Face it - blues is made to be played in one of two places: at a nightclub late at night, or on a wide-open California beach in early summer! And if you really like dem blues, the Doheny Beach Blues Festival (Dana Point, California) is ready to serve you up with exactly what you like, no matter what flavor it is.
Blues is a fairly specialized musical genre - some people say it's just "five notes, three chords, and real bad luck." But this year there were twenty-two bands ready to soundly prove them wrong! The diverse line-up included famous names - multiple Grammy Award winners like Keb' Mo', James Cotton, and The Robert Cray Band. It also included red-hot local talent like Lavay Smith & Her Red-Hot Skillet Lickers. (Sunday also included a dynamite performance by the Sir Charles Blues Lab Youth All-Star Band, the product of a non-profit lab that introduces the blues to young people, and I tell you, those kids were hot!) Every one of these bands are "singin' the blues," and every one of 'em was doin' it differently.
After all, what really drives a blues event is not the lyrics of the songs (which tend to be predictable), but to see the amazing musicianship and vocal performances given by people who might have been doing this style of music for (in the case of The Blind Boys of Alabama, Sunday afternoon) more than sixty years. It's the kind of playing that either makes you sit down in your seat and "listen up," or that keeps you on your feet and clapping all afternoon. Plenty of people were doing both.
Omega Events has this kind of show down to a science. There's no excessive waiting in line, even if you have a problem, because the entire staff knows what they're doing and works as a team. The food vendors and exhibitors are out of the way but easy to get to; there's plenty of shade. Restrooms are plentiful and clean. And always, the beach is no more than twenty yards away. If you get there early, the large parking-lot inside the state park is only $3.
If you prefer, as I do, to pay a little more and get a few more amenities, there are two premium seating levels to choose from. For about twice the price of a General Admission ticket, "V.I.P." seating gets you closest to the stage, although it's all "bring your blanket" accomodations. VIP also has its own set of bars and restrooms - a big plus as the crowds build up throughout the day. The premier level, Gold Circle, adds limited backstage access, free drinks and one catered meal each day. Unfortunately, the backdrop behind the stage essentially blocks visiblity from the Gold Circle area, and Sunday's catered meal virtually matched what you could buy in the Food Court for about ten bucks. Many Gold Circle patrons were less than impressed, while VIP was a very good buy at half the price.
Doheny Beach Blues is one of my "must see" festivals of the season. A creative lineup, crisp professional execution, and a dynamite location make this a great way to kick off another California summer!
Photos © Nancy Robinson