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Paisley, Doobies and lots more highlight Beachlife Ranch Fest

137 North Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach, Redondo Beach, Cal., September 22, 2023

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

The festival was held Sept. 22-24.

Beachlife Ranch isn't technically a country music festival as a lot of its performers touch upon a wide variety of musical styles. Nevertheless, there was than enough real country music performed over the weekend to satisfy most any country-loving heart. Many hearts certainly went away fully satisfied, no doubt, after this event.

Jack Johnson headlined day one with a gentle set of folk-rock tunes. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, and backed by a gently supportive backing band, Johnson came off a bit like an alt.rock James Taylor. Songs like "Upside Down" and "Wasting Time" were as calming as the nearby rolling waves.

The Avett Brothers headlined the second stage, which was called Lowlands, with a rousing set of sincere songs. Although the majority of the songs expressed softer, heartfelt messages, the group rocked a little louder with "Kick Drum Heart." The act closed with a fantastic one-two punch of "Ain't No Man" and "No Hard Feelings." One woman standing up at the front of the stage and wearing a specially embroidered Avett Brothers hat, came all the way from New York. She said she was following the pair's tour up the coast of California, and it was easy to see why these guys endear such fan loyalty.

Day one kicked off with Pillbox Patti, a kind of naughty, country-esque artist. A little like Mae West with twang, Patti was accompanied by a small band and pre-recorded tracks. Although noteworthy, it still felt a little early in the day to take in these songs about sexy bad girls. Rome & Duddy (of Sublime and Dirty Heads, respectively) played songs that Rome described as Jimmy Buffett-meets-Bob Marley. Bahamas stood out for its sophisticated take on Americana sounds, which touched upon jazz and soul, as well as folk and country. Shakey Graves rocked a little harder than you might have expected, especially when backed by a band. However, the clear highlight of this first day was Donavon Frankenreiter and Devon Allman. These two kicked up an undeniably wonderful Southern rock musical storm that just did electric guitar-loving hearts a whole lot of good.

Cody Jinks was a surprising choice to headline Saturday's lineup. He's attained a large, loyal audience, but not anywhere close to Jack Johnson large. Nevertheless, it was fun to hear fantastic songs, like "I'm Not the Devil" and "Reach for the Sky" (a Social Distortion cover) performed on this big main stage. Jinks was clearly loving his time at Beachlife, even relating how he'd met Wynonna earlier in the day. She's a lot shorter than he'd expected her to be, he told us. Jinks may not quite be stadium-ready yet, like a few other alt.-country guys these days, but he's certainly getting there and deserves to be there.

Wynonna, with her unnaturally bright orange hair, sang well – as she always does. She even dipped into The Judds material for "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)," which never gets old.

Joe Purdy opened the afternoon with a set of old school folk songs. He mixed his singing with funny stories and asides and was nothing less than delightful. Larken Poe played the blues powerfully, while Blackberry Smoke offered an enjoyable throwback to Southern rock's heyday. Shooter Jennings' all-star tribute to The Highwaymen (a group that also contained his dad, Waylon Jennings), came off much better than his similar tribute to Waylon music at last year's festival. The backing band was better rehearsed, and special guest singers – including Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and Sara Watkins – were top tier.

Surprisingly, the 'best of the day' award goes to The Doobie Brothers. While not ever a critics darling, this band had a ton of hits and having vocal great Michael McDonald singing his sophisticated band songs this evening, was just a special treat.

It's easy to take day three headliner Brad Paisley for granted. He may not be the most popular male country artist these days, but he's still one of its best guitarists. He sang his funny songs ("Alcohol") and serious ones ("This Is Country Music"), and even threw in a few newer ones, such as "So Many Summers." His songs also incorporate plenty of fiddle and steel guitar, and he put on one fantastic festival-closing show.

The Lowlands stage featured two of the very best contemporary female performers in Amanda Shires and Yola. While Shires' music leans toward edgy rock, Yola brought the soul and R&B. Over on the mainstage this Sunday, Chris Isaak looked sharp in is powder blue suit, and whether signing his own sad songs, like "Blue Hotel," or replicating others' pained songs, the way he did on Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely," he was simply fun and engaging, from beginning to end. Midland had a great time closing out the Lowland stage's lineup. The boys revved it up with "Mr. Lonely" and proved boys will be boys with a cover of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town."

It's tough to find a better combination than beach weather and wonderful music. Beachlife Ranch offered and delivered this perfect combination, so we could all experience the beach music lifestyle for a weekend.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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