Ohana Fest Brought Everything From Country To Soul To Dana Point On The First Day Of The Ohana Fest Eric Church and Norah Jones Round Out a Musically Diverse Friday At Eddie Vedder's Music Festival
DANA POINT, CA- As the weekend was beginning and crowds started settling in, day one of The Ohana Fest — which featured performances by headliners Eric Church, Norah Jones, Amos Lee, as well as Nikki Lane, the John Doe Folk Trio, The White Buffalo, The War and Treaty, Dave Hause & The Mermaid, Kevin Devine, Tim Curran, and the Pow Pow Family Band — proved to be a strong start for the three-day music event, organized by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.
With a lineup full of softer folk and country artists, blue-eyed soul singers and songstresses, it was the perfect start to The Ohana Fest. As was anticipated, attendance was light early on in the day Friday, but the crowds quickly came in heavy as people punched their work clocks and night went on.
We arrived to the festival a little later than anticipated, and that proved to throw a little bit a of wrench into our plan. We so desperately wanted to catch the John Doe Folk trio, and we apparently missed out on a real special treat as we heard through the grapevine that Eddie himself joined John on stage to perform John’s “The New World” as a duet.
Thankfully, we were able to catch the tail end of The War And Treaty’s performance. This husband-wife duo has had a banner 2018. Earning high praise from NPR Music as a musical act that “convey[s] and ecstatic, empowering sense of partnership that serves as the duo’s creative engine and core message”, they’ve taken that empowering sense of partnership and have been bringing it to life across the country, earning new fans, on the festival circuit. Their performances have been heralded as joyous expression of life, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
Their debut album, The Healing Tide, is a beautiful amalgam of soul, gospel, country and roots. Its diverse sonic layout creates a listen that easily appeals to music lovers across the spectrum.
Michael Trotter, Jr and Tanya Bound are both capable singers in their own right, but together their performance rises to a celebratory level; a soulful proclamation of living in the moment and loving with all you’ve got. We’re still a little miffed that we were only able to catch a portion of their performance, but it was more than enough to determine that it’ll be worth every penny the next time we head out to one of their shows.
Nikki Lane is always a joy to see live. I was able to catch her earlier this year on Willie Nelson’s ranch, and had the time off my life getting rowdy with her during her late night tent set.
At Ohana, Nikki’s performance was scheduled early in the day. Stepping onto the stage, Nikki’s was dressed in a low-key floral dress, a stark departure from the fierce, tight fitting, snakeskin ensemble with frills that she wore the last time I saw her live.
With the sun’s rays slowly creeping its way over the main stage’s awning, Nikki, in her southern twang, charmed the festival patrons who were just getting settled with some libations in tow with her compositions. It was a relatively laid-back set, the song selection of which, in my opinion, was made to match mood of an early afternoon, day 1 performance. The energy definitely picked up when she performed her anthem “Right Time” and had me fondly recall of the reasons why I enjoyed her music and performances to much.
For years, one of my friends has been preaching the glory of The White Buffalo. I’ve been following Jake Smith (p/k/a “The White Buffalo) since his 2013 album Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways. There’s something earthy about the man and his music. It’s music that’s grounded in the day-to-day, imbued with the hardness that life can cast on a soul. With every song, you get the feeling that there was a large bottle of whiskey right next to the writer’s pen.
Jake is a big burly man, and as soon as I saw him take the stage, his trademark beard in tow, I saw The White Buffalo manifest itself in real life. On stage, you get the feeling that he’s an outlaw ready deliver some heavy, beautiful news, and when he sings, he sings with a passion that truly rattled the nerves awake.
Jake’s musical stylings and intensity has been favorably compared to Eddie Vedder, and while I had hoped for Mr. Vedder to join Jake on stage for a collaboration, that didn’t happen. It’s all for the best though, as that much intensity on stage would have blown out a speaker or two.
Amos Lee, known for his blue-eyed soul, was the next troubadour to take the main stage, and he delivered a fun and passionate set. With a laid-back vocal delivery and acoustic-driven set, he drew the audience’s attention by introducing songs with his stories about family — whether his grandma or grandpa, or a girl he once knew — he was an incredibly personable performer.
With a natural gift for folk, R&B and soul meets gospel, Lee provided the perfect late afternoon ambiance to kcik off the weekend festivities. His lullaby-like tunes like “Arms Of A Woman,” are perfectly fit for Dana Point’s sunset beach atmosphere. Best known for his song “Sweet Pea,” the sweet head-bopping romance tune where he describes a lover as the “apple of my eye,” he surely easily pleased all of the young women in the audience. He played songs from his new album, including the heavy but inspirational “No More Darkness, No More Light,” which was inspired by the school shooting in Florida earlier this year. He used that moment address the audience, asking everyone to simply come together and “do the right things more often.”
After the sun had set, Norah Jones took the stage. Backed by an extremely tight trio consisting of a drummer, upright bassist and organist, Jones was an absolute delight as her sensual melodies filled the ocean scented air. Her full and soulful voice soared throughout the entire beach, as festival goers sat in heaps across the grass, packing the festival grounds and swaying at the bleachers.
At Ohana fest, non-ticket holders can enjoy the music as well by lining up against the fences that bordered the festival bleachers, and there seemed to be a huge crowd taking advantage of the situation as many people on the beach behind were sprawled out on the beach off the festival grounds
Jones’ set, full of jazzier renditions of her songs and full band, was absolutely lovely as she breezed through songs such as “Sunrise,” “What Am I To You?” and her fun, sultry new song “It Was You” — full of tasty piano licks, a head-bopping stop-drum beat and her mesmerizing vocals singing, “And I knew, and I knew, and I knew it was you.” Her big hit “Don’t Know Why” was the familiar hit that got everyone — including myself — to have a sweet moment of nostalgia and sing and sway along.
Eric Church, a beyond huge country super star, was the headlining act for the festival’s first day, and he came hot and loaded with an all-acoustic set — and it was powerful.
Church’s knack for performing, with his country slur and fun songs about being a “Desperate Man” and having a “Drink In My Hand,” got the crowd moving and raising their beers into the air. Opening his set with a seamless collection of popular covers including Dean Lewis’s “Be Alright,” he got people unfamiliar with country music like myself swaying along. His strong voice, upbeat rhythm guitar and foul mouth kept the crowd wildly entertained.
He told stories about following his dreams and being married to a “Mistress Named Music.” He got everyone rocking along with his impressive and tasty rock guitar licks. His singing style is very conversational, as he introduced his song called “Jack Daniels,” saying how he’s “got a reputation ’round here … but Jack Daniel’s kicked my ass again last night.” Ladies lifted their drinks to the sky, people took off their knee-high country boots in support, and he really took everyone to church (pun intended) that night.
As the night ended and the neon trees lit up the night, day one’s opening with softer fare was the perfect start to the rest of the weekend — as more rock ‘n’ roll acts and pop-friendly artists were to come to keep the weekend’s “ohana” vibes in spirit.