Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann
West Beach Music Festival :: 09.24.10-09.25.10 :: Santa Barbara, CA
Despite a slew of seemingly insurmountable roadblocks thrown up by the Santa Barbara City Council, the fourth annual West Beach Festival went off without a hitch the last weekend of September. Music fans were greeted with some of the first hot, sunny weather after one of the coldest, foggiest summers in Coastal California's history. The scaled back festival was actually moved to Santa Barbara's East Beach, along a palm lined grassy field that made for the perfect backdrop to the warm weather. Among the city's restrictions, the festival was scaled back from three days to two and attendance was limited to half of last year's record 14,000 people. The city also limited in and out privileges, sound levels and alcohol consumption (4 drinks per person per day). But despite all the restrictions, there were nothing but smiles all around on happy music fans throughout the grounds.
|WBMF Grounds 2010|
Twin Productions has been able to create a unique festival over the last four years, built around their core interest in reggae and beach music. Most of the acts booked are carefully selected world music artists, flying just under the radar of pop music fame, with a few headliners thrown in to add broader credibility to the event. Although most of the acts playing the main stage share reggae roots, the fest's unique approach and vast cultural differences create a smorgasbord of sounds. West Beach Festival probably has more in common with Peter Gabriel s' 30 year old WOMAD Festival than any other event. WOMAD was the first pop music festival to feature all types of bands from across the globe. West Beach also adds an electronic music stage into the mix to keep young techno fans dancing. A beautiful sunny day greeted early bird music fans for day one of the festival. Here are some of highlights.
Vancouver-based Red Eye Empire rocked the main stage early on. Their funky reggae infused sound is reminiscent of G Love & Special Sauce, and the band, in fact, has toured with G Love several times. Through The Roots were up next with the beach party oriented California sound. Hawaiian singer Anuhea (a cool breeze of the heavenly rose) brought a mellow island vibe during their sweltering afternoon set, with the crowd lounging on beach blankets during this set.
Over on the electronic music stage, Oakland-based rappers Zion I were the first act to draw a sizable crowd of enthusiastic, young fans on Saturday. Next, as the hot afternoon sun began to fade, Rey Fresco greeted a refreshed audience in front of the main stage. The Ventura, CA-based band is a veritable world music jam encapsulated in one group. Hailing from Fiji, lead singer Roger Keiaho offers a distinctive vocal style. Blonde surfer Andrew Jones not only plays the drums but manufactures them as well. Bassist Shawn Echevarria brings a Latin rhythm to the band. Finally, harpist Xoco Morazo adds a unique touch to the group, playing a variety of custom harps built by his father.
A fired up crowd was ready for the next main stage act, San Diego-based Mike Pinto. Originally from Philadelphia, this roots rocker is far more at home playing beachy surf music. He already has a big following in many Pacific islands like Guam and Hawaii.
|Rebelution @ WBMF '10|
As dusk fell, one of the most well received bands of the festival truly brought the growing crowd alive. Katchafire, hailing from New Zealand, is comprised of indigenous Maori musicians playing lush roots reggae with their own cultural sounds in the mix.
Collie Buddz brought his unique mix of dance hall, Soca and hip hop to the main stage as night fell. Born in New Orleans and raised in Bermuda, his style is truly his own.
Saturday's headliner was Santa Barbara's own Rebelution. The band's popular Cali-reggae sound has recently exploded in popularity and the group has been headlining large venues across the country. The band was greeted by a smoky, smiling, gyrating crowd. At the same time, electronic music wizards Savoy were closing out the electronic music stage in front of a younger crowd of enthusiastic fans. The Boulder, CO trio, including a live drummer, merges a mash up of styles from European house to 70s and 80s dance music to create their fresh new sound. As day one of West Beach Festival 2010 wound down, smiling music fans could be seen from one end of the venue to the other.
Sunday at the West Beach Music Festival started bright and early with blazing sunshine and music on all stages by 12 noon. Cuervo, which came on board as a last minute corporate sponsor and helped save the event from early termination, produced a giant playground for young adults with the Cuervo Pavilion. It came complete with an artificial rock wall, where volunteer teams from the audience would compete for prizes while being doused with gallons of water. Other games featured a giant mechanical lime that participants could ride like a mechanical bull. A few bikini-clad girls ended up with minor bloody noses, but were still smiling nevertheless. Most of the games featured some sort of water dousing, which became very inviting as the temperature in Santa Barbara soared to over 90-degrees.
|Lime Riders @ WBMF '10|
While some fans frolicked at the games, others danced to their favorite bands on the multiple stages. Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Sound played an early set in the sweltering midday sun. The New York-based band plays experimental dub reggae but also takes a page from jam bands like Phish by never playing the same set twice and improvising extensively live. Indeed, the band played two entirely different sets in Santa Barbara on this day. The West Beach Fest set sounded like traditional reggae and created a mellow tone in line with the mood of a sweltering early crowd. At the after-show later in the evening at the Soho nightclub, the band played a much more upbeat dub drenched set. The sound was reminiscent of The Clash when they began to experiment with reggae. Giant Panda has built a loyal following by playing over 500 shows in the last three years. The band offers free downloads of their music at LivePanda.com.
Central Coast band Still Time hit the main stage next with a blues-drenched set of upbeat tunes. This relatively young band has become a regional favorite, playing up and down the coast for the last five years. Their unique, bluesy style has been compared to music masters like Dave Matthews and Ben Harper. The band was the perfect lead-in to the next main stage act, JJ Grey & Mofro. The funky blues boogie band from Jacksonville, FL has been a staple on the festival circuit for nearly a decade. Mofro brought a sweltering mid-afternoon crowd to their feet for a shuffling dance extravaganza.
As the relentless afternoon sun began to subside, Australian new-roots reggae sensation The Beautiful Girls hit the stage. Led by charismatic lead singer Matt McHugh, the band had bikini clad girls screaming and dancing in front of the West Beach crowd. Another unique new hybrid group, their sound has been compared to bands as diverse as The Police and Ben Harper.
|UB40 @ WBMF '10|
As a spectacular sunset fell over the festival grounds, the most anticipated band of the festival exploded onto the stage in a spectacular blazing light show. UB40, one of the veterans of the English ska and reggae movement, has sold over 70 million records since they got together in the late 70s. The band did not disappoint, offering a larger-than-life live show featuring animated dance routines and lively solo performances from many of the more than one dozen jamming musicians onstage.
At the same time, electronic music duo Pretty Lights had a smaller crowd of younger fans in a dancing frenzy in front of the electronic music stage. As the second night of the West Beach Music Festival wound to a close, bands like Soja and The Easy Star All-Stars had music fans grooving and smiling till the 10 p.m. curfew brought the 2010 festival to a close.
JamBase | Irie
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