By Dustin Lothspeich
“I went to Street Scene my first year of being a San Diegan,” local songwriter/percussionist Alfred Howard told me. “I saw a hippie walking over broken glass with bare feet. It was rad. Later on I met him; his name is Murph and he’s a great dude.”
You could say that Howard has a lot of run-ins with colorful characters — at huge festivals and otherwise. He works behind the counter at Cow Records in Ocean Beach (which accounts for most of those bizarre encounters) but mostly dedicates himself as a musician situated at the very heart of the San Diego music scene — with half a dozen local bands (and his Redwoods Music label) currently counting him as a primary member.
When it comes to music in America’s Finest City, there are fewer people with better insight. And it comes as no surprise that one of his five active bands (The Midnight Pine) has been tapped to play Kaaboo in Del Mar — the biggest multi-day music/art festival our region has seen since Street Scene ended its run here in 2009.
The band’s been playing a unique style of acoustic-based, experimental folk/rock since 2012, won last year’s San Diego Music Award for Best Americana Album (they’re up for Best Americana band this year), and released their sophomore full-length record, “Buried,” last year to universal acclaim. Playing Kaaboo could seem like just another notch on the ol’ belt, but Howard doesn’t take his band’s inclusion lightly.
“I’m excited to play and I’m honored they’d consider us,” he explained. “It’s great to have our name on the site and the flyers. When a fest is that big, the promo is extensive and it places our existence in the cognition of strangers. We’ll likely reach some folks who wouldn’t have heard us otherwise and I’ll fill up my bag with bananas from the hospitality tent — smoothies for days. It’s a win-win-win. Plus, I’ll get to see Spoon and tell Tim Meadows I was once mistaken for him in a predominantly-white Boston suburb.”
If you can’t tell, Howard has a witty sense of humor and shares it at any opportunity. And his reference to Spoon and Tim Meadows only hints at the star power behind Kaaboo’s three-day lineup.
With acts like No Doubt, The Killers, Zac Brown Band, Sheryl Crow, Snoop Dogg, Foster the People, Counting Crows, 311, The Roots and O.A.R. on the schedule, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find something to enjoy. Even if the bands aren’t to your liking (which, to be honest, I’ve heard some grumblings from my younger friends), it’ll also have world-class comedians on tap as well like Tig Notaro, Joel McHale, Lewis Black, Jeff Garlin, Lisa Schlesinger and Ron Funches.
The festival, which takes place Sept. 18 – 20 at the Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds, covers nearly every genre imaginable across seven stages with 100-plus acts. Food, art, drinks, comedy and music for days — literally. Some, like Howard, would say it’s about time.
“I think we need a big festival in San Diego,” he said. “We’re a large city and despite the fact that I am literally constructed from disdain and cynicism, I’ll give you some straight hippie talk right now: Live music and the experience around it between friends and family is the most important thing I’ve known in my life. It’s tremendous to have a reputable festival back in town. Plus, I’m getting old and I don’t feel like driving to San Francisco for some shit like this. I don’t even want to drive to LA. But I’ll drive to Del Mar.”
When you’ve won over even the hardened hearts of road-weary musicians, you know you’re onto something special.
And it does speak to the all-inclusiveness of Kaaboo that they’ve even bothered to invite local bands to play at all. Slightly Stoopid, Switchfoot, Fitz & the Tantrums, Tribal Seeds, and The Silent Comedy are all set for main stage performances (and have all been San Diego-based groups at one point or another), while on-the-rise buzzbands like The Burning of Rome, The Nervous Wreckords, KI, The Drowning Men and, yes, The Midnight Pine — among others — will soak up the sun and deliver the good vibes from the Tourmaline Stage.
According to Howard, there’s something special about playing outdoors — especially when his band’s soaring beauty is behind the tunes.
“There’s something to be said for a tight, cramped, sweaty dive with no separation from the audience … but being outside on a beautiful San Diego afternoon with a clear, crisp sound system spreading our songs beyond the reach of a bar — that’s a great experience as well.”
Single-day tickets to Kaaboo are available for $125, while three-day passes and various VIP packages are available at different price points as well. For all ticketing options and more information, please visit KaabooDelMar.com.
—Dustin Lothspeich is a local freelance music writer. Reach him at email@example.com.