BAJA BASH TAKES IT UP A NOTCH

Baja Bash :: 07.29.04 - 08.01.04 :: La Jolla Indian Reservation :: CA

With festival season winding to a close, the summer of 2004 has proved yet again the way to see live music is in large doses of multiple acts that come from near and far to get feet moving, faces smiling, and guts in check. High Sierra, Bonnaroo, Wakarusa and the other staples in the best of the best category all lived up to their reputations, but the sleeper hit of the summer rests solely on a smaller-scale festival that takes place on the La Jolla Indian reservation. That's right' I am talking about Baja Bash. With a heavy-hitting lineup that far surpassed previous years, Baja Bash went toe to toe with the big boys and helped cement Southern California as a force to be reckoned with. From Kimock to Franti, Yonder to Hot Buttered Rum and smoking sets from ALO and Green Lemon, the Bash garnered some of the best acts out there. Here's how it went down...


Baja Bash 2004
Arriving late, I was disappointed I had missed Al Howard & the K23 Orchestra, a favorite in the West Coast scene. With some of the most profound lyrics and tightest grooves offered, AHK23 is turning heads and leaving a shiny wake of music that is good for the body, soul and mind. After sulking for a good 20 minutes (or one bottle of Two Buck Chuck) I made peace with my misfortune and headed to the Particle late night gig. I was pleased to hear new sounds coming from these guys, as I have slowly been losing steam for their constant upward climb that seems to never really go anywhere. This was not so much the case at the Bash, and I didn't stop thanking them in my head throughout the two sets that transpired. Blending funk, straight rock, and their infamous trance orgy, Steve Molitz and Charlie Hitchcock brought a whole new element to the table. Steve is a tremendous keyboard player and he possesses the power to suck in the attention of the audience with his presence. It appears as though he is a marionette perched in front of his laboratory of synthesizers and the music shooting from his fingers is the puppet master. With a strong resemblance to what Jesus looks like in all the history books, he was bigger than usual, as was his SOUND.

Friday found us rested and excited for the first full day of rocking. The music was set to start a bit later in the afternoon, a blessing in disguise as it permitted us to wade and tube along the small river that flowed along the campsites. Knowing that you are going to see ALO into Yonder Mountain and end with Kimock is enough to incite those first day of school jitters, excited and nervous all at the same time.


ALO at Baja Bash 2004
After a healthy dose of Trader Joe's finest two-dollar beverage and some sun on the old belly, it was finally time to make way to the main stage to get down with the funkiest cats this side of New Orleans, ALO. With the main stage pumping energy, my boys packed a set that included fan favorites from over the years and a big old helping of their newer material. The extremely danceable "Plastic Bubble" and "Walls Of Jericho" smoked through the hour and a half set that bounced along playfully. Zach Gill's sultry vocals and funktronic space keys reeled in any newbies to the ALO phenomenon. Many couldn't believe how tight they played, and I do believe I saw jaws drop and respect notched even higher when those not in the loop found out this four piece has been playing for 15 years now. These guys are definitely the real deal.


YMSB at Baja Bash 2004
No drums, or crazy peddles or effects--Yonder Mountain String Band was just four guys standing alone with their acoustic instruments, rocking shit like they were backed with distortion that not even Metallica could get away with. Jeff Austin was in usual form, racing up and down his mandolin, squeezing out faces to match his notes. Add some good old fashion picking from Adam Aijala, banjo picking that makes Kentucky weep with Dave Johnston, and Ben Kaufmann's uncanny ability to take the upright to a new level, and I do believe you end up at 11 my friends. Even in the hot sun of La Jolla, I couldn't help but feel that as the sun was setting in the west, a new one was rising, and it reached its peak with Yonder's cover of the Talking Heads' "Girlfriend is Better."


Steve Kimock Band with Martin Fiero :: Baja Bash 2004
Jerry Garcia once said that Steve Kimock was his favorite unknown guitarist. He obviously knew what he was talking about. Although far from unknown, Steve isn't one of the premiere guitarists in the "public eye," which to me is an outrage. Yet at the same time I want him to keep it small and just for us. His sound is so signature and sweet, almost as if he coaxes music from the heavens and manipulates all the right notes at all the right times.

As a warm breeze flowed over the main stage, I felt I was part of some enchanted lapse in time. Being led into the unknown by Kimock is one of the sweetest feelings you can find on this little globe of ours, and I believe wholeheartedly that the presence of this musician and his band is largely responsible for the success of the biggest year yet for Baja Bash. It was so much I was unable to shell out any more moves for the night and was forced to retire, regardless of the throwdowns that were taking place with Global Funk and Vinyl.


Baja Bash 2004
Saturday started a bit slower as my body was trying to comprehend how I can dance in the manner I do. After 23 years, it's clear that my workouts come in my own ecstatic dancing that leaves me sweating and apologizing to those who go in for the hug, not realizing they're going to get drenched by my dedication. Enjoying the river and my crew's decision to buy a whole case of the Two Buck Chuck, I bided my time eagerly warning my body, "You better get ready, Hot Buttered Rum String Band is coming up." Hot Buttered Rum pulls on my ears like a baby with a puppy every time I see them. Switching up and busting out two fiddles at times and dropping straight Celtic Irish tunes in the hot sun, HBRSB juggles flute with clever song writing and some of the best upright you can find. I'd be in serious trouble if I ever witnessed both Bryan Horne (double bass for HBRSB) and Ben from YMSB on the same stage thumping tooth and nail for the title bout. It was at this point that I was quickly snatched out of my daydream with the song that proved to be my theme throughout the weekend. Some call it liquid courage; we call it "Two Buck Chuck." Before I knew it, the set was over and we were making way back to camp.


Delta Nove :: Baja Bash 2004
So this one time at band camp, I saw Delta Nove molest a crowd of almost 3,000 people in La Jolla. Whether busting out samba, Brazilian, straight-ahead funk, or hints of reggae, DN has been causing quite a stir throughout California, and recently have expanded across to Jazzfest and everywhere in between. With a full sound that spills over with smoking horn solos and a penchant for pounding beats from South America, Delta Nove is a musical beast to be reckoned with. Incredibly sexy and precise, these Long Beach boys are a big reason why it's time this community pay more attention to Orange County and Los Angeles. Kudos to their mid-day set on the third day of the festival. Their new bassist Matt Welch is a big part of the extra energy they've captured in the past few months.


Green Lemon at Baja Bash 2004
So there I am, finally making way to the second stage in an effort to find out a bit more of Green Lemon, a band that caught my attention at the Joshua Tree Music Festival. Walking along the path towards the side stage seemed like we were in a scene from Willow, the movie with all the little people. Tall trees and a naturally shaded path stretched along the walk and carried an ambience to a fairy tale land. With a spring in my step, I approached the Lemon and realized that I was never permitted to stop, not even for a moment. Blending trance and huge jams together, they sounded like the result of a one-night stand between Particle and String Cheese. This funk ship lifted off and brought the sun down, sparkling with potential.


Michael Franti at Baja Bash 2004
With Green Lemon winding to a close it was time to get my share of Michael Franti & Spearhead. For years now, Franti has stood as an icon, a man that realizes the turmoil the world is in, and rather then turn a cheek and collect a check, he continually draws attention to the real picture and sings songs about a prosperous world mixed with color, acceptance, and beauty. He's the only musician with enough balls to go to Iraq to view the problems with his own eyes, and it was clear his experience overseas had deeply affected him. Bringing songs old and new, his set told a full story of freaky people with abilities to overcome anything and rock the Bash in the best way possible. As he spoke to us about his time in Iraq, goosebumps covered my body and I was completely enthralled with the genius of this man and his steadfast band. Spearhead takes the perfect tone behind Franti and they owned the stage that night. I had to repeatedly remind myself that I still had Karl D and the Tiny Universe ahead of me. The final tune brought Chris Littlefield (KDTU) on stage to fill in the missing link on trumpet and a barrage of lady dancers that included the always-fashionable Miss Mariah-Melon from the Vibration Army. They went out on a high note, and Baja Bash was rocking harder then it had all weekend.

Over the years, Karl Denson has garnered much respect and rightly so. His backing band the Tiny Universe is of course an amazing array of all-star players all gracing a single group. Brian Jordan just GETS it. He is in that zone and knows exactly how to find a note, stretch it and fulfill the pocket with ease. Besides being a sincerely nice guy, he allows space for all of the other players on stage. John Staten and Ron Johnson are one of the tightest groove sections around, and proved yet again that they are as dependable as the sun rising every morning.


Grampas Grass at Baja Bash 2004
Speaking of, Sunday morning found me thankful this was day four and time to pack up. Not in a bad way by any means, I just had been clusterfucked by a few bands that jammed goodness down my throat every time I turned around. Between Spearhead and Karl D, I missed the late nights yet again, due to absolute exhaustion and soreness. I reminded myself that you can't see it all, made myself a tall glass of the remaining Chuck and split for my second and last time to the "side" stage that in my opinion had the best scenery of the whole weekend. I found myself walking with increasing speed towards the stage, as my old friends from Costa Mesa were about to throw down, and I hadn't seen them since my festival, the OCcompound fest back in March. Dressed in all white, cowboy hat and tattoos blaring, Miss Lisa Blue and Grampas Grass welcomed on stage good friend Gabe Hartman on sax and flute. The layer he added created a new element that had a buzz spreading down to the camps and brought many latecomers to see what the Grass was all about. With "Happy Birthday Jerry" they were off and running. Guitarist Brett Davis dowsed the crowd with sounds in Garcia's own style and other guitarist John Malsberger left everyone wondering if they sounded more like the Allman Brothers or the Dead. Grampas Grass is the missing child of both. They take you from the deep sounds of Georgia to San Francisco in the '60s in 0.2 seconds. Tim Kerrigan was slaphappy on that bass and God bless him for it, as I noticed hips starting to gyrate and funk. All in all, I was very proud of my hometown group, I have seen them come a long way, and I feel this is only the beginning for a band that deserves all the success in the world.


The Maykers at Baja Bash 2004
It is with a tear in my eye that I'm about to tell you about the last set I saw at the Bash, and I literally had to be peeled off the main stage premises, because The Maykers are unreal. I can shut my eyes and still hear the opening tune "Sugaree." I know Jerry's voice and Jerry's guitar when I hear it, and damn, I could hear it plain as day. There are about as many Dead cover bands or Jerry cover bands out there as there are pebbles on the beach, but I have NEVER heard a band encompass his sound so perfectly as I did on the main stage on Jerry's birthday. Dark Star is hands down the best Dead cover band, but The Maykers were onto something that day, as if Jerry's spirit was playing through them. Martin Fiero was there playing away, and I know that had something to do with it, as he is a legend in his own right. I had seen him come out earlier in the weekend with Yonder, but to see him up there playing songs I have heard him on, but of course never seen, I was beside myself. And then it happened: "They Love Each Other," one of the most beautiful songs ever sung. You know those songs that make you swell up with tears and look desperately for that special someone to grab onto? So it was the case with me while this song was playing. I couldn't find her because she was still getting food, and yet I still beamed and danced along because I knew that by looking at my face "you could see that it's true." This song was without a doubt the most spiritual and emotional highlight of my festival. I was eternally grateful for getting it when I did. Writing these words now, I can feel my eyes filling up, it was that powerful for me, and I will never forget it.

So that was it for me. Although a big chunk of me was disappointed I missed Al Howard, Global Funk, Vinyl and The Breakfast, that's nothing compared to the gratitude I have for everything I DID see. Other highlights for me included the shuttle bus that transported us music lovers to the stage by fellow music lover, blaring classic '80s and disco/funk tunes. Nothing spells fun like hearing Dee Lite's "Groove is in the Heart" while being passed a handle of Cuervo, sitting with friends old and new. Smiles proved to be a currency at this Bash, and EVERYONE was rich.

Words by: Matt Layton
Images by: Brandi Webber
JamBase | California
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http://bajabash.com

[Published on: 8/26/04]

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