The KAABOO music festival opened Friday, September 14th with an estimated 40,000 fans selling out the event for the first time in its 4-year history. The event, which takes place at the upscale Del Mar Racetrack just north of San Diego, took advantage of the last beautifully sunny weekend of summer. The festival grounds back up to the edge of the Pacific Ocean and surfers were actually visible, catching waves on nearby Del Mar beach. With 30 miles of coastline nearby offering up some of the best surfing in southern California, the festival is an ideal vacation destination for ocean-loving travelers.
Music fans could catch some great waves at nearby Swamis reef in Solana beach, have an early lunch and still arrive in time for the opening sets around noon time. Like most music festivals, early bird concertgoers were treated to some great opening acts at nearly empty stages, for the first few hours. The lineup at this year’s KAABOO was one of the most eclectic of any festival in 2018, loaded with headliners and classic rock music icons. The crowd featured almost every demographic and age group but seemed to draw a surprisingly older audience with the promise of upscale facilities and gourmet food and drink offerings. The Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds was the perfect place to stage the event. Numerous bathrooms, open-air bars, grassy knolls, and countless shady seating areas made for comfortable places to lounge across the vast expanses. The two main stages bookended the festival, nearly a mile apart. In between were two more live music stages, a large air-conditioned comedy auditorium, with top national acts, a huge art show in an air-conditioned building complete with its own food and bars and much more. In addition to a smorgasbord of gourmet food trucks, food stands and bars everywhere, there were also spa treatments, hair stylists and other freebies. One two-story bar featured, palm tree-lined couches, free charging stations for phones, and a pair of acrobatic girls spinning on ropes. There was even a disco which transformed into a late-night silent disco with music into the early morning hours.
But the big draw was the live music and day one did not disappoint. By late afternoon crowds swelled and one of the two smaller venues, the Encinitas Trestles stage had a large group gathered for classic English rockers The Zombies. The band featuring two of the original members, lead singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist and guitarist Rod Argent, has been around almost as long as the Beatles. Argent began jamming as far back as 1958, and the band had their first hit song back in 1964. The band played their hits including, those from Argent’s solo band to an enthusiastic audience that sang along to the chorus lines.
The MGM Resorts Grandview main stage was dominated by a day of hip-hop, featuring rappers Nelly, Gucci Mane, and new pop sensation Post Malone. St Louis rapper Nelly got things started playing some of his hit songs accumulated in his nearly two decades as a solo Rap star. Trap music pioneer Gucci Mane took the Hip Hop energy up a notch with his well-received afternoon performance. But it was clear that many of the youngest fans at Fridays KAABOO were there to see Grandview stage headliner Post Malone. Thousands of screaming young girls lined the front of the stage as Malone began his spirited set full of hit songs. For anyone visiting a dance club in the last year almost anywhere in the nation, it is hard not to have heard one of Malone’s recent dance hits. The young rapper may arguably be one of the fastest rising stars in the pop music world. The personable rapper seems to have a kinship with disaffected youth and always seems to offer up a bit of hopeful optimism while bantering with the crowd during his shows. His KAABOO performance paid homage to young rapper Mac Miller who recently died of a suspected overdose.
Back on the Encinitas stage another groundbreaking legacy act, the Tower of Power had an adulating crowd singing along to their hits. It is hard to believe that this Oakland based R&B crossover band has been making music since 1968. The band, one of the pioneers of horn-based pop music, has probably employed more musicians over the years than any other pop band in existence. Judging by the crowd's reaction the music remains timeless.
The Grandview stage took a break from Rap music at sunset with a riveting performance by alternative rockers Incubus. The Calabasas California band has been performing since 1991 and is well known as one of the most intense live acts in modern rock music. Charismatic lead singer Brandon Boyd pranced about like a madman, painted in an orange glow by the intense setting sun. The band's intricate music weaved a fierce web of highs and lows that had an exhausted audience dancing in unison.
The Encinitas stage closed out with a headline set by rock veterans Blondie. A huge crowd of mostly older music fans swarmed the stage as lead singer Debbie Harry encouraged the crowd to sing along to the chorus lines. The band tore through some of their biggest hits and played well-received songs from their new album Pollinator. Sadly, original guitarist Chris Stein did not perform with the group. Harry dedicated the final two songs of the set to him, two of the band’s biggest hits, Heart of Glass and Dreaming.
While Blondie finished up to a big crowd and Post Malone was playing to a massive one at the Grandview stage, The Foo Fighters prepared to play the headline set on the Rolling Stones Sunset Cliff main stage. Even with much of the young crowd siphoned to the other side of the venue, the Foo Fighters managed to garnish the biggest crowd of the entire three-day festival. A huge roar went up as the stage exploded in a gargantuan light show and the band led by the mercurial Dave Grohl bolted onstage. After an entire summer of touring and screaming his lungs out night after night for two hours, one might think that Grohl’s vocal abilities and energy levels may have subsided. But the explosive KAABOO performance could easily have been mistaken as opening night, with Grohl racing about the stage maniacally singing and playing guitar all throughout the set. The veteran rockers laid down an intense wall of sound, a perfect backdrop for the impish Grohl to bounce off of. The show featured Grohl's usual musings with the audience. He toyed with the crowd when he said it’s the first time we played here in 27 years. Although he didn't mention them by name he was referring to a show, he did with Nirvana back in 1991. The band, along with Pearl Jam opened for the Chili Peppers at the fairgrounds. While the Food Fighters have played San Diego, it was the first time that Grohl and former Nirvana bandmate Pat Smear had been back to the venue. The band also played their usual teasers of random classic rock covers, including an awesome cover of the Alice Cooper early classic, "Under My Wheels," sung by the usually stoic guitarist, Chris Shiflett. The band has developed into of the best live acts in rock music today. It was a fitting end to what has become one of the most exciting events in the crowded world of national music festivals.