October 14, 2022 Review by Jimmy Alvarez & Kevin Gomez
OHANA (noun): a word of Hawaiian origin meaning a person’s extended family, which can include friends and other important social groups; Family, also, a meeting of family members.
In Southern California, it is one of the epic music and cultural festivals put on each year at Doheny State Beach, and it is organized by Pearl Jam’s, Eddie Vedder. Despite the still concerning evolution and impact of COVID, this year’s event was one of the most heartfelt and welcomed in recent memory.
The all-star lineup was packed with a diverse set of musicians strewn across three stages. The “main” stage, dubbed the Ohana Stage, was host to most of the larger acts, including the weekend’s headliners. The Tiki Stage was a slightly smaller stage located directly the right of the Ohana Stage.
Last, but not least, was the Storyteller Stage, a more intimate, outdoor lounge with couches featuring guest speakers, discussions on activism and even a live podcast.
Day one featured what has been a theme of the event; larger-than-life bands sharing the stage with established musicians and entertainers, along with electrifying up-and coming bands. We also got to hear from storytellers sharing experiences, and of course displays that allow us to commune with nature and reflect on the direction our planet is in based on our contributions, or lack thereof. Californian Indian Voices, Inspiring Activism and Racing Extinction really affected concertgoers.
This year the displays were moving, and so were the stories we heard. But it was the bands that concertgoers drew themselves to. Opening up day one was California-based surf & skate rockers, The Alive! They were led by show organizer Eddie Vedder. It was the right band to kick off the festival; Vedder and the guys brought the event to life immediately!
A kick-ass band that took the spotlight on day one was The Revivalist. Their infectious grooves and energy pulled the crowd in and caught their sonic vibe.
For me, the artist that stopped me in my tracks was Brittany Howard. The former Alabama Shakes crooner was on the Ohana Stage and she displayed a vocal range that was dynamic, with highs and lows that were jaw dropping. If that wasn’t enough, she was masterful on the guitar.
The one band I was completely taken by surprise was Khruangbin. This Texas trio provided a blend of classic soul, dub, rock, and psychedelic funk, and included some well-organized and timed choreography; the crowd couldn’t take their eyes off them.
In the end, the night belonged to Stevie Nicks. As the day turned to night, the overhead sound system kept the crowd entertained, but once Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” was played, the lights dimmed, and as the song played out, the band took the stage. Nicks showed us why she is a legend among legends. She opened with “Outside the Rain” and welcomed the crowd and thanked them for coming. Then, the magic that is Stevie Nicks took center stage. Concertgoers of all ages and walks of life sang along to her music.
Her first Fleetwood Mac rendition was “Dreams,” and it sounded as good today as when it first came out. Then, she followed with her catalogue, including “If Anyone Falls” and “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” which Vedder joined her for.
Luckily for her fans, Nicks is no stranger to covers. She mesmerized with the Buffalo Springfield cover of “For What It’s Worth,” followed by “Gypsy,” “Bella Donna,” then back to Petty with “Free Fallin,’” then rolled into “Edge of Seventeen.” Nicks was genuinely moved by the love and affection the crowd gave back. She had a smile from ear to ear as she exited the stage.
As expected, the calls from the audience elicited the encore the crowd yelled for. She came out and belted out “Rhiannon.” It was a surreal moment taking in her voice and just being in that crowd; in that moment in time, we were the depiction of what Ohana stands for.
The first band to kick off Saturday’s Ohana Stage was Y La Bamba, which I would describe as Latin-infused rock music, sung primarily in Spanish and led by singer and guitarist, Luz Elena Mendoza. Featuring a sound with very mellow, laid back vibes, it seemed like the perfect mood against a sunny Saturday afternoon on the beach. Their set included, “Boca Llena” and concluded with “Ojos del sol.”
Curtis Harding carries with him all of the soul and history of Motown. He has a terrific voice that ranges from soulful to falsetto (he used to back up CeeLo Green), and has worked with Green collaborator, Danger Mouse. Playing songs like “The Drive,” rooted in a heavy and funky bass and drum intro that guided the whole song. He played “Need My Baby” by repeating the song’s opening lyrics, “My world was dark, but you brought me to the light.”
Noga Erez, an artist I would describe as alt-electro with elements of hip-hop, reminded of artists such as Billie Eilish or K Flay. She opened with “You So Done” followed by “Fire Kites.” The majority of her set was taken from her latest album, “KIDS.” She ended with “NAILS,” a song that was just released this year and features Missy Elliott, a collaboration Erez said she is still trying to wrap her head around.
Joy Oladokun introduced one of her first songs, aptly titled, “Smoke” as a song about, “How much I love pot.” Her next song, “Sunday,” was about reconciling with growing up in the church and being queer (“As you can tell by my dress and overall vibe.”). That was followed by “I See America,” a song about all of the beauty and ugliness that this country has to offer. She then went into a rocking cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Gathering the biggest crowd of the afternoon thus far, Inhaler came out to a large ovation from the crowd who had clearly come early to catch their set. The Dublin, Ireland band gained worldwide popularity following the success of their 2021 debut album, “It Won’t Always Be Like This.” The band opened with the album’s title track and followed up with “We Have to Move On” and “Totally,” and closed with their biggest hit, “My Honest Face.”
I was pleasantly surprised to see Mike Campbell performing with his band, The Dirty Knobs, on the Tiki Stage. Campbell, a talented guitarist and songwriter, was one of the founding members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It was with great reverence and sad tribute that Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of Petty’s passing. He played some great solo work including “Wicked Mind,” and the fun “F*ck That Guy” that had everyone singing along. He played a handful of Tom Petty covers, including “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” a song he co-wrote.
This was my first time seeing Billy Strings live and the two words that I was left to describe his guitar playing were “prodigy” and “phenom.” Truth be told, his entire band is a collection of brilliant musicians from Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, to Billy Failing on banjo. There were a handful of instrumental songs, including their opening number, which really let them showcase their playing. The bluegrass musician’s final number was a cover of the Stanley Brothers’ “Train 45” to a loud standing ovation.
Manchester Orchestra, the indie rock band from Atlanta, brought some rock to the festival. They opened with “Pride” and their diverse set spanned songs from nearly their entire catalogue. The real stars from their performance, though, were highlighting songs from their latest release, 2021’s “The Million Masks of God.”
Truly one of the most talented musicians to come out of the 21st century, Jack White did not disappoint. Clad in a zebra-striped short-sleeve button-down shirt and slicked-back blue hair, he opened with “Taking Me Back” and “Fear of the Dawn.” A huge cheer went up from the crowd as White began strumming the opening chords to the White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground.”
White is such a phenom on guitar, he needs an equally talented drummer to keep up with him and he has found it in Daru Jones. Jones began the steady bass drum intro as White launched into “Icky Thump.” Before the song’s second verse, White announced, “This next line here goes out straight to Governor DeSantis.” The line went, “Well, Americans, what, nothin’ better to do? Why don’t you kick yourself out? You’re an immigrant too!”
White closed his set with three of his most popular songs: White Stripes’ “Fell in Love With a Girl,” Raconteurs’ “Steady as She Goes,” and what has become a stadium anthem, “Seven Nation Army.”
Saturday’s headlining set belonged to Ohana Fest brainchild, Eddie Vedder. Vedder’s band opened with Pearl Jam’s, “Rear View Mirror,” backed by none other than Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on drums. Former Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, and highly-skilled guitarist Andrew Watt were supporting, who along with Smith, all play on Vedder’s third solo effort, “Earthling.”
As such, the setlist was primarily songs from “Earthling” mixed in with so many covers I actually lost count. Two particularly special ones were when Vedder was joined on stage by Mike Campbell who played a pair of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers songs, “Room at the Top” and “The Waiting.”
Vedder ended his regular set with a trio of lesser-known Pearl Jam songs: “Dirty Frank,” “Lukin,” and fan favorite, “Porch.” At this point, the band had already been playing for well over 90 minutes giving everything they had. However, they returned onstage and played a cover of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity.” They did a cover of “Hunger Strike,” a song originally recorded by Temple of the Dog, with Vedder and Chris Cornell on vocals. Finally, they closed the night out with Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
Devon Gilfillian kicked off Sunday’s main stage. The soul singer introduced “High” by saying, “This is about getting high on life; getting high on live; and smoking that good-good.” He played his brand new single, “Brown Sugar Queen.” He announced that his band covered Marvin Gaye’s album, “What’s Going On?” with proceeds going to fight voter suppression in his home state of Tennessee and then played a beautiful rendition of the title track.
I discovered Briston Maroney early in the pandemic and was pleased to see he had a rather large audience, certainly for this early in the day as he had amassed a big following. The indie singer opened with “Small Talk” and went into the electric rocking, “Bottle Rocket.” Maroney was very candid as he revealed he was on this very beach in 2019 in drug rehab. He would walk along the beach and think about who he wanted to be, “Sorry, I sound like a Hallmark card…but a sober Hallmark card.” He closed his set with the gorgeous “Freakin’ Out on the Interstate.”
The indie/hippie music collective that is known as Grouplove walked out to the Beatles’ “Come Together” and immediately launched into “Borderlines and Aliens.” They played “Raspberry” and “Itchin’ on a Photograph,” both off of their wildly popular debut, “Never Trust a Happy Song.”
Continuing with the tribute to Tom Petty, the Los Angeles band did an acoustic cover of his “Wildflowers.” They played their big radio hit, “Tongue Tied” and rolled that into a cover of Neil Young’s “Sweet Caroline.” They finished with an energetic performance of “Colours.”
Broken Social Scene is an indie musical collective with an expansive number of musicians that would join on stage, leave, switch lead vocals, and even switch instruments. With the rock music and horns section, they reminded me of Chicago (the band, not the city). They opened with “KV Accidental,” but for their second song, their regular lead singer, Brendan Canning, moved to the back on guitar and their bassist, Kevin Drew took up lead vocals. A few songs in and Ariel Engle, their female lead vocalist took over lead on “Almost Crimes,” and they closed with “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl.”
A large crowd had amassed as the sun began to set to catch St. Vincent on the Ohana Stage. The set was meant to highlight her 2021 release, “Daddy’s Home,” dedicating nearly half of her songs from this album. Vincent, clad in a pink jumpsuit adorned with a heart stating, “Daddy’s Home,” opened with “Digital Witness” and “Down.” What makes Vincent so memorable is she is able to shift through various genres, rock to soul, electronic to sugary pop, sometimes all within the same song. She couples her rocking guitar riffs and solos with a pair of soulful backup singers which was heightened on the moody, ‘70s funk and ‘60s psychedelic “Down and Out Downtown.”
For “New York,” Vincent came down to the crowd and jumped on the guardrail, singing the chorus while holding hands with fans. For her next trick, Vincent walked further down the barricade and stood on top of the rail singing the second verse, “New York isn’t New York without you, love.” She closed out a powerful set, which ended up being the last show of her tour, with “Your Lips are Red” and finally ended with “The Melting of the Sun.”
In order to close out a weekend packed with up-and-coming musicians and some of the biggest names in music history, you needed a huge act that could carry the weight of a three-day festival; fortunately, Pink was more than ready to take on the task. Pink came out with a full band, two keyboard players, and half a dozen backup dancers and opened with “Get the Party Started,” and she did just that. She then went into the party anthem “Raise Your Glass,” and “Just Like a Pill.” She did a beautiful rendition of “Try” followed by “Just Give Me a Reason.”
Pink loves a good cover and did a total of seven of them, often paying tribute to artists that inspired her. The first, and one of the most impressive, was “River” originally by Bishop Briggs which seemed to heighten and elevate the song. As she often does, she crushed the rock opera, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and led the entire crowd in a sing-along of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?”
My favorite song in her set was “I Am Here.” Part hymn, part soulful vocals, and capped with what I can only describe as a bluegrass hoedown that got the entire crowd dancing. She ended her 20 song, 90-minute set with the love ballad “What About Us” before leaving with the hit dance singles “Blow Me (One Last Kiss” and “So What,” capping off what was damn near a perfect weekend.
Another successful Ohana weekend down and we will count the days until next year’s.