2019 KAABOO Del Mar Sports Fine Mix of Classic & Modern Via Dave Matthew Band, Duran Duran, Kings of Leon & More (FESTIVAL RECAP/PHOTOS)

The fifth annual KAABOO Del Mar music, arts and entertainment festival happened over three days, from September 13 to 15, 2019, at the historic Del Mar Racetrack + Fairgrounds. Located just north of San Diego on the Southern California coast, it’s a huge space that KAABOO has used since the fest’s inception.

What has made KAABOO stand out among fests are the amazing variety of entertainment that keeps the thousands of attendees thrilled each day. Naturally, there are world-class artists bringing their best from many genres of music, but there’s also much more, including celebrity chefs giving culinary demos and hilarious comedians doing stand-up sets at a dedicated stage, as well as a massive indoor space filled with artwork and high-end food booths. 

The festival sold out all three days, but it never felt overcrowded as guests spread out across five main stages and enjoyed gourmet food and craft beverage offerings around the track property.

Shery Crow with Audley Freed

San Diego’s intense late summer heat made the daytime sessions more than a bit sweaty, but things cooled off in the evenings. Most of the festival layout was set up on black-painted, heat-retaining concrete and the general-admission areas suffered from a lack of shade or seating. The VIP areas had some artificial turf and seating sections with some shade, but overall the place was a sweatbox. And regardless of the level of tickets purchased, guests got intense workouts hoofing it around the vast grounds.

Kings of Leon, Dave Matthews Band, Mumford & Sons, Duran Duran and Snoop Dogg were some of the big headliners, but many other well-known bands from both the era of classic rock to cutting-edge current stars of pop, hip-hop, reggae, rock and other genres filled the stages all weekend. We did our best to catch as many performances as possible, but, as what always happens at multi-stage festivals, we missed some big shows while catching other great performances. Here are some of the highlights.

Dave Matthews


Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul put on a theatrical, lively performance. Steven Van Zandt led his big band through several up-tempo songs as he sang, played intense guitar solos and bounced around the big Grandview stage while encouraging his talented band, who put on a great show. Southern California favs Silversun Pickups had an adoring crowd wrapped around their fingers at the Trestles stage, conveniently located next to the Grandview stage. They played hits like “Panic Switch,” “Lazy Eye” and “It Doesn’t Matter Why.” 

At the other end of the festival, REO Speedwagon drew the classic-rock junkies to the immense Sunset Cliffs stage. Original members Dave Cronin, Dave Amato, ‎Neal Doughty and Bryan Hitt led the band through classics like “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Roll with the Changes” and “Keep on Loving You.” At the end of their set, Cronin talked lovingly about their friend and fellow classic rocker Eddie Money, who had died earlier that day, and dedicated “Two Tickets to Paradise” to Money and his family.

Kevin Cronin (REO Speedwagon) with daughter

Back at Trestles, post-punk/goth rockers The Cult played an aggressive set featuring their hits “She Sells Sanctuary,” “Sweet Soul Sister” and “Fire Woman.” An old-school hip-hop collaboration took place next at Grandview. Wu-Tang Clan hollered out their angry, forceful raps before Snoop Dogg came out to dish his lyrics. The legends joined forces to the delight of the large mass of hip-hop faithful in the crowd.

Multiple Grammy winners Kings of Leon closed out the Sunset Cliffs stage. Lead singer Caleb Followill and brothers Jared and Nathan Followill, as well as their cousin, Matthew Followill, offered an impressive set of tunes. They played inspired versions of “Use Somebody,” “Someone Like Me” and “Sex on Fire” to close out KAABOO’s first day.

Caleb Followill (Kings of Leon)


The sun did not take a break on Saturday as Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes opened the Trestles stage with a few dance-friendly tunes for some early arriving patrons. A special, solo acoustic performance took place in the VIP-only Amplify Escape area. Tim Reynolds, the brilliant lead guitarist from Dave Matthews Band, showed off his fret work to an appreciative, intimate audience.

At the Palate + Play stage, Nyesha Arrington did a fun food demo. The Los Angeles-based, Top Chef alum interacted with the audience, answered questions and prepared a kimchi latke using organic greens, eggs, sesame oil and Korean chili flakes. The pancake mash up of Korean and Eastern European Jewish cuisine was topped with creme fraiche and marmalade. Arrington gave samples to some of the front-row devotees.

Bryan Adams

Grammy winner and Academy Award-nominee Bryan Adams kept a rapt crowd entertained at Sunset Cliffs with several of his old hits. “Somebody,” “Run to You” and “Summer of ‘69” all drew loud applause and fan sing-alongs. Back at Grandview, Sublime with Rome attracted the ska punk faithful. Lead singer Rome Ramirez, who replaced Bradley Nowell, who was an unfortunate overdose victim in 1996, did a great job of singing and connecting with the audience. Their hits “Smoke Two Joints,” “Wrong Way,” “Date Rape,” “April 29, 1992 (Miami)” and “Santoria” all connected with the audience.

Squeeze followed on Trestles. The British rock band had their greatest success during the New Wave period in the 1980s and 1990s with several big hits. Original members Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook led the band through “Pulling Mussels,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” Cool for Cats” and “Tempted.” The Artisanals were one of the “under the radar” bands performing on the Palate + Play stage in between chef demos. Their mix of Americana, southern and heartland rock tunes captured the souls of some fans and passersby.

Glenn Tilbrook (Squeeze)

Saturday’s big headliner was the Dave Matthews Band on the Sunset Cliffs stage. The Grammy winners rolled through many of their hits from a prolific 28-year career. They opened to thunderous applause on “Louisiana Bayou” and “So Much to Say.” Fantastic versions of “Too Much,” “What Would You Say” and “Everyday” followed. 

The band playfully mixed in several covers including Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and a mash-up of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and The Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive.” After a rowdy version of “Sexy Motherf’er,” the band covered Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle.” They concluded with fantastic versions of “Tripping Billies” and “Ants Walking” to close out night two.


After two days of scorching weather and miles pounding the hardtop, Sunday’s crowds were lighter as the weather cooled a bit. Con Brio, the San Francisco-based retro-soul, R&B band opened the Trestles stage. Frontman and vocalist Ziek McCarter blew away the crowd with his vocal range, acrobatic dance moves and infectious stage presence. 

Ziek McCarter (Con Brio)

Grammy winners Toots and the Maytals followed on Trestles with some smooth reggae classics. Toots Hibbert at 76 can still belt it out and keeps the old-school reggae vibe alive (the band began in 1961). The group did a fun, rearranged version of The Kingsmen’s “Louis Louis.” At Palate + Play, Antonia Lofaso got some help from a few fans as she made cavatelli pasta with a power drill. The Los Angeles-based, Top Chef vet and Food Network star used black pepper and pecorino cheese to create a modern take on an Italian classic.

Great stand-up comics performed in the Humor Me building all weekend, but none as popular, or as opposite their TV persona, as Bob Saget. Saget did a hilarious, seriously vulgar set of stories, jokes and one liners on Sunday afternoon for a crowd that consisted mainly of a generation of fans that considered him their favorite TV dad. A little later, The Revivalists did a high-energy set on the Grandview stage. The crowd went wild when lead singer David Shaw brought out Saget to sit in on vocals for a cover of The Who’s “My Generation.” 

While The Revivalists were having fun with Bob Saget, multiple Grammy Award-winner Sheryl Crow entertained several thousand fans at the Sunset Cliffs stage, after some sound troubles as her set began. Crow still looks and sounds amazing. Her excellent band supported her through several sing-along hits like “If It Makes You Happy,” “All I Wanna Do” and “Everyday Is a Winding Road.”

John Taylor (Duran Duran)

The festival wrapped up with two superstar bands – one contemporary and the other classic. Two-time Grammy Award-winners Duran Duran closed the Grandview stage. The hitmakers were huge in the 1980s and 1990s, capitalizing on the popularity of MTV videos. Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Roger Taylor played several of their hits for adoring fans. 

Their highly produced set included “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “When You Come Undone,” “Ordinary World” and “Morning After.” Their encore opened with a wild cover of Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines.” They concluded their set and closed the Grandview stage with “Rio.”

Tim Reynolds

Grammy Award-winners Mumford & Sons closed the Sunset Cliffs stage. The British folk-rock band has been topping the charts with hits for a decade. They played “Little Lion Man” and “Babel” early in their set. They also did a reworked cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” Lead singer and guitarist Marcus Mumford led the band through “I Will Wait” and “Delta” to end the show and put a finishing touch on KAABOO Del Mar in 2019.

This year’s KAABOO was the last one at the Del Mar racetrack, which is good news. On Sunday, September 15, Jason Felts, managing partner at KAABOO, held a press conference and announced that the San Diego Padres have reached a multi-year agreement with KAABOO. Beginning in 2020, the festival, now known as KAABOO San Diego, will be September 18-20 at Petco Park, home of the Padres, in downtown SD. On September 18, Felts announced that all KAABOO assets were purchased by the Virgin brand “Virgin Fest.” Felts is now the Founder and CEO of Virgin Fest. 

Living Art Glass People

The KAABOO brand will remain, but with Virgin as the new owner, we expect major expansion beyond KAABOO San Diego. We hope the new owners use their new San Diego digs to devise a layout that provides more shade, seating and softer surfaces for general-admission attendees, for this year’s fest was woefully lacking in comfort. 

With their global reach, Virgin Fest will undoubtedly book some of the hottest bands, chefs and comics, continuing their tradition of providing first-rate entertainment. But over the years, the original organizers steadily removed all possibility of a convivial experience for the basic festgoer. Hopefully, Virgin Fest will upgrade the level of comfort for everyone, making the 2020 edition of KAABOO San Diego a must-attend event on the summer music festival entertainment calendar. 

Live photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2019.


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