Against the backdrop of a uniquely picturesque Californian landscape–crystal blue waters along coastal cliffs on one side and sun-kissed palms on the other–KAABOO Del Mar was unveiled to fans as a proud testament to the inherent beauty of the nearby beach community.
But the celebration that began Friday afternoon at the Del Mar Fairgrounds celebrated more than just natural beauty. Everything from artisanal cuisines to local craft breweries were available to fans who delighted in savoring some of San Diego’s best in food and beer–and if by some incredulous chance you found a gap of free time amidst the festival’s stellar lineup, you could enjoy that triple IPA and lobster grilled cheese watching comedy acts like Lewis Black, or take a stroll through the stunning collection of art gathered within.
But that being said, Friday was truly all about the music. The main stage–aptly named Sunset Cliffs for its spectacular view of the sun’s descent behind the nearby cliffs–was lit the entire day. Fitz and the Tantrums began the midday rush, igniting a fire under the feet of fans with their dance-ready pop anthems–lead singer Fitz at one point humorously calling out individuals in the crowd who just weren’t dancing enough.
While on the Grandview stage, bluesy-folk and country inspired groups like Jamestown Revival and Delta Rae had fans stomping their feet to the tune of their piano-thumping, violin twittering melodies.
Foster The People
As night began to fall, Foster the People took the stage in what would be their greatest and last performance of their Supermodel tour. It’s been over four years since “Pumped Up Kicks” took the nation by storm and Mark Foster and company went from unknown indie rockers to a household name. In that time they’ve matured from the sunshine pop sentiments of their band’s adolescence–and Friday night it showed. At times a poised vision of controlled passion, others a blur of leg flinging struts and inane croons, Foster emerged as a commanding and wildly entertaining expose of emotion. At times unable to contain himself he would speak directly to the crowd, somewhere between quiet ranting and a sincerely humble intimacy, about how he hoped music–not just his–would help his fans through the complexities of life. Before engaging in a discussion with the crowd about the futility but small hope in politics, he dedicated “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon” to Donald Trump–and regardless of your political views, for a moment, as rumbling guitars melted faces and Foster gurgled his angry words into the microphone, the band’s synth pop antics was transformed into hard rock.
Ending with the orchestral synths and vast soundscapes of “The Truth,” with a dazzling light show exploding like a supernova at every bass drop, Foster closed down KAABOO long before its final headliners took the stage.
But the night was still young, and by the time No Doubt took the stage, the sandy fields in front of Sunset Cliffs was packed to the teeth with fans of every age, clamoring to catch a glimpse of pop royalty. Bringing with her nearly thirty-years of experience performing in front of massive crowds, Gwen Stefani waltzed up to the edge of the stage dressed in the essence of 80’s fashion–camo-cargo pants, glittering pink jacket, fishnet undershirt and all.
Opening with a string of throwback hits like “Don’t Speak” and “It’s My Life,” Stefani strutted up and down the thirty foot wide stage, jumping, kicking, and oozing a long-lost (but not by her) provocative-but-honest sensuality that many modern pop stars aspire to but never even touch. This was Stefani in her prime–until you realize she still is in her prime and the ease with which she dazzles crowds into ecstasy comes too naturally to her.
At one point during her performance of “I’m Just a Girl,” Stefani climbed about half-way up the metal framework of one of the stage’s towers–screaming to fans below that if she could risk her life for them, they could sing along with her. People might talk about No Doubt (rightfully) as the pop legends they’ve become–but it should never be in the past tense.
Snoop Dogg officially closed the night after a welcomed half-hour delay (he was supposed to go on at the same time as No Doubt), but only stayed onstage for about an hour before before abruptly leaving. It was a quality hour though, as the rapper dropped his greatest hits in between pumping up the crowd in a way only Snoop could–by bringing two scantily clad women onstage to dance alongside him.
Words & Photography: Steven Ward
Fitz and the Tantrums