BeachLife 3.0 – Homegrown festival finds its groove
by Rachel Reeves
In preparation, she watched the documentary, Sheryl, which premiered in early May. Devan selected her outfit ahead of time: jeans, a pink T-shirt featuring a zebra wearing sunglasses, and a cowgirl hat.
Velez loves music. She likes to tell people she’s a DJ; sometimes she wears a T-shirt that identifies her as a DJ to school at Alta Vista Elementary.
Her eyes lit up when the 58-year-old Crow, who later joked that her first hit single came out in 1806, strode onstage in rainbow-colored platforms and jeans.
Velez spent the whole set dancing, both on the grass and on her mom’s shoulders, pausing only to consume an ice cream sandwich. Crow, who had a sea of people belting out her lyrics, did not let the five-year-old down.
“She was so good,” Velez said.
Not far from DJ Devan was a silver-haired woman with a cane, who sang along as Crow crooned. Another woman nearby cried tears of joy. For her, Crow’s set appeared to be exactly what BeachLife Festival’s Instagram story promised: “A moment we have been waiting all our lives for.” Crow sang about precisely what the attendees of BeachLife Festival, who numbered 30,000, were doing: having some fun, soaking up the sun, and pursuing what makes them happy.
Perhaps the most striking thing about BeachLife, which occurred at Seaside Lagoon last weekend, was the range of people there.
Music festivals draw specific crowds: Deadheads in tie-dye attend jam-band festivals, fashionistas in trendy hats and jewelry attend popular festivals, and ravers decked out in fishnets and furry boots attend others. Some festivals attract families with beach chairs and others draw women wearing pasties. BeachLife drew all sorts. There were high heels and flip-flops. There were people laying on blankets and people clearing a wide swath of space for serious grooving. There were kids playing in the sand, teenagers wearing braces, and old-timers who went to Woodstock. A woman sat at a table adjacent to a fully-built bar at the western perimeter of the festival grounds during Vance Joy’s Saturday night set, dancing in her seat. “I’m old,” she explained. “I love this festival. I can sit and still enjoy the music.”
People came from the Midwest, from the East Coast, from Northern California, selling out local hotels. But most of the attendees were from the Beach Cities. Hordes of local residents walked and rode bikes to Seaside Lagoon on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The International Boardwalk along the Redondo Beach Pier was abuzz with activity.
Crowds peered in from outside the fences that surrounded the festival gates. King Harbor boat owners invited friends to drink cocktails on board and listen to the sounds from the Hightide stage that traveled beyond the fence. Inside the festival grounds, there was something for everyone: cornhole, ping-pong, couches, cell phone charging stations, craft beer, and a selection of food that ranged from classic American to vegan Jamaican.
The whole thing seemed seamlessly designed, even the details beyond human control. Strong winds that blew the week leading up to the festival died down and the sun shone, hot and bright. A total lunar eclipse and a full moon known as a “super flower blood moon” occurred on Sunday night.
As the light in the sky dimmed over the marina and the sky changed color on Friday evening, Black Pumas jammed to the hit song “Colors,” which lead singer Eric Burton wrote about the stunning colors that appear at sunset. A pelican landed on stage during Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s set.
The glitches seemed not to matter. Friday night, by the light of the almost-full moon, Weezer kicked off its SZNZ project, a four-part collection of albums named after the seasons. The band covered Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” as well as their greatest hits, including “Buddy Holly,” “Hash Pipe,” and “Beverly Hills.” Diehard fans sang loudly enough to cover the gaps caused by a technical issue that affected the sound.
Fifty-five bands and artists performed at BeachLife Festival, from local singer-songwriters to bands that have been headlining festivals for four decades. Genres ranged from folk to reggae to country to rock ‘n roll.
Devon Allman and Donavan Frankenreiter got to jam together on electric guitars, joined by the brass instruments backing Frankenreiter. A long sax solo unfurled during “It Don’t Matter,” a hit the whole crowd sang along to.
Matisyahu delivered a live performance out of the Phish playbook, which unwound improvisationally, with long songs that scrawled in various directions. Heavy bass lines underlined a mix of beatboxing, electric guitar solos, reggae, and hip-hop. 311 and UB40 performed their hits – feel-good songs that have been moving crowds for decades.
Stone Temple Pilots hyped the crowd at sunset on Saturday, with vocalist Jeff Gutt releasing the raw power for which he’s become known since joining the band after Scott Weiland, his predecessor, died in 2015. Vance Joy played an electrifying set featuring the sounds of a ukulele and a trumpet, in a unique fusion of folk music and rock ‘n roll. Michael Franti jumped off the stage during his set. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe blended rock, soul, and funk into a set during which people couldn’t help but dance. There was a band for everyone. If you asked 10 people what their favorite act was, you’d probably get 10 answers.
In the selection of both bands and vendors, Southern California was heavily represented. That was festival founder Allen Sanford’s vision: that BeachLife would celebrate beach culture.
The music of the Beach Cities was on full display, featuring such beloved hometown acts as Tomorrows Bad Seeds, Dan Kelly from Fortunate Youth, Jim Lindberg of Pennywise with guitarist Zacc West, Latch Key Kid, Charlotte Sabina, and Jamisen Jarvis. Long Beach Dub Allstars and Cold War Kids represented Long Beach. Stone Temple Pilots and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe repped San Diego.
For many, now-bigtime musicians, the festival represented a homecoming.
“I’m from here,” said Eric Burton, who grew up in Los Angeles. Before becoming half of Black Pumas, which Rolling Stone described as a “psychedelic-soul force,” Burton busked on the Santa Monica Pier. Together with guitarist-producer Adrian Quesada and their band, he rose to Grammy-level fame, but onstage, he was genuinely, boyishly just happy to be making music in Southern California. “It’s so good to be back home,” he said, as he moved across the stage, dancing skillfully but also naturally, letting the music animate his body as if no one was watching.
Crow told the crowd she moved to Los Angeles 35 years ago and lived a few blocks away, around the corner from El Gringo.
“I figured I would never leave here,” she said, adding it was one of the more fun seasons of her life. “I was like, I gotta get out of here. This is too good.” During her set, she ad-libbed in song: “I might get myself a little apartment by El Gringo and drink tequila all day and smoke pot on the beach. Oh wait a minute, I’ve got kids. I can’t do it. But I can dream.” Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray told the crowd that Redondo Beach “feels like home.”
A celebration of local beach culture in all its iterations, from punk rock to surfing to craft beer, permeated BeachLife.
Punk Rock & Paintbrushes, an art exhibit inspired by music and created by musicians, featured such masterpieces as surfboards painted by NOFX drummer Erik Sandin. A wave fashioned out of golf balls found at the bottom of the ocean served as a backdrop for hundreds of photos. Local restaurant Rock & Brews hosted a craft beer bar, replete with bar stools and artwork. It seemed everywhere, there was something to see, somewhere to sit, something to do.
First-time festival-goer Allyson Welch, who grew up and lives in Redondo Beach, said the organization, layout, and operation of the festival exceeded her expectations.
“The whole experience has been so fun,” she said between sets. “I wondered if it would be fun at all, or if it would be uncomfortable and crowded, but I feel like it’s perfect. There’s plenty to eat and drink, the stages are in close proximity to each other so it’s easy to go from one place to the next, it’s not oversold or too crowded to be comfortable. Also, I can walk home.”
Among returnees, there seemed to be a general consensus: that last year was great, but this year was better. Bud Seyedin of Redondo Beach noted the caliber of artists is rising each year.
Bill Brand, who has been the city’s mayor since the festival’s inception, said BeachLife is improving with age.
“The organization and the management just gets better every year,” he said. “For those of us close to the operation, it’s quite obvious that more people are finding it easier to attend and enjoy the event.”
Vendors, too, said the festival continues to outdo itself.
Nick Riera, who owns Riera’s Place in Redondo Beach, was one of the only food vendors who doesn’t cater exclusively to festivals. He was approached by festival founder Allen Sanford after he had just opened his deli, and had to decline because he didn’t feel ready. Sanford kept following up.
“Most of the vendors do festivals, and they’re set up to do 10,000 to 100,000 per day, and I’m coming from a little restaurant, under 1,000 square feet,” he said. “He [Sanford] was like, I can get you in feeding volunteer staff or whatever you have capacity for.”
Last year, Riera ran a food booth, and this year, he ran a food booth and three stands selling lemonade and roasted corn. He said it felt good to succeed and expressed gratitude for the efficiency and responsiveness of festival staff to issues.
“The communication was so good, from a vendor’s standpoint,” he said. “We had a couple little power issues where a breaker would go down, and I’d call or text somebody, and they’d have electric people there within five minutes. Everything was onsite and everything got handled. … From last year to this year, it just got even better.”
For people who couldn’t make it, the festival was streamed live for free, then replayed on a loop via the online platform Volume. In the chat box, viewers noted they had stayed up late, or missed work to watch the livestream. Many who attended the entire festival watched it all over again on the livestream. One user wrote: “This is great! I missed so much yesterday. Really nice to be able to sit and enjoy replay.”
Last year, BeachLife seemed to mark the end of the toughest days of the coronavirus pandemic and the return of live music. Still, there were stringent vaccination protocols governing entry and there was some anxiety, from some corners, about the size of the crowd during a pandemic. This year, it felt like the beginning of something at once new and timeless: the gathering of people to feel the pulse and joy of music.
“I’m glad everybody’s here,” Crow told the crowd. “I was getting really tired of being in my house for two years. Life is good, right?”
“It’s so fun to be doing music again,” Matisyahu said.
Mayor Brand said this was the most popular and well-attended BeachLife event yet.
“By all accounts, it was a great success,” he said. His was one of the “happy faces of happy people having a great time,” he said. He posed for a photo with the wave fashioned out of golf balls, got introduced to some new music (a highlight for him was meeting Lord Huron backstage), and paused several times to reflect on the journey to bring BeachLife to fruition, which for him included a legal battle and a campaign to resist what he considered the overdevelopment of the waterfront.
“BeachLife definitely wouldn’t have fit there if that had happened … Standing around with Allen [Sanford] and our fire chief and our police chief and [festival organizer] Rob Lissner about five years after I was first approached with this concept was really a moment of reflection and gratitude,” Brand said. “It’s been a heck of a team effort over these last five years, and this BeachLife really highlighted how successful the event has become, not just for Redondo Beach, but for the entire South Bay.”
DJ Devan, the kindergartner who lit up when Sheryl Crow took the stage, said she’s going back next year. ER