It was a good day. Redondo Beach, California’s, inaugural BeachLife Festival got off to a splendid start on Friday, May 3, with Bob Weir, Chris Robinson, Slightly Stoopid, and Steel Pulse leading the way, and the undercard featuring lots of roots-reggae rock, all of which colorfully defined the SoCal beach vibe. Cool breezes from the adjacent Santa Monica Bay and the Pacific Ocean kept temperatures in the 60s while the early May SoCal sun beamed down on several thousand rosy-faced attendees.
Grateful Dead co-founder Bob Weir’s latest project, Bob Weir & Wolf Bros closed out the day’s festivities. After joining San Diego’s Slightly Stoopid’s acoustic roots set for spirited versions of The Grateful Dead’s “Franklins Tower” and Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” Weir, flanked by Wolf Brothers Don Was (bass) and Jay Lane (drums), reappeared a short time later on the High Tide (main) stage.
Bob Weir & Wolf Bros’ style is to reproduce Grateful Dead/Bob Weir catalog favorites in new, slow-to-mid-tempo arrangements that has Weir deftly handling both lead and rhythm guitar duties while accompanied by longtime collaborator Lane on drums and Was, a legendary record executive and fine stand-up bass player. Setting the tone for a beachside sunset set, and after a band introduction by long-time Grateful Dead crew Steve "Big Steve" Parish (aka Road Scholar for Moonalice), the trio began with laid-back offerings of The Grateful Dead’s “Jack Straw” and “Cassidy.” “Only a River" followed, one of the standout ballads from Weir’s 2016 “Blue Mountain” project. A perfect-for-a-sunset-at-the-beach version of the traditional (and Grateful Dead oft-performed) “Peggy O” was next and then long-time Dead Heads, many in attendance if one count’s Grateful Dead T-shirts as unofficial proof, nodded to one and other as the trio moved on to “Me & Bobby McGee,” the famed Kris Kristofferson standard The Grateful Dead performed in the early 1970s.
The set moved onto RatDog’s inventive “Two Djinn,” and a spacey/jammy “The Other One,” which has been part of The Grateful Dead consciousness for 52 years. Eventually, the latter half of the set moved on to the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter ballad, “Standing on the Moon,” nicely pleasing after day had turned into night”; Weir’s long-time Grateful Dead staple “Music Never Stopped; and “Easy Answers,” a tune written by the late Rob Wasserman and adopted by The Grateful Dead in the early 1990s.
In an unscheduled moment, Chris Robinson and Jackie Greene then bounded onto the stage and attendees rose to the occasion marked by a beach party version of the standard “Not Fade Away,” which ended many a-Grateful Dead show. After the smoke had cleared, the trio returned for a soulful rendering of the Grateful Dead’s forever-loved lullaby, “Ripple.”
The climax of the day’s events arguably occurred a couple of hours earlier by a raucous, rocking performance by Chris Robinson and his As the Crow Flies outfit, a band that spotlights plenty of material by the Black Crowes. With Robinson and long-time collaborator Jackie Greene guesting on lead guitar and backup vocals, the band rocked out from the start with boisterous versions of The Black Crowes’ “Remedy” and “Sting Me.”
Robinson’s name has been hot on social media in the past week as it was announced concurrently that longtime Chris Robinson Brotherhood (and As the Crow Flies) keyboardist Adam MacDougal has left the Brotherhood and that the CRB was taking a hiatus. And yet, onstage Friday, Robinson never seemed happier, dancing about and twirling his mic as Greene and the rest of the band packed a heckuva punch, with the closing sequence composed of “Hard to Handle,” and “Hush,” recorded most notably by Deep Purple in 1968. The band’s keyboard player Joel Robinow from The Once and Future Band.
Seven-piece Slightly Stoopid closed out Friday’s fun on the Low Tide Stage, which offered a vast beach-sand viewing area (as opposed to the High Tide Stage’s manicured grassy meadow). In a lead-up to their How I Spent My Summer Vacation Tour, Kyle McDonald and Miles Doughty (trading off on guitar and bass) were seated front and center while leading the band in a set of material (before and after Weir made his guest appearance), with a salvo of San Diego-rooted reggae/hip-hop/strumming rock.
Led by band co-founder David Hinds, Steel Pulse dazzled the Low Tide Stage area prior to Slightly Stoopid. With their typical inclusiveness and human unification advocacy, the British band, which has been a force in the reggae music scene for more than 40 years, set forth their musical messages to the beach and seemingly, the world.
Bruce Hornsby’s late-afternoon set was well received. A late-1980s hit machine, and guest keyboardist at more than 100 Grateful Dead concerts, Hornsby has matured with class and style. Smiling and clearly enjoying himself during the performance, he and the band opened with the title track from his new project, “Absolute Zero,” as well as “Castoff,” which Hornsby said he’d be performing on May 8 on “Jimmy Kimmel Live."
The set, which featured Hornsby on piano and on the dulcimer, included “Circus on the Moon,” “Country Doctor,” “White Wheeled Limousine,” and “Little Sadie.” A peculiar component of the performance was a tech person who was stationed within three feet of Hornsby for most of the set, so that when the audience gazed up at Hornsby, the technician was also right there.
Earlier in the day, Roots of Creation opened the proceedings on the Rip Tide Stage. Noting that Bob Weir was set to perform later in the day, the ska/reggae-rock jam band leaned heavily on its new release, “Grateful Dub: a Reggae infused tribute to the Grateful Dead." The performance began with a “Shakedown Street” into “Casey Jones” pairing, and also included “Deal,” “Sugaree,” and a lovely “China Cat Sunflower” into “Fire on the Mountain.”
Donavon Frankenreiter and his band performed early in the day on the Low Tide Stage.
Anuhea’s Hawaiian-influenced songs were perfect for a day at the beach.
The Higgs kicked ass on their set at the Rip Tide Stage.