There is something magical about Eddie Vedder’s Ohana festival. Of course it’s partly the location. Located right on Doheny Beach in the lovely seaside town of Dana Point, the setting is perfectly picturesque. A portion of the VIP area allows you to go and sit literally on the beach. And that scenery and quintessential Southern California feel creates nothing but good vibes.
As Brandi Carlile said during her triumphant, dazzling set (more on that in a minute), this is “The best festival I have ever seen over two weekends.” That also comes from founder/headliner Vedder, one of the most beloved figures in rock,
He has created a setting and feel that allows a festival with the likes of Pearl Jam, Beck, Carlile and more to feel like a beachside block party. Only at Ohana would a band featuring Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney and Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins be gleefully and proudly opening the main stage at 3:15 on a Saturday. The trio was overjoyed to be making their star-studded and powerful debut as NHC in this magical setting.
This year, more than others at Ohana, the communal vibe was felt so compellingly among the musicians. During NHC’s superb set, featuring five original songs and covers of Queen’s “Keep Yourself Alive” and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “My Friends,” which reunited Navarro with the Chili’s Chad Smith, the band brought out not only Smith, but Matt Cameron as well. Cameron and Mike McCready later joined Carlile on Soundgarden’s “Searching With My Good Eye Closed.”
During Pearl Jam’s powerful rocking final set, Vedder thanked Beck, who appeared Friday, for coming back yesterday (Saturday October 2) and just hanging out as a fan. Then again, who wouldn’t want to hang out and watch Carlile, Pearl Jam and more by the beach?
Ohana creates an allure that is enchanting and undeniable. So attendees are already in a great state of mind by the time they enter the grounds. Then there is the fact it is a real music festival, curated by Vedder, who has proven over the years time and time again he doesn’t answer to any trends when it comes to his musical direction. That shows at Ohana from the lineup to the between sets music. I remember hearing Tom Waits there in between sets two years ago. This year between Carlile’s set and Pearl Jam’s appearance the in-between music included Sufjan Stevens and The The’s “Love Is Stronger Than Death.” As much as there are other music festivals I love I would wager a year’s salary you would not hear The The in between sets at any other music festival in the U.S.
Maybe only a true music geek, like me, would notice and appreciate that. But then Ohana feels like a home for the proud music geek. If that is what you want. If you are more of a casual music fan there to see Pearl Jam or bust out your phone while Carlile covers Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” or drink some wine and eat some ridiculously unforgettable donut holes in various flavors, like Butterfinger and Fruity Pebbles, or tri-tip fries, Ohana has you covered. It really is a place where anyone can feel comfortable.
For the music geeks though the lineup is, as always, top notch. Saturday offered numerous highlights, including a rocking nine-song set from Sleater-Kinney, highlighted by “What’s Mine Is Yours” and the closing “Entertain”; an absolutely stunning vocal performance by Margo Price, including a mesmerizing cover of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” and the aforementioned NHC set, that showed their range from prog rock to straight ahead guitar-driven hard rock.
Then, as usual, Pearl Jam brought nothing but power, joy and passion. From the opening “Superblood Wolfmoon” through the closing cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World,” the band showed again why they have become a standard bearer in rock for integrity. Other highlights included bringing Carlie out for a cover of her “Again Today,” a joyous “Not For You,” “Last Exit,” “Alive,” in the encore, a passionate “Black,” “Daughter” and more. Vedder spoke of how fun the last two weeks of Ohana had been for him and you could see that in the hit-laden set list and the performance.
The revelation o f the night though was Carlile. Carlile is already a star, a Grammy winner, a best-selling author and revered by her fellow musicians and legions of diehard fans. The revelatory part though was realizing she has moved to the absolute upper echelon of must-see performers in music today.
Watching the effortless ease with which her vocals command the stage is mesmerizing and beautiful. It is a master class in live singing. Whether it’s her brilliant interpretations, like “Rocket Man” and Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” or her own songs, such as “The Story” or her virtuoso performance of “The Joke,” which now stands among the best live songs in music today, one of those shows you wait a whole show to see with bated breath, Carlile is absolutely flawless at every turn.
So the musical mastery is part of it. But equally compelling is her comfort level and the fun she has on stage. Case in point Saturday was the way she and her band teased a snippet of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” And after getting the crowd all revved up, Carlile joked she realized people thought she would really play the song. But was not sorry when she didn’t.
The revelation was seeing how Carlile has gone from being a cult hero to being a superstar who can headline and dazzle any crowd of any size. And at Ohana, thanks to Vedder, she got to show that in arguably the most beautiful and magical festival setting in the States.