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KAABOO Del Mar Music Festival

by Review and photos by Andy J. Gordon on September 30, 2017

If you build it, they will come. That was the philosophy of the organizers of the KAABOO Del Mar Music Festival when they planned their first fest three years ago at the Del Mar Racetrack just north of San Diego, and it's been a resounding success.

Their plan was ambitious – to combine A-list musical talent with a cornucopia of other delights designed to keep fans of all ages amused all day and night for three full days – and they have succeeded admirably. The 2017 edition, held from September 15-17, drew the largest crowd of its three-year existence with a diverse array of options including four outdoor stages of live music and an indoor stand-up comedy stage, as well as a celebrity chef demo stage, massive art installations, first-rate culinary selections and even a pool party complete with cabanas and bottle service held within view of one of the four music stages.

KAABOO Del Mar makes sure that attendees are catered to and comfortable. That draws a deep-pocketed audience with high expectations (the Hang Ten VIP three-day pass went for over $2,000, for example, and sold out) and this year’s festival really delivered with an expanded, more streamlined layout of the festival grounds. Naturally, the live music was the primary focus, as fans flocked to hear daily headliners including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, P!nk and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. The all-day Friday to Sunday lineups included a mix of pop, hip-hop, Americana, classic rock, jam, EDM and a variety of new up-and-coming acts.

The outdoor stages dedicated to live music were strategically spread throughout the grounds. Each offered excellent sightlines, quality acoustics and a smartly coordinated schedule that allowed fans to catch multiple acts each day. Jamband followers enjoyed an interesting assortment of artists that are new to the scene as well as classic jammers.

On Friday, The Motet played a smoking set of soul-infused funk on the modestly sized Trestles Stage. They were followed by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend Dave Mason, who treated the crowd to several of his solo hits and a medley of those Traffic tunes that got him into the Hall of Fame, as well as a spirited cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

The Magpie Salute, Rich Robinson’s post-Black Crowes band followed Mason. Both Robinson and Marc Ford showed off their impressive guitar improvisation skills during the set. The band played new songs, Black Crowes' classics and a couple of tasty Rod Stewart & Faces covers.

Michael McDonald closed the day’s shows on the Trestles Stage. He still has that distinctive voice we remember from his time with the Doobie Brothers and included a few of their hits in his set. Over at Sunset Cliffs, one of the two main stages, the Red Hot Chili Peppers drew the biggest crowd of the day for their headlining set.

RHCP may be 34 years into their career, but Anthony Kiedis, Flea and Chad Smith still act like they are the rebellious, upstart kids that blew up all those years ago. Josh Klinghoffer slashed on guitar while Kiedis and Flea bounced around the massive stage. They blasted through a set of hits including “Californication,” “By The Way” and “Give it Away,” proving once again why they, too, are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Saturday’s lineup was a wild mixed bag of artists. By late in the afternoon, fans could choose between Toad the Wet Sprocket, Garbage and Eric Burdon & The Animals. At Grandview, the second main stage, Jane’s Addiction put on a high-energy show reminiscent of their early Lollapalooza performances. Both Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro kept a devoted crowd of fans locked in for the entire, energy packed set.

While Jane’s Addiction raised the roof at Grandview, back at Trestles, Jakob Dylan and The Wallflowers reminded a smaller crowd about how strong their songwriting was through the 1990s. Dylan led his talented band through some older radio hits and newer songs.

Muse got the headlining slot on the Grandview Stage. Their set and P!nk’s closing show on Sunset Cliffs divided the people in attendance, making it easier to navigate the crowd at each of the two stages. Muse put on a sonic and visual extravaganza. Matt Bellamy alternated between frenetic guitar solos and his dramatic falsetto vocals, while the impressive light show fascinated the audience.

Live and Alanis Morissette kept the 90s vibe alive on Sunday at the Sunset Cliffs Stage while Pete Yorn did a nice set at Trestles. Yorn was followed by classic rock radio stalwart Jackson Browne, who miraculously still sounds like he did in the 70s – and yet another inducted member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers got Sunday’s exclusive closing set of KAABOO Del Mar 2017 – all the other stage schedules, including comedy and culinary, were done for the year. Celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, the band has been ripping it up all this spring and summer on tour and have hit several festivals along the way. A huge, loud crowd saw Petty and Mike Campbell trade extended guitar solos on the Sunset Cliffs stage during the hit-packed set. Every member of this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band was on fire and sounded great as they started off with “Rockin' Around (With You),” the first track on their 1976 debut self-titled album. The show was a career retrospective that included songs from each of the ensuing decades, included hits like “Free Fallin’,” “Learning to Fly,” “Runnin' Down a Dream” and the show closing “American Girl.”

The audience who attended KAABOO Del Mar 2017 experienced a seriously good festival weekend. It was a marathon of diverse entertainment, loaded with deluxe creature comforts. Next year’s festival will surely feature more big stars and additional luxury options to attract even more festivalgoers. Plan early if you want to make the scene, because passes will likely sell out. The Fourth Annual KAABOO Del Mar Festival is scheduled for September 14-16, 2018, and discounted early bird passes are already available.

Authors: Review and photos by Andy J. Gordon