Friday, September 13th turned out to be a lucky day for thousands of concertgoers as huge crowds gathered all across the Del Mar fairgrounds for the elaborate KAABOO music festival. The opening day of the fifth annual gathering featured a variety of upscale amenities for an affluent crowd of music lovers combined with a diverse musical line up of big-name entertainment. VIP ticket holders were treated to an echelon of upscale perks, including a private music stage and a poolside view of the main stage. The tier of upscale tickets, including the Ultra passes that sold for $20,000, was completely sold out, underlining the draw of KAABOO as one of the most glamorous music festivals in the country. But while the privileged few lounged in various degrees of overindulgence, the vast majority of festival-goers with general admission also enjoyed amenities at the festival. KAABOO provided plenty of bathrooms with real plumbing, while an astounding number of upscale bars and gourmet food stands kept everyone satiated without waiting in long lines. Street entertainers roamed the grounds offering up impromptu performances. A giant air-conditioned building was turned into a glorious respite from the warm summer Sand Diego sun. The building featured an enormous art show and copious amounts of food vendors and bars. Long lines also formed for the air-conditioned venue housing comedy shows featuring some of the biggest names in the stand-up circuit.
But the real reason that so many gathered on a warm sticky Friday was for the astounding musical line up across four stages (plus another one in the VIP area.)
Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul brought their classic New Jersey style, and horn drenched rock to a big crowd braving the afternoon sun. An inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Little Steven is a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. He was also the co-founder of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, who are scheduled to play day 2 of KAABOO. The multi-talented singer, songwriter, musician and actor from his band The Disciples of Soul back in the 1980s. The band played blues infused soulful rock mostly from their latest album Summer of Sorcery. The fifteen-piece group appeared as a visual wonder wearing psychedelic clothes and performed with animated showmanship. The Disciples feature a five-piece horn section, drummer, bass player, bongo and percussionist, two keyboard players, three backing singers, and a guitarist. In front of all of this musical mayhem, the charismatic Little Steven led the group through a set drenched in classic American rock.
On the other side of the vast expanse of the festival grounds, REO Speedwagon brought classic rock to the massive Sunset Cliffs stage. It is hard to believe that the group, originally from Illinois was formed way back in 1967, especially since their most significant success came with a string of hits in the 1980s. But these all American rockers still exhibit the vitality of a teenage rock bands, all jokes about growing old aside. The group opened with “Don’t Let Him Go,” a single from the band’s career peak album, 1980’s “High Infidelity.” A huge tightly packed crowd surged towards the stage as the massive speakers brought the music booming across the venue. By the third song, the band launched deep into their catalog of hits like “Keep Pushin,” followed by “In Your Letter.” Lead singer Kevin Cronin’s daughter Holly joined the band to sing a mellow version of “I Can’t Fight This Feeling.” The group ended their set with a cover of the Eddie Money hit, Two Tickets to Paradise, in tribute to Money who had just passed away.
Back over on the smaller BMW Encinitas Trestles Stage, a band founded in the new millennium, Silversun Pick Ups played the raging rock that has made them such a well-known live act. After their rambunctious set, just next door on the Grandview stage, a decidedly different sound was emanating as the a cappella R&B group Boyz II Men were bringing their hit songs from the 1990s to a large adulate crowd.
Just as the sun began to set casting rays of light through the dusty fairgrounds air, Marren Morris appeared on the appropriately named Sunset Cliffs stage for one of the most engaging sets of the day. The 29-year-old country music singer from Nashville was probably the most relevant headliner on Friday, having produced Grammy-winning hits over the last four years. Morris was one of the top nominees announced for the 2019 edition of the Country Music Association with nominations in six categories. Her set featuring an exquisite back band of rock-infused country music masters was full of masterful blends of music from different genres. Bathed in a magical sunset, Morris set was energetic and inspiring.
As the sun waned and stars began to appear in the sky, a Hip-Hop double bill drew an enormous crowd back to the Grandview stage. Unfortunately, there was no much-hoped-for collaboration between Wu-Tang Clan and Snoop Dog, both celebrating the 25th anniversaries of their debut albums. RZA, Wu-Tang Clan's de facto leader sauntered onstage uncharacteristically early to hype the crowd with the call-and-response of "hip-hop" and "Wu-Tang Forever.” One by one, the members of the New York-based collective took the stage including Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Method Man, GZA, Inspectah Deck, U-God and YDB, son of deceased Wu-Tang Clan member Ol' Dirty Bastard. An elated crowd pulsed fanatically to the music. Following a short break, the iconic Hip-Hop artist Snoop Dog came out to "Countdown" from his just-released 17th studio album, "I Wanna Thank Me. The charismatic rapper tore through his well-known anthems, inspiring a mass sing-along throughout the set.
The Tennessee based Kings of Leon closed out the Sunset Cliffs stage with a rock-laden set centered around the group’s fourth album, “Only by the Night,” which made the band world-famous. But the night wasn’t over for thousands of the youngest concert-goers. An enthusiastic crowd hung out for the most massive silent disco crowd ever assembled. Meanwhile, Michale Obliwitz’s masterful surf film Heavy Water played on huge screens offering a fitting ending the first day of KAABOO.