Day two of the 2018 KAABOO music festival was another gorgeous San Diego beach day. The head-high waves had surfers up and down the coast flocking to the area’s beaches, and at the Del Mar Fairgrounds the bands were playing before noon. By early afternoon Minnesota rockers Soul Asylum were lighting up the Grandview main stage with their high-energy music.

The Grammy-winning band were one of the first to be labeled "alternative rock" back in 1981 and have had many famous members over the years including their fellow Minnesota resident and former Prince drummer Michael Bland. But the one constant in the group has been lead vocalist Dave Pirner. Many older music fans in the crowd grew up with the band's music embedded in their culture, primarily due to Pirner’s friendship with filmmaker Kevin Smith. Soul Asylum contributed music to three Kevin Smith films (Clerks, Clerks II and Chasing Amy).

Young electronic rockers Oblivion Her Majesty were playing at the same time on the smallest of the four stages, the Virgin Tourmaline stage. The small stage was one of the most relaxing places to hang out at KAABOO. A grassy courtyard surrounded by high buildings was the perfect place to lay in the sun while listening to the music. In the back, a full bar, with seating inside and out, offered a view of the stage sheltered from the sun. As the band played, a trio of acrobats on stilts, dressed as giant parrots, wandered through the crowd.

On the main Sunset Cliffs stage the Oakland based surf punk band SWMRS played a high-spirited set well received by the young crowd huddled around the stage in the hot early afternoon sun. At the same time, the Encinitas Trestles stage featured a different generation of post-grunge music from New Orleans rockers Better Than Ezra. The band played a high energy set which included their hit song "Good". The high spirited set had an older generation of fans dancing and singing in the hot sunshine.

As the afternoon heated up, a large crowd gathered on the main stage for a set by New York singer Bebe Rexha. With her bushy blonde hair and good looks, the singer looks much younger than her 29 years, but has already become a veteran producer and songwriter as well as a pop sensation. Her music has been recorded by a variety of pop stars in an eclectic mix of genres, including Eminem, Selena Gomez and David Guetta. The performer launched her own singing career in 2015 and has garnered several hits. Backed by a band of young rockers, she danced, pranced and writhed her way through covers of her biggest hit songs of other performers as well as her solo material. The young audience responded enthusiastically to the popular set list.

Meanwhile, nearly a mile away on the Sunset Cliffs stage, EDM sensation Robert DeLong was playing his own unique brand of upbeat dance music. The young performer is the modern equivalent of a one-man band, singing and playing multiple instruments. He began his musical career as a drummer, and electronic percussions remain at the centre of his presentation, but they are augmented with keyboards, scratch pads, and even items scavenged from video games, such as an oversized joystick and a Wii remote. Occasionally DeLong would also pick up traditional instruments including an electric guitar and be joined by a bass and guitar player on several songs.

Another young musician was giving him a run for his money over on the laid-back Tourmaline stage. Ray Goren was performing a set of original neo-blues material. The teenage singer, songwriter and (another!) multi-instrumentalist was playing a searing blues-drenched set to a small but enraptured crowd assembled in the green grassy courtyard. The young phenom has been invited to play with countless veteran blues artists as they make their way through the Los Angeles area on tour. Goren has a magnificent voice, a searing guitar style and an ability to incorporate modern electronic sounds into traditional blues music. The result was one of the best sets of the day, another example of the unique musical juxtapositions found at KAABOO.

Back on the Grandview mainstage, the young crowd who’d assembled for Bebe Rexha stuck around for the next hip-hop act, Big Boi. The singer, songwriter, actor and producer is best known as one half of the hip-hop supergroup Outkast and here he played solo material as well as Outkast classics such as 'Ms. Jackson'. A large crowd swarmed the massive stage to sing along to the hits.

A very different set was about to take place across the festival grounds at the main Sunset Cliffs stage. San Diego hometown heroes and veteran grunge rockers Stone Temple Pilots took the stage for a late afternoon explosion of intense live rock. The band featured the original powerhouse trio that worked as the heavy rock engine of the group, including guitarist Dean DeLeo, his brother bassist Robert DeLeo, and drummer Eric Kretz.

All through the ‘90s STP were one of the most popular grunge bands in the world, selling over 18 million records. Popular well into the 21st century, the group had the misfortune of losing two famous lead singers, Scott Weiland and Chester Bennington. The charismatic original singer Weiland was actually fired from the band and later died of an overdose on a tour bus with another band. He was replaced by the enigmatic lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, who also died after leaving the group.

Jeff Gutt of X-Factor fame became the new lead singer last year, and the spirited performer did his best to step into the shoes of his legendary predecessors. The band tore through their set of well-known hits with ear-piercing precision. The Pilots appeared animated and in good spirits, bouncing off one another and engaging with the crowd. Gutt jumped off the massive stage several times and dived into the enormous audience, delighting the fans while horrifying the security guards. The band's thunderous beats sounded fresh and timeless exhibiting a true rock spirit.

While STP turned in the best grunge rock set of the day, the nod for the best of ‘80s rock went to the next act on the Grandview stage, Billy Idol. The iconic rocker lead his band through a sing-along set of his biggest hits. Guitarists Steve Stevens and Billy Morrison duelled throughout the set while a sweaty Idol enraptured the crowd with his performance bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun. At one point the surly singer removed the shirt under his leather jacket, eliciting squeals of delight from girls packed tightly at the front of the stage.

A completely different but no less engaging set was taking place at the smaller Encinitas Trestles stage where Melissa Etheridge tore through a set of classic rock songs, displaying her trademark bluesy vocals and guitar prowess. A large crowd of older music fans packed the stage tightly as Etheridge displayed surprising dexterity, moving between songs from her newer albums and some of her classic hit songs from her 30-year career. In addition to drums and lead guitar, the musical maven played a mean harmonica, an acoustic 12-string Ovation guitar, and an electric 12-string Jerry Jones guitar. The backing musicians and back up singers all displayed exceptional musical skills. But it was former Fugees bassist and producer Jerry "Wonda" Duplessis, who stood out most in the band with his funky bass rhythms.

As the sunset faded, the indie-folk band The National Parks delighted a crowd lounging in the courtyard in front of the Tourmaline stage. The young Utah band, dressed in matching park ranger outfits, played a fine set of original material. A very different genre of music drew a massive crowd to the main Sunset Cliffs stage for a twilight set by rap-rockers N.E.R.D., whose live performance had more in common with Rage Against The Machine than with the pop machinations you might expect from band leader Pharrell Williams. The group opened with an intense rock wall of sound and progressed with Pharrell going on an extended rant berating the crowd. He endlessly urged the crowd to "Open Up" admonishing the packed audience for not allowing enough room to dance. He also scolded the masses for holding up their cell phones. Eventually, he dived deep into the audience creating a small dance craze that delighted fans and ended up with a large mosh pit.

The Grandview main stage ended the evening with a huge dance party featuring musical pioneers, Earth Wind and Fire, featuring three of the original members, who played their biggest dance hits while thousands of mostly older festival goers danced like they were back in a 1970s disco.

Meanwhile, the closing set by the mainstream Utah rockers Imagine Dragons garnered a no less enthusiastic but much younger audience en masse. Best known for their big hit song 'Radioactive', they are well known for their uplifting music full of positive messaging. Their recent HBO documentary 'Believer' featured the band taking on the Mormon church and how they treat the LGBTQ community. The group opened their set with all members playing percussion, silhouetted by a massive multimedia presentation behind them. Then the band members exploded to life in an animated live performance loaded with beaming smiles and constant eye contact with the audience.

But it was the shirtless lead singer Dan Reynolds who towered literally and figuratively at the front of the stage. The charismatic frontman danced about the stage bouncing off other band members and frequently ventured into the crowd. At one point he borrowed a pair of rainbow flags form the audience and draped himself in them, exhibiting a roar from the audience. At another time he held up a banner that said: "Destigmatize mental health". The set included all the band’s biggest hits and a cover of The Police’s 'Every Breath You Take'. It was a bookend of feel-good music on the two main stages as the second night of KAABOO came to a dramatic close.


Photos by L. Paul Mann
www.lpaulmann.com

















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