Hall & Oats, Lumineers, Old Crow and John Doe open BeachLife Ranch in Redondo Beach
by Garrick Rawlings
[Editor’s note: BeachLife Ranch continues through Sunday, September 18, with headliners Wilco and Brandi Carlile.]
Myron Elkins and The Dying Breed kicked off the first BeachLife Ranch Country and Americana Festival in Redondo Beach early Friday afternoon on the “Hither” stage. The 20-year-old, from rural Michigan, and his band rocked out to a rocking setting in the midday sun, with songs from their debut EP, “Just Another Asshole with a Guitar.” These guys tap into the same well of rock and country influences as their predecessors like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell.
The Hither stage is in the Seaside Lagoon parking lot and is covered with soft, green synthetic grass.
The second main stage is Yonder is on sand, which would be underwater if the Seaside Lagoon had not been emptied for the festival.
There are short breaks between sets to allow time for the crowds to move between scenes.
Los Angeles punk and roots rock legend John Doe was the first Friday on the Yonder stage. He was joined by David J. Carpenter on double bass and Bryan Head on drums. The band are gearing up for a West Coast tour to promote Doe’s new release ‘Fables in a Foreign Land’, a stripped down and critically acclaimed collection. Doe sang it under the blazing sun, which seemed odd to the co-founder of one of LA’s top bands, X. His former band sang frequently about the dark side of life and performed in every darkest and spookiest places in LA. punk rock dives.
Although Doe plays an acoustic guitar in her “folk” trio, she’s plugged into a Vox amplifier that warps and rocks with the soft stuff. Their set was a strong combination of his roots-focused solo material, his punky country outfit, The Knitters, and X. Highlights of the high-energy set were X’s biggest hit, “Burning House of Love.” , and the classic California country hit by Merle Haggard, “Silver Wings,” which The Knitters covered. “My Darling Blue Skies” from Doe’s solo album, “The Westerner”, was perhaps the most perfect and relevant song in the spirit of the festival.
Doe abruptly shifted gears with “I Only Have Eyes For You,” a hit for The Flamingos in 1959. He and Carpenter gave us some “sha-bop, sha-bops” as they played it, a sweet moment and warm. The trio ended with the classic X, “The New World”, which turned into “Revolution” by the Beatles, which was a revelation.
White Buffalo was next on the scene Hither, another act more rock than country, in a solid way. White Buffalo, as a trio, is the stage name of singer-songwriter Jake Smith from Eugene, Oregon. His albums became rockier along his roots path. When he’s revving up vocals, there are a few apt hints of Eddie Vedder, in a good way, not in a Creed way.
Then Austin, Texas-based Jamestown Revival took over the Yonder scene. The six-piece band was born out of folk duo Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay. Their sound is built around the magnificent harmonies of these two childhood friends. A highlight of their performances is when they break down a song into vocal harmonies and minimal instrumentation. The dynamics were effective and a welcome change from the inappropriate and obtrusive amount of punchy bass from the subwoofer that overwhelmed every act’s mix on both stages throughout the day. This is a common miscalculation in the gig business these days for both organic and acoustic gigs. Speaking of bass, kudos to the Revival bassist’s dedication to rock and roll fashion, rocking in the hot afternoon sun in his black leather jacket, hat and skintight pants.
The name of the group is a tribute to the first American establishment Jamestown and to Creedence Clearwater Revival. True to their name, they are seriously American. During a short-lived move to Los Angeles, they wrote “California (Cast Iron Soul)”. The anthemic song was the highlight of their set and had the growing crowd singing along “California, I don’t even know you, taking me away from home…”
12-string Pete Yorn and his six-piece band performed together for the first time in two years on the Hither Stage. It was easy to see that they were thrilled to be in front of a crowd. In a nod to the ubiquitous advertisements for corporate whiskey, Yorn returned to his debut album (Musicforthemorningafter 2001) to delve into the popular complaint “Life on the Chain”, “the first track from an old album”. – “…as a joke, I sent a bottle of whiskey.” Yorn is indeed a roots rocker for the new millennium, a seasoned pro at this point. Along with songs from his decade-long career, he debuted some promising songs from his new album, “Hawaii.” Before a much-loved cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” Yorn mentioned that it would have been written by Gram Parsons rather than Mick and Keith. The “controversy” is attributed to “Wild Horses” because the Flying Burrito Brothers covered it. The Stones were indeed greatly influenced by Gram, and it was the spark of their country excursions.
Waxahatchee, the baby of singer/songwriter Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee Creek in central Alabama was next on the Yonder stage. It was the first set of the day that was more melodic than rhythmic, in the best way. His trio’s songs had a nice understated backbeat, with charming harmonies between Crutchfield and his bassist. In addition to the possibility of performing songs from his latest release, the 2020s Saint Cloud, shared two new solo acoustic songs. Her band returned as the setting sun captured her face to cover Lucinda Williams’ “Abandoned.”
Everyone finally had to get off work when the breeze picked up and dusk set in for the Old Crow Medicine Show on the Hither Stage. This six-piece outfit most likely exemplifies the target demographic of “RanchLife” – loud and rowdy with songs about cocaine and whiskey, all done in an energetic and celebratory manner. The multi-instrumentalists mix banjos, violins and keyboards, as well as the traditional. guitar/bass/drums. The drummer would fly off the drum riser to stage level and descend on a washboard. It was great. These are the guys who found the fragments of a partially written song by Bob Dylan, rejected from the movie “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid”, and turned it into “Wagon Wheel”, one of the best-selling singles of all time, with a boost from Darius Rucker’s cover, guaranteeing a career at Old Crow.
The stage headliners there, the penultimate act of the night, began with a dark scene and subtle video, leading into their dramatic entrance. The house was full and the light show was at its peak as dusk became the night sky. Founding members Wesley Shultz and Jeremiah Fraites hail from Denver, Colorado and are yet another singer/songwriter duo that have become a band. When they entered their hit “Brightside,” the crowd was fully on board. It was the first real community rock and roll moment of the evening. Their music is another version of the Americana mash-up, in the same class as Mumford & Sons, The National, Bon Iver, et al. It’s dramatic, atmospheric and moody. They had the crowd in the palms of their collective hands as they launched into their debut hit “Ho Hey,” which became an impressive triumphant, feel-good chant.
Hall & Oates, the best-known country artists on the list, took to the stage for the finale of the first day of the festival. They performed to a packed crowd, save for the mostly empty corporate VIP areas that flanked the stage. These guys have been there since 1972 and are over 70 but haven’t shown their age at all. It was a top-notch one-act set that can perform an entire hit gig, which they did.
H&O’s tour organization is top notch. The audio/video intro with excerpts from their hits mixed with the soundtrack, heightening the anticipation of the headliners. Even the sound engineering was spot on. The excess punchy bass from the subwoofer that polluted previous acts was gone. It’s a good bet the difference was that H&O had their own techs, which get a good full spectrum of clean sound, with good full bass, without the hip-hop noise, well done.
They’re basically an R&B soul/blue-eyed, Philly pop act. From “Rich Girl” to “Method of Modern Love,” two of country music’s biggest hits, with many more in between, the H&O show left nothing to be desired. The video segments produced for specific songs on the big screen behind the stage were engaging and often beautiful. The giant image of a 1970s television set in a living room solidly framed their excellent cover of the Righteous Brother hit “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” setting an appropriately melancholy mood. It made this reporter’s night when seemingly out of nowhere, H&O launched a curve ball with an unexpected deep cut from their 1974 album war babies, “Is It a Star”, which is more Steely Dan/fusion than AM pop. Perfect for an evening at the beach. Emergency room