Saturday with the Doobie Brothers, Marc Ford, Tyler Bryant 

Jack Johnson fills the reconfigured Seaside Lagoon on BeachLife Ranch’s opening night. Photo by Julia/BeachLife Ranch

by Garrick Rawlings

The crowd was still buzzing about the set earlier in the day by 2021 BeachLife veterans Larkin Poe, led by Georgia sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, when fellow Georgians Blackberry Smoke took the stage Saturday afternoon. They proudly take their musical and visual cues from Southern rock originators like the Allman Brothers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, right down to their swampy, psychedelic stage backdrop incorporating images of mushrooms, reminiscent of the Allman Brothers. 

Blackberry Smoke singer/songwriter/guitarist/leader Charlie Starr laid down a breezy late afternoon set. The seven-piece touring band sported a great display of guitar chops (as well as a great collection of old guitars), accompanied by a tasty keyboardist in Brandon Still. These guys jammed on any song, at will, a highlight being “Sleeping Dog” from their 2012 release, “The Whippoorwill,” where they inserted their take on the late great Tom Petty’s, “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”  

Kudos to the sound engineering department. The mix was supremely clear all around and at a perfect volume. Most of the set was either mid-temp, or slower, which fit the mood of the day, although I wish the band jacked up the energy a little more here and there. 

Next up on the other big stage – there were two main stages that alternated acts — one in the sand next to the Seaside Lagoon (Lowlands), and the other on the artificial grass-covered parking lot along N. Harbor Drive (Highlands) – was Shooter Jennings’ Revival: The Highwaymen. It was a celebration of the late-career, country supergroup The Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson). Shooter is the son of the legendary Waylon and original outlaw, Jessi Colter.

Along with performing, Shooter served as MC and bandleader as he shepherded in the guest artists to perform songs the Highwaymen recorded. Unfortunately, sound issues abounded. The stage monitors weren’t entirely working, and as a result, there was a lot of stop and restarting.  Things appeared to settle in as guest White Buffalo ( Jake Smith) came on to perform the Highwaymen’s cover of Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind.” But the bass drum was mixed in at a Metallica level volume and absolutely overwhelmed all the great performers on stage. It was annoying to the point that I took the opportunity to saunter over to the smaller “Tito’s Barn” stage, which was fortunate.

The packed-in crowd was enthusiastically engaged in the Nashville band Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown. This hard-driving quartet are disciples of all that’s best about 1970s hard rock, bringing all the dynamism that was missing from Blackberry Smoke’s set, as well as an individuality that’s lost on such things as Greta Van Fleet. Not surprisingly, singer/songwriter/guitarist Bryant is the husband of the aforementioned high-energy crowd favorite Larkin Poe’s Rebecca Lovell. What a rock and roll home that must be. These guys have been opening up for their hero bands all over the world. They’ve really learned from the masters on stagecraft, putting a dynamic set list together, pacing it nicely with varying tempos, and styles along with humorous and engaging in-between song stage patter. Shakedown rhythm guitarist Graham Whitford is the son of Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford — some nice rock and roll lineage there.

The venue really started filling up in anticipation of Wynonna Judd. She strutted onstage with a Telecaster strapped to her back while the setting sun lit up her scarlet mane like a halo. Coupled with her oversized western belt buckle and big glam sunglasses, she evoked a hybrid Elvis and Ann-Margret. Wynonna is a real pro with great pipes. A sweet moment came when she noticed a handful of grade school kids on stage-left. She asked point blank if they knew who she was. When they said they did, Judd said it made her night.

The dilemma of the day for me came next when the Doobie Brothers and the Marc Ford Band shared the same set times. I decided to catch the first couple of songs by the Doobies in honor of co-founder Patrick Simmons, a real top-notch, down to earth, unaffected legendary talent. Ford & Co performed on the same stage as Bryant & Co, and seeing as how the Doobie Brothers attracted the largest crowd of the day, now past dusk, many music fans missed another highlight of day in Ford’s show.

LA native (Long Beach) Marc Ford turned down an offer to join Guns & Roses and joined the Crowes in time for their #1 Billboard charting 2nd album, 1992 “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.” He was also on board for the Crowe’s reunion, 2005 through ’06. Along with Ben Harper and Gov’t Mule, the list of Ford’s guitar-slinging credits both as band member and side man is too long to mention here.

Ford’s current band is a trio featuring a maestro of drums Phil Jones, the drummer on Tom Petty’s first solo album, Full Moon Fever (1989). He’s also performed and recorded with such luminaries as Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones. On bass was the hardest working multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist in rock and roll show biz, LA’s own Jim Wilson. Primarily a guitarist/vocalist, Wilson led the criminally commercially underappreciated band, the legendary power trio, Mother Superior, who released nine powerhouse albums from 1993 to 2008. They produced the most creative and soulful palette of hard rock you’ll find of that era and were a force to be reckoned with on both record and stage. 

Wilson took a few moments to talk prior to taking the stage at Beachfest.

I see you’ve had a bunch of gigs leading up to this festival.

“It’s been crazy, the past three weeks. I’ve had 15 gigs  – a bunch of Marc shows, I flew to Canada with Lanois, and I just got back last night at 12:30 a.m. from Arizona playing with Pearl, and with Cody Jinks.”

How did you end up getting together with Marc Ford?

“I’ve known Marc for a couple years now. He played on my first record with Phil [Jones]. Marc had a bunch of different guys playing with him in the band and the opportunity came up. I’ve been a fan for a long time. The Black Crowes were kind of my Nirvana, just a great rock and roll band, the kind I was looking for at the time, and Marc just blew my head off.”

How’s the touring going so far?

“We’ve been getting really good, and really tight. Every show’s been great and it keeps getting better. We’re taking more chances with every show.”

Have you done any recording with Marc?

“We did a six-song EP of Neil Young songs, called ‘Neil Songs by Marc Ford and Phil Jones,’ it’s on CD and vinyl now.”

Probably a nice way to end this busy stretch of touring for you back at the beach here in LA?

“It is. I have a radio show [The Vinyl Shelf – available on Soundcloud also found via his facebook page] and I haven’t done that in a while. It’s on again tonight. I play a lot of great old records and vintage radio interviews”

Describe the Marc Ford touring repertoire?

“It’s a bit of a mix of everything, Marc’s songs include a lot of roots and traditional influences like Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. They’re really nice songs, and he’s so melodic. It’s really easy for me to sing harmonies with him and he’s loving that. Of course, there’s always guitar solos and depending on how good the vibe is, and how inspired he is we can go long or short. I always have to keep an eye on him. Sometimes Phil will do something different as well and it turns into more of a jam thing.”

What followed on stage was a one hour set of master class musicianship and ESP-like communication between these guys. The sweet sound of Ford’s singing augmented by Wilson’s instinctive harmonies complemented the instrumental arrangements. The crowd was beguiled. Ford’s simple guitar setup was an Asher Electro Sonic “Gold Top” model, and a small Matchless combo amplifier. Between the magic of Ford’s fingers, and this uncomplicated combination of guitar and amp, his sweet and dirty varying tones are the like many guitarists would kill for.  Asher guitars are a high-end, and much sought-after, hand-made guitar built by Bill Asher and played by a long list of luminary guitarists, crafted locally on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice. By the way, Asher is the eldest son of Elizabeth Montgomery, yes, of Bewitched fame.

I was able to get back to the last handful of songs of the Doobie Brothers. They ended their energetic set with a barrage of their best-known hits, which thrilled the big crowd. The veteran hall of fame band, both fluid and tight, doesn’t resort to doing robotically buttoned-down arrangements the same as on their records, as many do. During “China Grove” they laid down an inspiring instrumental breakdown featuring percussionist Marc Quiñones (a member of later-day Allman Brothers), as well as Michael McDonald’s keyboard improvisations. McDonald is known for his blue-eyed soul vocal chops. Now that OG Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne, who had been touring as a member of the Doobies, recently stepped away for the reformation of Little Feat, McDonald is impressively handling all keyboard parts himself. They mixed in cuts from their well-reviewed new album “Liberté” (2021), as well as deep cuts like “Pure as the Driven Snow” from “The Captain and Me” (1973). 

This was the crescendo of the evening’s events. Many fans headed out prior to the last act of Saturday night, former thrash metal singer Cody Jinks. Even though the Doobie Brothers were described as the ‘headliners,’ I’m guessing the DB requested the earlier time slot, and/or their fan demographic called for it. 

I owe Mr. Jinks an apology for not sticking around even though his Ennio Morricone pre-recorded intro music was inviting. I was hungry and thirsty after all, and I’d already spent nearly all my writer’s fee on food and drink. The least expensive beer was nearly $15 for a 12-ounce can of Modelo. The cheapest snack I could find was a not-so giant, ‘giant slice’ of pizza for $12. On top of the price of admission, which admittedly  and unfortunately is the industry standard, it’s a lot to ask of the average concertgoer. ER


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