By Dustin Lothspeich
“There are a lot of big-name acts and a lot of different genres. It’s quite an undertaking. I’m honored they asked me to play. Maybe they thought they were booking Steel Pulse and they got Steve Poltz.”
When you’re talking with Poltz, the world-renowned San Diego singer/songwriter perhaps most famous for penning the No. 1 hit “You Were Meant for Me” with Jewel, the conversation is always a blitz of hilarity, wit and good ol’ fashioned self-deprecation.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the organizers at the Kaaboo Del Mar music and arts festival booked him for this year’s incarnation: he’s kind of irresistible — both onstage and off.
“They booked me and then they felt guilty, or were contractually obligated,” he continued, joking. “So then they called Steel Pulse like they originally intended and booked them, too. I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth, I’ll leave that to the veterinarians.”
If you’ve followed Poltz’s career with The Rugburns or his solo endeavors over the last 25-odd years and countless tours, you’ll know this is the kind of thing he’s known for.
Incredibly down to earth for a guy that hits the road to a loyal worldwide fanbase, he’s a veritable wordsmith when it comes to satirical song lyrics; a spellbinding performer with a knack for both storytelling and a catchy melody — and boy, does he got jokes. When I asked him how he ended up on Kaaboo’s hefty, genre-spanning lineup, he had me rolling.
“They reached out and made an offer to my booking agent,” Poltz said. “They said ‘2 dollars.’ I said ‘2 dollars and 50 cents.’ They held out and I didn’t budge. Finally they said, ‘We’ll throw in six rolled tacos with guacamole.’ So I said, ‘Make it seven rolled tacos and 2 dollars and 25 cents.’ They relented and said ‘Fine.’ I’m a really good negotiator. I know a lot of good words. I’m a fantastic businessman.”
Drumpf-isms aside, Kaaboo done good by signing up Poltz.
The massive three-day art, music and comedy event (now in its second year) that takes over Del Mar Sept. 16 – 18 is peppered with a few standout local acts (like The Verigolds, Bang Pow, and Nancarrow) and more than 80 huge music names including Aerosmith, Fall Out Boy, Jack Johnson, Lenny Kravitz, Steve Aoki, Cold War Kids — oh, and one Jimmy Buffett.
“I’m looking forward to seeing [Buffett],” Poltz told me. “I love the song ‘Son of a Sailor,’ I hope he plays it. I’ve never seen him before. I’d love to meet him. He’s probably so excited to see me. I’ll try to make time for him backstage. He must be freaking out that I’m on the bill.”
Like I said: dude’s got jokes. Could we possibly see an impromptu onstage Poltz cameo during “Margaritaville”? Stranger things have happened. Especially if you knew what he had in mind for his own set on Friday, Sept. 16.
“I need to play naked and put a lighted sparkler in my butt crack,” Poltz joked when asked if he felt the need to ‘represent’ San Diego since he’s the biggest local name on the Kaaboo marquee. “Lately, it’s really been going over in some circles. The other night, I stood on a table at Denny’s and tried it — and I got my French toast for free.”
Moons over my hammy, indeed. Seriously though, the troubadour couldn’t be more thrilled to be involved with the hometown festival. Poltz explained that when it comes to the prospect of playing a huge stage like Kaaboo or a small stage like Java Joe’s, size really doesn’t matter — he’ll rock ’em all.
“I love them all, I really do,” Poltz said. “I’m always surprised that people show up. I’m grateful for the work. It’s weird that they pay me for doing something I’d do for free.”
Even the singer/songwriter will admit though (in typical Poltz story form) that Kaaboo’s bright lights are a tad more intimidating.
“I remember one time Jewel opened up for Neil Young at Madison Square Garden and Neil popped in to her dressing room before the show and said, ‘How ya doin’ Jewel?’ ‘I’m kinda nervous,’ she replied. And then Neil said, ‘Ahh, it’s just another hash house on the road to success. Show ’em no respect.’ Then he walked out. I think that’s wonderful advice if you’re Neil Young. I’m Steve Poltz, I have to try harder. So yes, I will definitely show them a modicum of respect. It’s gonna be a hoot I tell you. A hoot.”
And for those on the fence about plopping down the $119 single-day pass price (or $279 for a three-day ticket) to this year’s Kaaboo’s “mix-perience” —their self-coined term for the festival’s music, comedy, food, libations, art, relaxation areas, etc. — Poltz has some rather, uh, convincing words.
“Where else can you see Steel Pulse and Steve Poltz on the same bill?” he said. “Just do it. You’ll have fun. I’ll even do one of my songs in the reggae-mon style. You’re losing money by not going. You may as well take a hundred dollar bill and light it on fire. You will meet nice people. I’ll be there and I’ll introduce you to Jimmy Buffett. Maybe I’ll meet him backstage at the line for dinner and then I can write a song called ‘Jimmy Buffett at the Buffet.’”
Kaaboo Del Mar takes place Sept. 16 – 18 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. For more information, including the entire line-up, visit kaaboodelmar.com.