Fans of Southern-leaning tastes gathered this weekend at Doheny State Beach to celebrate the two days of country music, craft beer, and bbq that comprise the Driftwood festival. Headliners Chase Rice and Big & Rich and nearly a dozen other musical acts demonstrated the dynamic range of the genre during their respective mainstage sets, while country-style fairground attractions, exotic foods, specialty brews, and various vendors rounded out the grounds.
Upon arrival at the park, guests were greeted by the extensive sight of heavily armed police officers. I’m not talking about a well-patrolled family entertainment zone; I’m talking about multiple lines of automatic weapon-bearing officers. This sight was evidently on display at last year’s Driftwood, which followed the Las Vegas shooting massacre, and given the recent shooting at a country music bar, in Thousand Oaks, I suppose this was intended to ease apprehensions and discourage any would-be illegal shooters. It is what it is, but it made the area feel a bit less like a family fun zone and a little more like downtown Jerusalem.
All right, military parades out of the way, the only other potential buzzkill would have been the parking situation. That said, anyone who has been to a Doheny Beach festival — like Driftwood, Ohana Fest, or the Doheny Blues Festival — knows all about the old off-site parking and shuttle bus routine. The festival’s flavor and various attractions took care of any blues that might have lingered. This reporter only attended on Sunday, which meant that not only did I miss out on Saturday’s musical line-up, but evidently the craft beers that were offered at the festival were on something of a rotation schedule.
Some weekend-long festival-goers / beer aficionados were able to recall their favorite brews for posterity. Out of the 34 breweries represented at the festival, some favorites included: Hangar 24, Craft Brewing Company, Ten Mile Brewing Company, The Good Beer Company, Chapman Crafted Beer, and Green Flash. Among those breweries, favorite brews included: Hangar 24’s Pugachev’s Cobra and 2017 Imperial Stout, Craft’s Smoked Red Ale, Ten Mile’s Kentucky Common (a pre-prohibition beer style), and Good Beer’s candylike Margarita and Blueberry Pastry Beers. Attendees who’d arrived early on each day received a complimentary little drinking glass that they could use to sample some free brews until 4:00 pm.
Before or after drinking at any of the festival’s various scenic drinking oases, some guests tried their luck on a mechanical bull or joined in at the line dancing stage. Other folks flocked to the various designer food stands. Beyond the obvious bbq fare, which included turkey legs, brisket, ribs, etc., there were also vendors selling stylized mini donuts [Fruit Loops on your donuts, anyone?], pumpkin shakes, gourmet mac & cheese, and towering servings of full-course nachos. For the less adventurous or economically motivated folks, there were plentiful water coolers and free samples of Bai brand beverages.
The musical performances demonstrated a cross-section of the genre. Sunday’s second performer [we missed opener Naked Walrus] Brandon Ray pleased his audience by performing originals as well as covers of pop artists like Katy Perry and Britney Spears. Brooke Eden’s performance commanded a nice cache of fans as well. Jamestown Revival played a very rocking and enjoyable set. By this point, all of the performers I’d witnessed shared the commonality of coyly announcing, during about the halfway point of their sets, that “this next song is about having sex.” There was not a great deal of variation in the pronouncements. The formula essentially continued throughout the evening.
When Kristian Bush of Sugarland began his set, most of the peripheral areas of the fairgrounds emptied as everyone flocked to the main stage. Bush began his set by announcing that his style of country is unlike most of the country music out there; admittedly, it isn’t. Actually, his first number, which I didn’t catch the name of, sounded like it could have come out of the Grateful Dead’s catalog. The culmination of the various styles came when DJ Sinister came onto the stage. While he warmed up the crowd with a heavily mixed mash-up of country tunes, he repeatedly encouraged audience members to follow him on Instagram; then he took a backseat to the rest of the Big & Rich band, which blasted the audience with a very festive performance that was sure to keep people warm in the cold ocean air.
Any festival that takes place at Doheny has the advantage of having the backdrops of the Pacific Ocean and a glorious SoCal sunset. Beyond that, this year’s Driftwood Festival highlights included performances by some great musicians, and the overall vibe was very welcoming. Admittedly, the demographic was principally white conservatives, but all ethnicities attended the festival to some degree; after all, good food, drink, and music are great levelers. Until the next rodeo, folks!