Eddie Vedder may have headlined the first-ever Ohana Music Festival in Dana Point, California last weekend, but he also served as the festival’s unofficial mascot. Popping up in a number of the first day’s performances including L.A. heroes X, the legendary Elvis Costello and former Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons, Vedder was ever-present before his own night-closing set of covers, new songs, reworked originals and stories told to the packed audience.
Tucked into an area normally reserved for beach-dwellers, Ohana served to buoy local beaches by donating a portion of proceeds to the San Onofre Parks Foundation, a California non-profit that cooperatively works with the California State Parks to develop, preserve and enhance the recreation and experience of California’s unique and beautiful coastal parks.
Seattle grunge holdouts Mudhoney delivered a biting sonic irascibility, an odd counter to the gorgeous afternoon, while local favorites X delivered a high-energy set, ushering Vedder out for a performance of The New World. Early attendees looking to slowly ease into the musical part of the day, explored the Volcom and Ocean Institute’s Science of Surf tent, giving viewers a history lesson in surfing and Southern California beaches as well as serving as a small-scale zoo of sorts for sea creatures, reptiles and amphibians.
Band of Horses, still riding their new-album high from earlier this year, played as if they were headlining. Opener Is There a Ghost led into new cuts, Casual Party and In a Drawer, before closing with fan favorites No One’s Gonna Love You and the enchanting hit The Funeral.
Elvis Costello was as quirky as ever, though his choice to play solo seemed to diminish a bit of his own fire. Acoustic renditions of Ascension Day, Veronica and Everyday I Write the Book, came off well, but it wasn’t until he was joined by Vedder for a stirring rendition of (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding that he truly came alive.
After strong showings from former Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons (which Vedder guested on for a cover of Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond), Maui native Lily Meola and a series of appearances from Polynesian dancers, the sun dropped below the picturesque SoCal ocean horizon and we made our way into better crowd positioning for Vedder’s headlining set.
Still riding the crest of energy from Pearl Jam’s epic tour-closing marathon show at Wrigley Field five days prior, Vedder took the stage just before 8pm, taking a seat and kicking off a mostly acoustic-and-ukulele set. He was surrounded by his usual stage props: open suitcases brimming with lyric notebooks, an assortment of stringed instruments at the ready and a smattering of memorabilia PJ diehards would recognize. He shared stories of his first-ever surfing experience down the sand at Doheny State Beach, and remarked on how similar the beaches looked to when he first set foot there 40 years ago. “That’s why I want to thank the parks department for preserving it,” he said.
The Pearl Jam frontman delivered a handful of stripped renditions of PJ songs during the performance, including a reworked acoustic approach to Better Man and an assist during Indifference by beloved pro surfer Kelly Slater, “a true citizen of the world” who was a festival curator for Ohana as well as Vedder. Despite being visibly nervous, Slater held his own while handling the second verse, and delivered a goosebump-inducing take on the impassioned “I will scream my lungs out… til it fills this room” line at the song’s climax.
After peeling off a trio of his own solo compositions from the Into The Wild soundtrack, Vedder debuted the poignant, tempo-shifting new song Out of Sand live for the first time. He previously recorded the track at Jack White’s Third Man Records in June.
He also delivered an absolutely crushing take on Cat Power’s Good Woman track – on which Vedder guests.
Of his ukulele, Eddie praised the tiny instrument and credited it for essentially saving his life, declaring “you can’t be too depressed or maniacal when you have a ukulele.” He then openly admitted to completely forgetting the beginning to Beatles cover You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, laughing at himself as a massive crowd singalong spurred to life.
Following a rollicking cover of Hard Sun, Vedder ushered out Band of Horses, members of X and Kelly Slater for a group rendition of Pearl Jam live staple cover Rockin’ In The Free World, which they’ve all but officially claimed as their own by now.
Despite a pretty dismal parking situation (beach parking hit capacity very early, and the hilly surrounding area made trekking by foot a challenge) and frustratingly long food lines, Ohana fest was a strong success in its inaugural endeavor.
Looking forward to next year!!