With A Full Slate Of Amazing Talent, Saturday At The Ohana Fest Was Nothing But Perfect The Concept Of Family at Eddie Vedder's Ohana Fest Was Emphasized With Multiple Musical Collaborations
DANA POINT, CA- This was my second year at The Ohana Fest, and I think Saturdays at this fest set against the Pacific Ocean are my favorite. Why? Eddie Vedder. Period.
Not only does the festival’s founder top the festival’s line-up on Saturday, but it’s also a day guarantees particularly amazing, and once-in-a-lifetime musical moments that will stick with you for the rest of your life. By way of example, Glen Hansard joining Eddie on stage for a duet performance of “Falling Slowly” is still one of my favorite concert moments ever.
But there was more than just Eddie on Saturday, and we were able to catch a bunch of amazing musical performances that truly made the day complete.
Kicking off the action on the main stage was the Southern California based band Plague Vendor. Signed to Epitaph, this quartet- consisting of Brandon Blain, Jay Rogers, Luke Perine and Michael Perez- has really been making a name for themselves with their raucous, and lout, live performances. Their appearance at The Ohana Fest was no exception.
Their music had frenetic urgency that got all of the early arrivals quickly bobbing their heads to the rapid fire rhythms of their cuts. As Jay (guitar), Michael (bass) and Luke (drums), ripped through the music, Brandon commanded the stage with authority, confidently strutting his stuff as he sang with the natural angst that comes with punk. In fact, he strut so hard, he ripped a huge hold in the seat of his trousers. In what would be the first Eddie “pop-up” during the day, Brandon quickly went off stage where Eddie was ready with a roll of duct tape to help “patch up” the problem.
You’d think this kind of on-stage mishap would put a damper on the performance itself, but that was hardly the case. Brandon still jumped around, doing handstands off the Luke’s drum kit, and event ventured into the crowd to rile the audience up even more than they already were.
From punk rock to roots rock, the absolutely delightful Lilly Hiatt was up next kicking off the action on the Tiki Stage.
For those who say that artistic ability isn’t something that can’t be genetically passed down generations, I’d like to play them Lilly’s 2017 album Trinity Lane. Lilly’s father is none other than John Hiatt, a prolific singer/songwriter whose compositions have been covered by a who’s who in the music world (Joe Cocker, Jewel, Bonnie Raitt, Bon Jovi, etc.), and it would be appear that she’s inherited her father’s knack of crafting emotional, plain-spoken songs.
She was all smiles for her afternoon performance, but while she was performing, you can feel and hear put her heart on her sleeve for the world to witness. While her country twang vocals may have seemed more appropriate for Friday’s country tinged line-up, Hiatt’s early afternoon, Ohana Fest performance was a solid one. Whether singing about heartaches or her struggles with alcohol, those unfamiliar with Lilly and her music got an insightful crash course on her and what steers her music.
With the sun reaching its apex in the Pacific sky, it was the perfect time to head on over to the bar to grab a cold one and just sprawl yourself out on the festival ground’s grassy knolls, and relax. The Ohana Fest provided the perfect soundtrack for this action: Bahamas.
The solo project of Toronto-based musician Afie Jurvanen, Bahamas plays the kind of indie pop/folk music that you just want to press play, close your eyes and chill to. Having released their fourth studio LP, Earthtones, earlier this year, Bahamas’ sound has become a little less meditative and slightly more playful for this album cycle, and that vibe definitely came through during this performance (most of their setlist consisted of songs from Earthtones).
While some of the music’s subject matter can be a little heavy, you’d probably never notice as you’d already be lost in the mellow sonics of it all. After all, “Opening Act” is essentially a song about self-doubt, but with all of the “Shooby Doobys”, no one could fault you from not noticing what Afie was actually singing about. Think Jack Johnson with more sophisticated musicality.
If I hadn’t been working the event, I probably would have had a beer in my hand, relaxing, and letting the sun tan me as I got a mellow buzz on. Their mid-afternoon set time couldn’t have been more perfect.
A new voice that has intrigued me since the start of the year is possessed by Billy Raffoul. This Canadian singer/songwriter’s voice is about as raw and emotive as they come. Think Joe Cocker meets Rod Stewart. In June, Billy released his first EP, 1975. Its six songs are produced in a way to really let Billy’s gruff vocals shine, using mostly acoustic guitar accompaniment, and minimal drum tracking.
Under the shaded awning of the Tiki Stage, Billy’s gravelly vocals passionately whispered into the ears of festival patrons. His audience was noticeably younger, with the older festival patrons peeking into the area to find out what all the hubbub was all about.
What I particularly enjoy about Billy’s performance was how intense it was. It’s refreshing to see a young artist invest his soul into a performance. As Billy performed, you could see all of the emotions of his music expressed on his face, and the quality of his vocals only heightened that intensity. It was a solid performance that surely caught the attention of new fans.
When I was younger, whenever thought “The Smiths”, I though “Morrissey”. It wasn’t until I was older, and I really started paying attention to liner notes (do kids still even read them?) and music news, that I was introduced to Johnny Marr. I was a big fan of Modest Mouse, and when he joined the band in 2003, I went down the rabbit hole to learn all about him and what a musical badass he was. Not only was he a member of The Smiths and Modest Mouse, but he was also in The Pretenders and The The. He also co-wrote almost all of The Smiths songs.
When he took the stage at The Ohana Fest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. To be frank, I didn’t even have an idea of what his singing voice sounded like. But as soon as he started to perform “The Tracers” and into The Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again”, I was like, “Holy Cow, who needs Morrissey?” Johnny was a very capable vocalist to my happy surprise. But his guitar playing, however, was otherworldly. There is a reason why Johnny’s skills on the electric guitar are so sought after, and that skill was on full display throughout his Ohana Fest performance.
His set was a solid mix of his solo material- predominantly of music from his 2018 album Call The Comet– The Smiths and an Electronic cover, but the true highlight of the his performance was when he invited Eddie Vedder on stage for his finale for a performance of The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”. It was one of those Ohana Fest once-in-a-lifetime musical moments that I spoke of at the start, that had the whole festival singing along, and something that I will never forget …”
For those of you who have been following my contributions to Blurred Culture, you’ll probably already know that the one artist who I photographed the most: Lauren Ruth Ward. Shoot I even went out of my way to scheduled her into my SXSW schedule for not one but TWO chances to catch her perform live. Seriously, this fellow scorpio (I call her the Scorpio Siren) embodies everything- undeniable charm, ferocious stage presence, you name it- that inspires me to keep pursuing concert photography. She’s, quite simply, my muse.
At The Ohana Fest, Lauren Ruth Ward once again charmed another audience to fall in love with her charisma. Whether she was wildly dancing to her music, leaping into the audience to grab outreached hands, lunging on stage monitors or rolling around around the stage possessed by the mood, this multi-colored haired rocker certainly rocked the Dana Point to satisfaction.
An extra special treat was Lauren debuting live for the first time her new song “Wise Gal”, a rocking clip of which you can check out by CLICKING HERE. God bless rock and roll and god bless Lauren Ruth Ward.
Back in high school, a lot of my girl friends had either Exile In Guyville or Whip-Smart in their CD and/or cassette collections. Perhaps I naively thought- or was intimidated into believing- that Liz Phair’s music was more suited for those of the female persuasion. That teenage immaturity had me very late to the game when it cam to Ms. Phair’s musical genius.
Exile In Guyville is a brilliant album. It’s lo-fi production quality, and sonic dynamics from track to track, only adds to the gritty and thought provoking subject matter of Ms. Phair’s music. I was very please to hear at least 5 of the 18 songs from that album performed at The Ohana Fest, though I was hoping for more considering that Liz was celebrating the album’s 25th anniversary. But I couldn’t really complain about any of the other songs that she filled her setlist with, which was essentially a “greatest hits” of some of her most popular singles.
Liz also popped up later on in the evening to join Eddie Vedder during his headlining set to perform an cover of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man”. Yes … another Ohana Fest “once-in-a-lifetime” musical moment.
The final act to take the Tiki Stage on Saturday was NoMBe, an up and coming recording artist who has received high praise for his debut album They Might’ve Even Loved Me; a sensual album about relationships with women which seamlessly melds various musical genres to create a solid whole.
“I was mostly inspired by what my parents listened to which was a lot more soul, funk and classic rock. Of course I was also a 90’s hip-hop head. I would say the really European influence on my music is my early exposure to techno and deep house, which I love.”
NoMBe’s performance at The Ohana Fest was a solid one, and NoMBe able to showcase his musicality through his voice and his chops on the electric guitar. It was a performance that was equal parts sensuality and rock.
As a Korean American, I have a lot of respect for Korean American artists doing their artist thing. I become a true fanboy when they rock as f*cking hard as the inimitable Karen O. When Nick Zinner and Brian Chase are with her rocking as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I lose my sh*t. Every time. Loud riffs, hypnotic rhythms and anthemic choruses are enough to get an audience pumped, but when Karen O growls into the and spit her water into the air, it’s enough to get the adrenaline boiling through your veins.
After a relatively long hiatus from performing together as a band, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs got back together last year to start celebrating the 15th anniversary of their seminal album Fever to Tell, and have been spot dates in North America. Thankfully, they decided to make on of those gigs The Ohana Festival.
Their performance was essentially a greatest hits set, and with it they gave another fantastic frenetic performance giving the Dana Point crowd 100% of themselves. From “Y Control” to “Sacrilege” to “Maps” to “Heads Will Roll”, it was a setlist that could satisfy even the most die-hard Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan. While the focus may have been predominantly on Karen, especially when she was destroying her microphone in her trademark fashion during the set’s conclusion, I was consistently captivated by Nick Zinner’s sublime and inconspicuous shredding. He seems like the quite type, but he rocks as loud as they come.
As a side note … while the audience may not have noticed it … I loved the fact that Karen had her name stitched in Hangul (the Korean alphabet) on her outfit. LOVED it.
Saturday’s full slate of amazing performances culminate with Eddie Vedder’s solo headlining set, but it would be a solo set the whole way through as he sure got some fantastic help from some of his wonderful friends.
Just like last year, Eddie performed an epic set of acoustic song that covered a wide range of music from his (song from Into The Wild and Ukuele Songs) and Pearl Jam’s (“Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”, “I Am Mind”) repertoire and a plethora of covers of some of his favorite songs (Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart”, Cat Power’s “Good Woman”).
The performance of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” was particularly poignant. Calling up Liz Phair to accompany him with the singing, Vedder explained that he wrote the song with a woman’s voice in mind. In essence, we got to hear the popular song the way Vedder had always intended it to be sung. By a woman.
Throughout his performance, he would introduce his instruments to the audience, explaining some of the back story behind how he obtained them. In a particularly moving moment, he gingerly strapped on a red guitar that he noted was given to him by the one and only Tom Petty. His voice touched on a bit of sadness as he explained how he had always wanted Tom to join his Ohana family for a weekend, with fate tragically robbing him of that opportunity. Emphasizing the importance of friendships, he called on Scott Thurston, one of Tom Petty’s longtime Heartbreakers, to join him on stage to perform a series of songs that surely had eyes watering in the crowd, especially during the poignant “I Won’t Back Down”.
After joining Johnny Mar earlier in the day for a cover of The Smiths’ “There is A Light That Never Goes Out”, Johnny Marr returned the favor by duetting on “Hard Sun” before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and several members of Mumford & Sons (who would headline the following night) joined on stage for a rousing rendition of Eddie’s staple Neil Young song “Rockin’ in the Free World”.
The music aside, I just love Eddie Vedder as a human being. Like last year, he was open and honest during his tine on the Ohana Fest stage. He spoke frankly about some of his political beliefs, and while he didn’t harp on it for too long, you knew what he stood for and what means the most to him. I respect that, and I wish more artists would do the same.
There was one drunk voice who tried shouting, “We came here to hear you sing, man,” but he was immediately hushed. There’s no room for that at The Ohana Fest. The Ohana Fest is about family. Family deserves respect, and Eddie deserves it all.