KAABOO 2016: The Ultimate 'MIX-perience' (Festival Review/Photos)

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Rock Cellar Magazine

KAABOO is not like the others.  It is by design that this festival feels a little bit different.
It could be the imported beaches, cabanas and pool.  It could be the air-conditioned comedy club and art gallery.  It could be the bathroom trailers with individual stalls and sinks.
Or maybe it is just because the lineup offers something for everyone, from Jimmy Buffett to Ludacris.  Whatever it is, KAABOO is definitely the luxury cruise line of festivals.
It is obvious that KAABOO is centered around their idea of a “MIX-perience.”  Not only were the headliners from across the musical scope of generations and genres but also appearances by top comedians and chefs.  KAABOO offers a chance to experience rare performances that set it apart from other festivals.  If you wanted to see Aerosmith or Jack Johnson with the Avett Brothers in 2016 this was your first chance and you could pay for exclusive viewing areas.
In case music isn’t your thing, you could spend the whole day listening to comedy in an air conditioned equestrian center with Dana Carvey, Sarah Silverman and Cheech & Chong.  Or wander around the art gallery tasting locally crafted cocktails, California wines and bites from San Diego’s best restaurants.  It was even possible to go surfing with Donavon Frankenreiter or have poolside cocktails during Cypress Hill.
The opportunity to spend money to enhance your experience feels limitless at KAABOO.  The “Hang Ten” package offered rides in a tethered hot air balloon with tequila and food pairings.  If the ocean breeze messes up your hairstyle and the sun melts your makeup you can schedule a blow-out and 45-minute fashion consultation.  There was even a performance on Thursday night by Macy Gray and Chris Isaak that could only be attended with upgraded tickets.
With a plethora of things to do during the day it seemed most stages were left uncrowded.  On Friday, walkways formed easily at the Trestles stage where you could grab a table or bar stool from the turf club restaurant and catch the Gin Blossoms.

Wrapping up the first sunset at #kaaboo #andrewmcmahon #andrewmcmahoninthewilderness #kaaboo2016 #sandiego

A video posted by @rockcellarmag on

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness won us over with a giant parachute and a run through the crowd.  Sugar Ray was enough 90’s alternative rock to get everyone’s nostalgia pumping in the midday sun.  Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band performed to a crowd lounging on an imported beach and a group of parrot heads camping in the back.  At the same time, Fall Out Boy was putting on a fireworks show for all of San Diego.
With such a wide range of things to do, KAABOO was a success in that it must be one of the most comfortable festivals out there.  The weather is perfect in Del Mar, the bathrooms are cleaner and the crowds are spread out.  That is until 9:55pm when all the crowds came together in the exact same spot.
In only its second year, KAABOO is certainly not without some growing pains.  While the lineup was full of rare performances, the timing and locations of stages were noticeably problematic.  On Friday night the only two acts remaining after 9:55pm were Dana Carvey at the comedy club and Dj Snoopadelic inside the equestrian center.  Both of these buildings had strict capacity limits enforced.  Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Buffet both ended at 9:55pm.  Everyone leaving the main stages were faced with the options to wait in an impossible line, upgrade to VIP seats available or go home.

#thestruts rocking their first San Diego show #kaaboo #kaaboo2016 #killinit #sandiego
A video posted by @rockcellarmag on

Saturday kicked off much like Friday with relatively uncrowded stages during the day.  The Struts were a stand out performance.
Lead vocalist Luke Spiller made us literally sing, jump and sit for more music.  Steel Pulse got everyone feeling alright and Lenny Kravitz rocked during another golden California sunset.  But that’s when it became apparent that the people were here to see music now.
The cocktail stands were empty, the spa tables clear and the walkways full of people frantically trying to be in two places at once.  A stopover to see the Goo Goo Dolls quickly turned to nightmare for many stuck in the narrow walkways between the turf club and the stage.  It was clear a choice had to be made, Aerosmith or the Chainsmokers, both at 8:25pm on opposite sides of the fairgrounds.  Like salmon, everyone schooled up and down stream desperately trying to have the ultimate “MIX-perience.”

Reminiscing with the Goo Goo dolls #googoodolls #kaaboo #kaaboodelmar #sandiego #takingitback

A video posted by @rockcellarmag on

By making that choice everyone unknowingly doomed themselves to missing Ludacris, Sarah Silverman, Steve Aoki and subjecting themselves to a crowd control nightmare, effectively ending the evening.  Like the night before, Aerosmith and Chainsmokers ended on the main stages at 9:55pm with the only remaining act being Ludacris followed by Steve Aoki in an undersized warehouse already at capacity.
This night, though, had noticeably more day pass tickets sold and all VIP tickets were sold out.  The resulting influx of 20 thousand concert goers descending upon the tiny warehouse proved too much despite the crowd controlling attempts and the police were called in to disperse the crowd. Four arrests were made in connection with the incident and pepper spray was used, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.  Most attendees were left unable to see the final performances each night.  As evident on the KAABOO social media pages this week, many concert goers are upset about this.
On Sunday, when the marine layer settled in heavy, it was evident that many concertgoers on the day passes did not return.  Each stage returned to the friendly vibes it once held and day three commenced.  The Wild Feathers played on the Sunset Cliffs main stage to a sparse audience spread out on blankets across the AstroTurf stage front.

#thewildfeathers making a statement in SoCal #kaaboo #kaaboodelmar #musicfestival #socal
A video posted by @rockcellarmag on

The strangely familiar sound of folk rock and big country guitar solos permeated through the coastal fog as if for a moment autumn might come to southern California.  Many people stumbled upon Shakey Graves at the intimate Trestles stage.  Shakey Graves, from Austin, Texas is an experience you just have to see live.
His careful progression into blissful vocals combines with out of tune rifts and planned wrong notes blended perfectly to impossible rhythmic paces going out of control intentionally to throw off the band.  This guy can sing literally anything for days and could have improvised the entire performance.  Sunday evening was filled with a lot of good performances from the Avett Brothers, Cypress Hill and Blues TravelerRebelution, originating from Southern California, always has good vibes.  The audience could sing all the songs in case lead singer Eric Rachmany wanted to take a break and hang out at the Grandview pool.

Make music, not war #coldwarkids #makemusicnotwar #kaaboo #kaaboodelmar #california

A video posted by @rockcellarmag on

At the same time Cold War Kids began on the infamous Trestles stage.  This stage is one of the smaller venues of the festival yet seemingly had some of the bigger names performing throughout the weekend.  The Cold War Kids have been around for a while and are quite polished.  It was a real treat being able to see them without a huge crowd.  Also this venue is in front of the VIP restaurant and bars in the Turf club.  Watching from the outdoor patio while being served dinner, cocktails and craft beers is a fantastic way to refuel before Jack Johnson.
Jack Johnson was the final act at KAABOO.  Many people fearful of the crowds from last night rushed in early to try and get some prime real estate.  Since this was the only act left, the entire festival slowly began to filter into the Sunset Cliffs main stage.  As the performance drew near, it became clear that stage front was not going to happen for everyone and several people gave up.  It has been two years or so since Jack Johnson has played and it was good to see him.
Since all the Rodeo Clowns were together it was easy to guess he would be joined by G. Love and Donavon Frankenreiter.  People began to filter out as the Avett Brothers came on during the encore for Better Together.  It was a pretty mellow ending to a festival.
Despite some growing pains, KAABOO offers an experience that is noticeably different from other festivals.  The direction of amenities offered is setting a new industry standard.  Everyone will agree that the bathrooms are the nicest of any festival out there.  The facilities already in place at Del Mar racetrack give KAABOO the opportunity to provide luxuries other nearby festivals such as Coachella can only dream of.
The KAABOO team has demonstrated they can and will use this to the advantage of the “MIX-perience.”  The VIP packages are truly what set this festival apart from the others.  The VIP areas offered some incredibly intimate viewing opportunities.  Half of the front row at the main stages was reserved for upgraded wristbands.  It is painfully obvious that you can pay for exclusivity.
The question is, what does this new level of standards mean for festivals to come?  Have we truly reached an “a la carte” pay-for-experience level formula that applies to one of the traditionally most rugged and raw musical environments?  Is this a good way to allow everyone to be able to experience art and music in a manner most comfortable to everyone?  Should standing in the front be reserved for those who camped out all day or paid for a different color wristband?  These are all ideas that not only KAABOO but other festivals have already begun to tinker with.
Either way, the stage is set and the bar is raised for the next 5 years at least.  KAABOO was granted a long term contract by the 22nd District Agricultural Association in April.
Maybe soon you can be on the main stage in virtual reality all from the comforts of your living room, if that is your kind of “MIX-perience.”  Early bird prices for 2017 range from $199 – $2599. Visit KAABOO’s website for more details.


  • Kallan says:

    Great article Bryan!

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