“They done gone ahead and served up a proper ranch size platter of country music right here at the beach!”
Taking a page out of the Coachella playbook, the Redondo Beach, CA BeachLife Festival promoters dipped their lasso into country music. Three days, 26 stage acts, 11 acoustic sets, over 30 hours of music along with a wide selection of vittles and libations.
They call it BeachLife Ranch. But I kept calling it “beach twang”.
Let’s get this out here right up front. My head is not wired to adequately absorb and appreciate that much music all at once. Gotta pace yourself! So, I spread my cattle wrangling ears judiciously over the three days.
And I loved it.
As with any festival that establishes a foothold in one spot over time, fine-tuning the experience should be an ever evolving experience. I like the BeachLife layout and they continue to improve on it. Food, beverage and other vendors are strategically set up as you enter and walk towards the stages.
Ranch also added a big tent with a country DJ who was encouraging people to try their hat at line dancing. It was also family/kid friendly. I saw plenty well into the last set each night.
I started early on Friday. It was sunny and hot and I headed straight to the shaded acoustic speakeasy overhang which is tucked away at the far end of the festival grounds. Field Medic was serving up some really pleasant lo-fi Americana on his six string acoustic. It was the perfect soft opening to three days of music.
The two big stages were aptly named Hither (artificial grass) and Yonder (beach sand). First up at the sand stage was The John Doe Folk Trio. I have been a fan of his for over 40 years. He is a founding member of the LA punk band X and has always embraced and celebrated the American country sound with his solo work and side projects.
He played an electrified acoustic guitar which had a rich full sound and was backed by an upright bass player and low key drummer. He joked about his set time. It was surreal to see him play in bright daylight but his set was perfect – a blend of country reworked X songs, country covers, originals and a sing-a-long of the 88 year old romantic love song “I Only Have Eyes For You’. He has not lost an ounce of timbre and his voice was truly perfect.
The alternating stage schedules are tight but it is a quick and easy jaunt between the two. I hustle over to hear the baritone alt country singing of White Buffalo. I was not familiar with him but was completely enamored by his set. Given my wide music taste bandwidth, I must confess that my country music acumen is really weak – and not for any reason. I love all music and hearing a new act (to me) live is one of my absolutely favorite things to do.
I bounced back to the sand to hear Jamestown Revival, another act that I do know and have seen live twice before. They hail from Texas and are great harmonizers. Their sound and set were strong. “California (Cast Iron Soul)” is one of my all time favorite songs.
I sat on a permanent stone bench near the edge of the sand for their set and was joined by several people. There was a friendly vibe to the whole festival and we all introduced ourselves and chatted about music. It turned out that I actually knew one of the women.
I walked back over to the grass stage for Pete Yorn. He was not on my music radar. Leaning more towards indie folk or indie rock rather than country he had a full band with several guitarists. He has great stage presence and I enjoyed his sound.
Promoters have billed Ranch as an American/Country/Roots music festival for that cowboy surfer in all of us. I scan the crowd. The age range is broad from high schoolers to the retired. There is no shortage of cowboy hats, cut off jean shorts and cowboy boots. I would not call this a crowd of color and nor would I expect it at a festival like this. But there is a remarkably pleasant vibe to the experience.
I am sure that the elevated corporate sponsor suites and VIP areas add value and some enticing distractions, but I found the General Admission experience at Ranch to be perfectly adequate. I moved freely – up, back, left, right wherever I wanted to go or watch. People spread blankets out at the grass stage and mostly stood at the sand stage. There were also plenty of places to hang for some personal space.
My day one plan was to take a break and head back to the festival with my wife to see the Lumineers and Hall & Oates, but unfortunately, that did not pan out. I am bummed that I missed the Lumineers.
I switched up for day two to catch the big acts on Saturday night. Ashley McBryde is a legit and fairly new country music act who really broke through to prominence in 2018. She played a charismatic and crowd pleasing set. Country music is beginning to grow on me.
One of the special sets of the evening was Shooter Jennings, who framed his set around rotating guest artists singing and playing the music of his father, country music legend Waylon Jennings. This even included Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett. It had a loose and celebratory feel to it and this only added to the sentimental vibe.
The night concluded with a real country music star, Dierks Bentley. He has been releasing albums since 2013 and has a saddle full of number one country hits and epitomizes the main act experience. I found him really likeable and I tapped my foot through his whole set.
Day three’s line-up was my favorite. The husband and wife singing duo, The War and Treaty brought their soul gospel country brunch to the early audience. Highly recommended! Drive-by-Truckers provided a solid mid-day crowd pleasing Southern rock vibe to the festival. The festival line-up was very well-rounded and even included the bluegrass jam band, Greensky Bluegrass.
The final three acts were some of my favorites. Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson and his band Promise of the Real. In between his stellar songs both electric and acoustic, he regaled the audience with several entertaining stories.
Back over at the sand stage, Wilco, the thinking man’s alternative indie country-tinged act hit the stage as the sun was setting. This is a band that challenges the traditional boundaries of sound and structure – but in a very good way. I am a long time fan and was excited to hear their well-rounded set. They closed it out with a rousing cover of the Grateful Dead’s U.S. Blues.
The final act was Brandi Carlile. She is the current trending hot country music star – and I did not know much about her. Yet, from the minute she hit the stage, I was engaged. I instantly liked her. Her band includes twin brother guitarists who absolutely rip. She also had drum legend (and San Pedro, CA born) Matt Chamberlain holding the beat. She is very charismatic and held my interest every step of the way. Even better, she played Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity” and then went right into Radiohead’s “Creep”. You have my attention! She closed out the festival with a sweet solo version of “Over the Rainbow”.
The crowds at Ranch were slightly smaller than regular BeachLife which was great as a spectator. I give the festival high marks. It hit all the right notes with zero complaints from this here ‘cowboy surfer’.
And I’m ready to saddle up for the next one!