Ah, San Diego. Home of sun, surf, and Ron Burgundy. L.A.’s mellower cousin is the ideal location for a music festival. It’s rarely above 75 degrees, and its craft beer community is second to only Oregon, and even that’s up for debate.
Walking into KAABOO feels more like entering an adult playground than an actual music festival. Aside from the fact that there are bars almost every 100 meters, KAABOO comes equipped with both men’s and women’s “indulgences” which include the likes of cigars, massages, flower crowns and hydration stations. And unlike Coachella, you can stroll the entire grounds clutching a Sculpin or Green Flash IPA and consume as you soak in the sun and tunes.
KAABOO is already primed for the perfect festival experience, thanks to being seated on top of the Del Mar Fairgrounds and racetrack. The natural infrastructure that comes with the racetrack makes things like restrooms, food, and beer plentiful and easily accessible.
At the risk of making too many puns, Smash Mouth was an obvious opener for this All-Star weekend. There’s nothing like ’90s nostalgia to start things off on the right flip flop. The crowd seemed disproportionately excited for the ’90s band made famous by providing the soundtrack to movies like Shrek. Could it be that Smash Mouth has more diehard fans than expected? Or perhaps everyone is a diehard fan when enough beer is flowing through their veins? It’s hard to say, but in any event, the crowds came in surprisingly thick for the band whose set started off at 3:05 pm. In fact, crowds filled past the Sound stage and close to the edge of the “Grandview” section. The question on everyone’s mind though was how far into the set will they play All-Star?
With a handful of mega-hits like “Walking on the Sun” and “All-Star” in their discography, Steve Harwell and crew had no other choice but to spread them out throughout their hour-long set or risk losing the crowd. As to be expected, the crowd enjoyed every millisecond of ’90s Pop/Ska Rock nostalgia and went absolutely bonkers when they closed things out with “All-Star.”
After that, the next stop was Dave Mason at the Trestles Stage. Thanks to sound issues, though that was never officially confirmed, Mason and his band were running incredibly late. The best anyone could do was hit the bar conveniently seated behind the stage and await Mason’s return. As fate would have it, Mason and Co. finally graced the stage and proceeded to blast through a healthy catalog of dad rock to the older-skewing crowd.
From there, it was without a doubt the most random act of the weekend, DJ Diesel, aka former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal. The man who needs no introduction towered over his tiny stage starting things off with a Linkin Park remix in honor of the late Chester Bennington. It then turned into an all-out dance party with gold and purple flashing lights, and far too many hits. The festival goers were obviously into it, it is Shaq, after all. And Shaq seemed well aware that would be the case as he cruised through a set with hits like “It Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy and “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey.
With a setting sun looming overhead, Magpie Salute and their classic rock tunes drew a decent but energetic crowd. Thanks to technical difficulties from Dave Mason earlier on, every act at the Trestles Stage was pushed back 30 minutes or more, but it was hard to notice when everyone was too busy enjoying themselves. Though most of the festival was on their way to catch the beginning of Kesha, a fair group stood and danced along to Magpie with heads bobbing and toes tapping.
As the evening wore on, the fairgrounds continued to fill. School and work were out for the weekend, and as such, the crowds came out in droves for Kesha. Though lateness plagued the first day on most stages, the American songstress started only 10 minutes behind her scheduled time to a roaring reception. As soon as she took the stage, fans pushed towards the front with the full force of a second wind. Dressed in all black with rainbow tassels flowing from the arms of her black leather jacket, she stomped around the stage pumping the crowd up before diving into “We R Who We R.”
As her set marched onward, it seemed Kesha was becoming more and more comfortable with the crowd. She took this level of comfort to new heights when she exclaimed it was a little too hot in the San Diego sun and began slowly stripping off her clothes. First, she removed her jacket, then her pants and finally she unbuttoned a few choice buttons on her blouse. That moment became the turning point for the set as things were decidedly more raunchy from there on out. She then played “Dinosaur,” a cover of Grace’s “You Don’t Own Me” and then her newest single, “Praying.” Each track included some small bouts of ranting, chatting with the crowd, a whole mess of cursing and some singing while lying down. Regardless of the cause, it was tons of fun to witness, and the crowd as far back as the soundstage seemed blissfully engaged, singing and dancing along to their heart’s content.
As night enveloped festival goers, Michael McDonald and his smooth soul singing took the Trestles stage. Under a blue light, he played the piano while the rest of his eight-piece band grooved and strummed along. Complete with a sax solo, McDonald and crew were a refreshing break after a wild set from Kesha. It gave festival goers a way to cleanse their palate before heading to Red Hot Chili Peppers at the main stage. The crowd showed McDonald signs of serious life even though it was nearly 8 p.m. The crowd was moving and dancing from the VIP section to the back of the GA.
While a large portion of the festival danced the evening away to the sounds of David Guetta and the spectacle of his light show at the Grandview Stage, the majority made their way to the Sunset Cliffs stage for Red Hot Chili Peppers. Throughout Day One, fans in their Red Hot Chili Pepper T-shirts were visible at nearly every stage. And as time drew closer to their set, that number grew exponentially.
With just under half an hour before showtime, fans started flooding into the Sunset Cliffs stage. Sunset Cliffs, which is surrounded by sand in an attempt to mimic the San Diego locale, was littered with crushed beer cans and attendees hoping to score a great vantage point for the headlining act. And though much of the festival suffered delays, Red Hot Chili Peppers came on right on time with nothing but a solo saxophone and a stirring bass solo by lead personality, Flea.
Though it started off as just two impressive solos, the remainder of the band came in and quickly morphed the performance into the classic track, “Can’t Stop, ” and soon enough, the entire crowd was on their feet cheering and singing along with the Los Angeles born band. This pattern lasted for the entirety of their set as they ran through their impressively deep catalog, framing each track, from “Snow (Hey Oh)” and “The Zephyr Song” to “Suck My Kiss” and “By the Way” with impressive and raunchy solos. If it wasn’t Flea obliterating the scene with his masterful bass slapping, it was Josh Klinghoffer melting faces with his deadly guitar solos.
All in all, it was a successful first day. Aside from the slowdown caused by technical difficulties and general artist tardiness, Day One of KAABOO went off without a hitch. And to be fair, even with the issues cropping up, most fans didn’t seem to care. It’s hard to be bothered by something as mundane as lateness when great beer is flowing, and the San Diego sun is setting.
Photo Credit: Boston Lynn Schulz