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BeachLife Festival Showcases Sounds of California With Gwen Stefani, John Fogerty, Sublime, More [Videos]

Since its inception in 2019, BeachLife Festival has established itself as a celebration of California’s musical culture and its myriad influences. That’s as much a function of its founding members—which include Jim Lindberg of Pennywise and Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray—as it is the community that descends upon the site adjacent to King Harbor in Redondo Beach each year to imbibe amidst coastal vibes.

Within that framework, BeachLife Festival has grown to become a staple of its own on the ever-expanding festival circuit. But where this relatively modest fest was once a somewhat-hidden local secret, this year’s edition put BeachLife on the map as a mainstream contender in a whole new way.

No artist better exemplified this leap than Gwen Stefani. In the nearly four decades since she first took the mic for No Doubt, Gwen has achieved pop superstardom, with solo hits like “Hollaback Girl” and “The Sweet Escape”, and cemented her place in the cultural zeitgeist with her on-again, off-again stints as a coach on NBC’s The Voice.

Her Saturday night headlining set at BeachLife 2023 was like nothing the festival had ever seen. For one, she was the first female headliner that BeachLife has had in its four iterations, and though other past bill-toppers like Willie Nelson, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Bob Weir, Weezer, Ziggy and Stephen Marley, and The Smashing Pumpkins—not to mention The Black Keys, who helmed the Friday slate this year—have reached dizzying heights of success in their own right, none brought quite the same hype to the table as Gwen did with her set.

The audience made that much clear. The sold-out crowd crammed into the space in front of the High Tide stage, even as Sublime With Rome continued to serenade festivalgoers with their end-to-end rendition of 40 Oz To Freedom. From No Doubt bangers like “Hella Good”, “Don’t Speak”, “Spiderwebs”, and “I’m Just a Girl” to solo smashes like “Rich Girl” and “What You Waiting For?”, Gwen had the audience bouncing and singing along to every word in a way that BeachLife, and perhaps she, had never seen before—and, to think, the powers that be at BeachLife didn’t have to scour the globe to score an artist of Gwen’s repute. Instead, they reached just beyond their immediate backyard to pull the Fullerton native into the fold.

Surely, Gwen’s sphere of influence in Southern California includes Torrance, where sister pop duo Aly & AJ, who also performed on Saturday, were born and raised. Even Nashville-born Noah Cyrus, the younger sister of superstar Miley Cyrus and a highlight of Sunday afternoon’s lineup, may well have taken queues from Gwen during her time growing up adjacent to the Hollywood spotlight. Tegan & Sara, who starred at the Low Tide stage on Friday, are practically Gwen’s contemporaries, but surely owe some their success in the realm of female-driven indie pop to the course that No Doubt charted during its run.

Gwen, though, was hardly the only Golden State artist whose pull was on full display at BeachLife this year. Latin jazz legend Poncho Sanchez made the quick hop from Norwalk to strike up many a salsa dance with his congas. Sublime With Rome elevated the Low Tide stage with KROQ classics like “Smoke Two Joints”, “Badfish”, “What I Got”, and “Santeria” on the same day that Tropidelic, an Ohio-based band among an endless sea of Sublime acolytes, showed off its own brand of funk- and hip-hop-infused ska-reggae on the Riptide stage.

John Fogerty, the Berkeley native and former frontman of Creedence Clearwater Revival, took his hard-won catalog out for a stroll, with forever tracks like “Bad Moon Rising”, “Born on the Bayou”, “Looking Out My Back Door”, “Fortunate Son”, and “Proud Mary” having almost certainly influenced the likes of The Black Crowes, Dispatch, Band of Horses, Kurt Vile & The Violators, and Modest Mouse, all of whom played pitch-perfect sets of their own this year.

Perhaps even more fascinating, though, was the extent to which BeachLife featured artists from beyond California, whose music would suffuse the sounds of the West Coast. Would the Malibu-born rapper Shwayze have found the same listenership for the pop-friendly hip-hop hits like “Buzzin’” and “Corona and Lime” that landed him at BeachLife without Travie McCoy, who opened the festival on Friday, helping to push that wave with Gym Class Heroes (whose upcoming reunion Travie announced during his stint)? Would the punk rock royalty that Gwen achieved with No Doubt have ever been possible without The Pixies, which was undoubtedly the most influential act to perform on Friday?

And, really, how much of the music that rocked Redondo Beach over the first weekend of May would’ve existed at all without the legendary soul of Mavis Staples, who brought longtime hits like “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” back to life for all to enjoy on Sunday? The same question could be posed about the roots reggae of The Wailers, whose lead vocalist Mitchell Brunings had everyone wondering whether Bob Marley had returned to perform renditions of “Buffalo Soldier”, “One Love”, and “Three Little Birds” on the sands of the Low Tide stage. Surely, Tomorrows Bad Seeds and Iration—let alone Sublime and Gwen Stefani—owe at least some of their success to the path that Bob Marley’s band paved from Jamaica to America.

Even Mike Love of The Beach Boys, though not a performer at BeachLife this year, popped by the festival to promote his Club Kokomo Spirits brand and catch his friend John Fogerty in action.

In truth, California has become the clearing house of American music. Not all of it begins out West, but given the primacy of Los Angeles within the industry, just about all of it passes through the City of Angels and its surrounding areas at some point en route to the mass market.

But while gigantic festivals like Coachella and Outside Lands broadcast California-approved beats out to the entire world, BeachLife has settled into a comfortable and consistent niche as the fest that does the most (and the best) to give back to the musical tastemakers who get to bask under the Pacific sun nearly year round.

John Fogerty – “Plan To Win” – 5/7/23

[Video: brian hamada]