The KAABOO music festival opened on Friday September 14 with an estimated 40,000 fans selling out the event for the first time in its four-year history. The festival, which takes place at the upscale Del Mar Racetrack just north of San Diego, took advantage of the last beautifully sunny weekend of the southern Californian summer. The festival grounds back up to the edge of the Pacific Ocean and surfers were actually visible, catching the waves on the nearby Del Mar beach.

Music fans could catch some great waves at nearby Swamis reef in Solana Beach, have an early lunch and still arrive in time for the opening sets around noon. Like most music festivals, early bird concertgoers were treated to some great opening acts at nearly empty stages. The line up at this years KAABOO was one of the most eclectic of any festival in 2018, loaded with headliners and classic rock music icons.

Two main stages bookended the festival, nearly a mile apart. In between were two more live music stages, a large air-conditioned comedy auditorium with top national acts, a huge art show in an air-conditioned building complete with its own food and bars, and much more. In addition to a smorgasbord of gourmet food trucks, food stands and bars everywhere, there were also spa treatments, hair stylists and other freebies. One two-floor bar featured palm tree-lined couches, free charging stations for phones, and a pair of acrobatic girls spinning on ropes. There was even a disco which transformed into a late night silent disco with music into the early morning hours.

But the big draw was the live music and day one did not disappoint. By late afternoon crowds swelled and one of the two smaller venues, the Encinitas Trestles stage had a large group gathered for classic English rockers The Zombies. The band featured two of the original members, lead singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist and guitarist Rod Argent. Argent began jamming as far back as 1958, and the band had their first hit song back in 1964. They played their hits including those from Argent’s follow-up band to an enthusiastic audience that sang along to the chorus lines.

The MGM Resorts Grandview main stage was dominated by a day of hip-hop, featuring rappers Nelly and Gucci Mane and new pop sensation Post Malone. While the first two were well-received, it was clear that many of the youngest fans were there to see Post Malone. Thousands of screaming young girls lined the front of the stage as Malone began his spirited set full of hit songs. The young rapper may arguably be one of the fastest rising stars in the pop music world and he seems to have a kinship with disaffected youth and always seems to offer up a bit of hopeful optimism while bantering with the crowd during his shows.

Back on the Encinitas stage another groundbreaking legacy act, the Tower of Power, had an adulating crowd singing along to their hits. It is hard to believe that this Oakland based R&B crossover band has been making music since 1968. The band, pioneers of horn-based pop music, have probably employed more musicians over the years than any other pop band in existence. Judging by the crowd's reaction the music remains timeless.

The Grandview stage took a break from rap music at sunset with a riveting performance by alternative rockers Incubus. The California band have been performing since 1991 and are well known as one of the most intense live acts in modern rock music. Charismatic lead singer Brandon Boyd pranced about like a madman, painted in an orange glow by the intense setting sun. The band's intricate music weaved a fierce web of highs and lows that had an exhausted audience dancing in unison.

The Encinitas stage closed with a headline set by rock veterans Blondie. A huge crowd of mostly older fans swarmed the stage as lead singer Debbie Harry encouraged the crowd to sing along to the chorus lines. The band tore through some of their biggest hits and played well-received songs from their new album Pollinator. Sadly original guitarist Chris Stein did not perform with the group, but Harry dedicated the final two songs of the set, Heart of Glass and Dreaming, to him.

While Blondie finished up to a big crowd and Post Malone was playing to a massive one at the Grandview stage, The Foo Fighters prepared to play the headline set on the Rolling Stones Sunset Cliff main stage. Even with much of the young crowd siphoned to the other side of the venue, the Foo Fighters managed to garnish the biggest crowd of the entire three-day festival.

A huge roar went up as the stage exploded in a gargantuan light show and the band, led by the mercurial Dave Grohl, bolted onstage. After an entire summer of touring and screaming his lungs out night after night for two hours, one might think that Grohl’s vocal abilities and energy levels may have subsided. But the explosive KAABOO performance could easily have been mistaken for an opening night, with Grohl racing about the stage maniacally singing and playing guitar all throughout the set. The veteran rockers laid down an intense wall of sound, a perfect backdrop for the impish Grohl to bounce off. The show featured Grohl's usual musings with the audience, toying with the crowd when he said it was the first time they'd played there in 27 years, referring to a 1991 gig at which Grohl's former band Nirvana, along with Pearl Jam, opened for the Chili Peppers there. This was the first time that Grohl and former Nirvana bandmate Pat Smear had been back to the venue. The Fighters also played their usual teasers of random classic rock covers, including an awesome cover of the Alice Cooper early classic, "Under My Wheels", sung by the usually stoic guitarist, Chris Shiflett. It was a fitting end to what has become one of the most exciting events in the crowded world of American music festivals.


Photos by L. Paul Mann
www.lpaulmann.com

















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