Any local, diehard reggae fan knows that the three pillars of Sunday fun in OC typically include a stiff drink, a sturdy dance floor and the sonic force of Fully Fullwood. Whether you’re a soulful stoner or a straight-laced stockbroker, fans of island riddims flock to Don the Beachcomber’s tiki-themed oasis in Sunset Beach for their regular fix of Reggae Sundays. Unfortunately the restaurant celebrated Fullwood’s last show over the weekend featuring the reggae legend with his band, and a host of guest musicians packing them in one last time at the bar that’s been like a special living room for OC reggae over the last seven years.
The news of the last show caught a lot of people off guard late last week when Fullwood mentioned it via his Facebook page. The legendary bassist of Soul Syndicate and Lee Scratch Perry’s band The Upsetters (along with guitarist and collaborator Tony Chin) thanked his fans for the years of support as the weekend event bloomed into one of OC’s most beloved reggae gatherings.
“I’m hoping the future brings as much joy and happiness as the past 7 years has working with Delia, Art and the crew at Don The Beachcomber,” Fullwood wrote on Facebook. “It would mean the world to me if you come out one last time to Fully Fullwood’s LIVE Reggae Sundays at Don’s to support the show, this great venue, our super talented band and everyone involved. One love.”
All it took was one post for most of Fullwood’s longtime friends and fans to spring into action. Walking into Don’s throw the dimly lit Polynesian karaoke vibes of the Dagger Bar into the main room, the body heat from the main room traveled into the halls of the restaurant like a muggy tropical storm as Fullwood, Chin and their bandmates (Rock Deadrick, guitarist and singer Bruno Coon, keyboardist John McKnight and others) moved the crowd with reggae standards and covers from artists like Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs, and some rastafied James Brown for good measure.
Waitresses struggled to balance trays through the capacity crowd as people writhed and wriggled their way to the stage area to get one last dance in between 3-7 p.m. After getting off to a slow start when they began seven years ago it’s been humbling for Fullwood to see the event go from a nearly empty room to a beloved weekend tradition. On Sunday, a mixed crowd of regulars, old friends and first-timers mashed together in an array of knit caps, flowing dresses and other various assortments of vacation outfits, dancing in the sweaty club despite the chilly ocean breeze that whipped down PCH as evening set in.
“People have been sending me texts and emails about how they love me and love the show and were sorry they couldn’t get in to celebrate the last show,” Fullwood says. “I didn’t realize I’d made such an impact with people in the area. I feel blessed about that.”
As we explained in a 2015 cover story on the roots of reggae in OC, Fullwood was among the first pioneers coming from Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean to bring a sound cultivated at the source to local music lovers and musicians who got hooked and never looked back.
Fullwood isn’t the only one waving goodbye to the Beachcomber. Longtime rockabilly crooner James Intveld is also doing a “Last Call” show at Don’s this Thursday. Rumors of the restaurant’s closing continue to circulate though there’s been no official word yet from management as the restaurant edges closer to the Ohana Gathering celebrating Don’s 10 year anniversary this Saturday and Sunday. Restaurant management could not be reached for comment as of press time.
Despite moving on Fullwood says he’s not ready to let go of his event which also funnels money into his non-profit charity Reggae for a Reason which provides support for homeless children around Southern California. There will be another Reggae Sunday-style event featuring Fullwood and his band on April 8 at The Broken Drum Bar in Long Beach (formerly Sgt. Pepper’s Dueling Piano Bar located at the Pike). However, he’s still looking to find a permanent home for his event that comes close to capturing the magic it made at Don’s.
“I’m very particular about certain things…I want people who come to the show to feel the same way when they come to the Beachcomber,” Fullwood says. Among his concerns are the amount of space and parking and a management staff that believes in what he’s doing. Though, it doesn’t take much to believe that wherever Fullwood goes, the people will follow. Over the course of four hours, he says the final event at Don’s was almost shut down three separate times due to overcrowding.
“On Saturday they had to stop taking reservations because every seat was taken,” Fullwood says. That doesn’t even include the dance floor.