visit to Santa Barbara, in which they entertained a house party on I.V.’s infamous Del Playa Drive.
The dreadlocked Washington D.C. natives, Soldiers of Jah Army (SOJA), had the crowd singing along to songs like “Can’t Tell Me” for the entirety of their set. Their rich, American reggae sound combined with lead singer Jacob Hemphill‘s fiery vocals made for a strong showing, even on the brink of the night’s headline performance.
With the rowdy and inebriated audience buzzing with excitement, Slightly Stoopid took center stage. They began with an adrenaline-pumping beat and quickly got the crowd moving with their collegiate reggae number,”‘Till It Gets Wet.” The band, while reminiscent of Sublime, definitely delivered an innovative sound. The unique set included a short cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” as well as a song off of their first album titled, “Operation.”