beats Cayman and Texas to become the unmistakable pinnacle of the 2019 KAABOO trifecta
Story & photography: Kail Rose
From the nostalgia of REO Speedwagon, Duran Duran and The Cult to the mindblowing headliners Dave Matthews Band, Kings of Leon and Mumford and Sons: KAABOO Del Mar 2019 was an expertly curated, action-packed weekend. Complementing the diverse lineup was vibrant art, comedy from comedy’s best, a truly excellent So Cal venue, delicious food and perfect weather. The cherry on top was the camaraderie of a happy, upbeat crowd. One that knew how to make the most of their upscale festival weekend; to low-key relax and enjoy, but also to partake in some of the finer offerings of the festival weekend. KAABOO has truly mastered the luxury festival sphere, offering attendees an experience that starkly contrasts that of many large popular festivals. Boutique in their mindset, this mid-size event offers a clean, classy and relaxing take on the traditional music festival. It is a luxury festival experience, but it’s also what you make of it; because attendees can spoil themselves as much (or as little) as they see fit. If a super VIP experience is what you’re after, they’ve got that. Or if you’d rather just kick back on a picnic blanket with a cold Blue Moon, enjoying the music and the coastal sun on a perfect September afternoon? No problem. That's fine too.
For Team dRiFFt, KAABOO Del Mar was the pinnacle of the young festival brand’s 2019 trifecta. Blessed to have attended both KAABOO Cayman in February and KAABOO Texas in May, I was no stranger to the experience of a KAABOO music festival. Yet somehow, the Del Mar event wrapped the year with something bigger, better, classier and more seasoned. A flawless lineup of heavy-hitting stars from the perfect mix of genres, and a happy crowd soaking up the scene; smiling, relaxing, partaking in the energy and effervescence of the music in front of them. It was nothing but a shining success; and an indicator of what’s to come as the festival brand grows in 2020.
Bryan Adams wows the crowd on the Sunset Cliffs stage
Snoop Dogg on Friday evening
Artist highlights throughout the weekend were numerous - almost too frequent to mention them all. On Friday, we welcomed the upbeat nostalgia of late 90’s rock band, Plain White T’s before diving into the irrepressibly contagious energy of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, who leapt off pianos and crowd-surfed mid-song in a giant inflatable rainbow unicorn pool float. Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul got us all on our feet and the Silversun Pickups trampled back into our hearts with their best alt rock. A packed, enthusiastic (some even tearful) crowd welcomed the incomparable Boyz II Men and REO Speedwagon stepped up the nostalgia once again in the golden late afternoon light on the Sunset Cliffs stage. We caught powerhouse Maren Morris as the sun set below the horizon; in a spectacularly sun-dappled set of her most charming hits. A double set, courtesy of Wu Tang Clan and Snoop Dogg, wrapped the evening on the Grandview stage. Truly the only legacy hip-hop artists of the day, and despite early sound issues, both sets proved unforgettable. It was a treat catching Wu Tang, and Snoop Dogg. Suffice to say that only Snoop can do Snoop, and when he brings us the best of a long career of hit songs, no-one can complain. I had hoped for a collaboration between the two (even just something impromptu!), but as Wu Tang wrapped and the set changed for Snoop, I realized it wasn’t going to happen. But still - who can complain about two hours of hip-hop heavy hitters bringing us their best?
But Friday was not over here. We’d managed to snag late-night comedy tickets with Pete Holmes & friends, and after a cold beer, laughing our faces off, and resting our (slightly) weary feet, we headed to the silent disco for a late-night dance off. KAABOO counteracted the region’s 10pm curfew with an ingenious late night silent disco to keep the nightowls partying late and the neighbors happy.
Saturday saw just as many special musical moments. I arrived early, allowing myself time to peruse the vibrant modern pop art in the indoor, beautifully air conditioned hall. I grabbed an Aperol Spritz (this was a cocktail not to be missed!) and in a blissful moment of weakness, I gave in and happily handed over my credit card for a couple of signed artist’s prints. Something I rarely indulge in. But that’s what KAABOO really is; an excuse to treat yourself, live a little, spend an afternoon indulging in everything the festival has to offer. With a little time to spare before shooting sets, I slipped over to check out BASK. I sat for a few minutes with a cold sparkling water, feet in the pool, soaking up the California sun. If only all festivals thought to host magnificent music in perfect coastal sunshine with a pool to cool off, delicious cocktails and all the little extras, just like today? And not a porta-potty in sight, nor a speck of dust. This was truly living.
Back to the music. Most enjoyable early on Saturday was the energy and rock-solid rock prowess of Badflower, followed by Cayman’s one and only (and KAABOO Cayman alumni), punk rockers Suckerbox. I caught Switchfoot as their frontman leapt into the crowd, then slipped away for another nostalgic moment with Sublime with Rome. I returned to the Sunset Cliffs stage for Bryan Adams, who gave us an unmistakable and arguably even better set here in Del Mar than his previous (also an alumni) KAABOO Cayman set. One Republic’s performance was truly massive; both in energy and the musical magnitude of their rock setlist. From their own hits to hits written for other artists, we could not tear ourselves away. I caught Black Eyed Peas on the far stage and marvelled, as always, at their prowess and contagious energy. No BEP set is ever dull; and this was far from it. Finally, we wrapped the evening with an unforgettable performance from Dave Matthews Band. What a true privilege to see, hear and experience such a variety of incredible artists all in one day.
Our final festival afternoon, Sunday promised even more of the nostalgia, energy and variety brought to us on Days One and Two. We began with early sets by exuberantly excellent Perta, the ineffable Alec Benjamin, Cash Cash and Lifehouse. By mid-afternoon, I once again met with a “wow, how have I just seen so many greats, all in one venue?” moment. The Revivalists amped it up with an unforgettable set and we caught The Bangles (uh.. Bucket list!!), Colbie Callait and the inimitable Sheryl Crow (bucket-list x2!), who brought her unique blend of energy, magnanimous vocal prowess and upbeat country perfection to an overflowing crowd. I split the evening between crowd favorites Mumford and Sons, then a quick few songs with Duran Duran before I tore myself away to catch the one-and-only Des Rocs on the Palate & Play stage. His high-energy, unbridled rock had drawn a sizeable crowd considering he was competing with two massive headliners. It was here that I stayed and satiated my need for a final mind-blowing, unforgettable evening set.
Despite venue and crowd concerns in years past, I felt that the Del Mar Fairgrounds was an excellent venue for a festival of this size. A Sunday afternoon announcement that KAABOO was moving to Petco Park for 2020 (becoming KAABOO San Diego) was no surprise, yet I truly had no gripes about our 2019 festival grounds. From scenic sunsets to organized chaos in the parking lots (truly, when you are dealing with that many incoming/outgoing vehicles and pedestrians, KAABOO did very well). Walking into the festival grounds, you are met with two sizeable “smaller” stages before cruising through a midway brimming with popups, fun activations, relevant and interesting brand sponsors, art large and small, excellent food trucks and unexpected surprises. Costumed performers traipsed the streets and the wildly unforgettable and pleasantly eccentric Hendrick’s Gin popup kept us entertained - they were also hosting free hot air balloon rides over the far Sunset Cliffs stage. In the middle of the grounds, a large indoor hall hosted the aforementioned art of every imaginable description, and the BASK pool area, the far Sunset Cliffs stage and VIP areas stood on the coastal side of the grounds. Perfectly navigable, tidy and organized, not to large and not too small; everything flowed and everything was easy to reach without too much of a hike. Feedback from attendees was nothing but glowingly positive.
Sheryl Crow is picture-perfect on Sunday at KAABOO
Revivalists reach the audience for a memorable high-energy set.
2019’s Del Mar event was nothing short of musically magnificent; the piece-de-resistance of their 2019 trifecta. Attending the festival was a highlight of my year. Having attended 14 festivals in the past 12 months, I’m no stranger to the good, the bad and the ugly - and the overwhelming logistics involved in hosting such a massive event. I have nothing but respect for the KAABOO festival crew and for the people that spend hours upon hours planning, marketing, booking, selling tickets, managing, organizing, getting us all there, keeping it running (safely), and making it a huge success. KAABOO has grown into a formidable festival brand with a unique, relaxed luxury experience. In five short years, they’ve proven they have something worthwhile to offer and a unique positioning within the festival world. As I’ve said before, I predict they’ll become a mainstay on the festival circuit for many years to come. With recent announcements of KAABOO Cayman’s 2020 cancellation and a move to San Diego proper, I look forward to seeing where the festival will tactically grow. With so many regions starving for a well-run festival like Del Mar, surely only big things are on the horizon. KAABOO unmistakably knows how to appeal to just the right crowd, with just the right lineup and amenities to keep us all happy. They ceaselessly create an experience that is just as upscale as it is flexible and personal. What will KAABOO will pull off for 2020?