Ohana Festival Shines With Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam, My Morning Jacket, Mac Demarco, Brandi Carlile (FESTIVAL RECAP/PHOTOS)

The Ohana Festival is a laid-back, annual live-music weekend that takes place adjacent to a popular surf spot at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, CA. This year’s festival happened from September 24-26, 2021, a music extravaganza that could just as easily be called the “Eddie Vedder and Friends Festival,” as the vocalist led three official sets of music over the weekend and sat in on a few other performances as well.

The Pearl Jam frontman created the festival along with his pal and world-class surf champion Kelly Slater a few years ago. They love surfing at the local beach and thought it would be great to have a music festival at the site. Although the event, like many other festivals, was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, it went on without any problems during this 2021 SoCal summer weekend. Vedder should get overtime pay for the work he put in this year. He was scheduled to headline on Saturday as a solo performer and lead Pearl Jam to close the event on Sunday. 

The opening night’s scheduled headliner Kings of Leon had to cancel just days before the start of the festival. Bandmates and brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared Followill flew home to be with their ailing mother Betty Ann Murphy, who died Friday night. Vedder stepped in and brought along some friends in what may turn out to be a huge new side project. Vedder’s new band featured Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith, former RHCP and current Pearl Jam touring guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, The Who touring bassist Pino Palladino, guitarist/pianist/vocalist Glen Hansard and guitarist/producer Andrew Watt.

Jim James

Their short-notice, fill-in set on Friday night was a revelation. Vedder and his all-star buddies played an explosive and surprisingly tight set of music. The performance included a heartfelt tribute to the Kings of Leon boys with a cover of their song “Molly’s Chambers” and they also covered R.E.M.’s “Drive,” The Who’s “I’m One” and the Pretenders’ “Precious.”  

Vedder also mixed a few original tunes in with the covers. He wrote and recorded music for the Sean Penn movies Into the Wild and the recently released Flag Day. The band performed a few of those songs and Vedder’s daughter Olivia came out to sing “Father’s Daughter,” a track she recorded for the new movie. Glen Hansard played a beautiful piano sequence and sang lead on “Tender Mercies,” another song from “Flag Day.” Vedder also performed “Long Way,” a new song from his upcoming solo album Earthling.

The band did an admirable job on Pearl Jam’s “Long Road,” “Porch” and “Corduroy,” but only played an unsatisfying tease with the first few notes of “Better Man.” The abbreviated encore (due to curfew concerns) turned out to be a wild version of Prince’s “Purple Rain” with Klinghoffer doing a remarkable impression of the Purple One. Vedder and Hansard joined in for the chorus and closed out the show.

Maggie Rogers

Vedder’s Saturday set started out as an amplified, acoustic solo show. He played guitar and sang Cat Stevens’ “Don’t Be Shy” and Pearl Jam’s “Wish List.” Vedder broke out his mandolin for the Into the Wild track “Ride.” Hansard came out for a beautiful guitar duet on another “Into the Wild” song, Jerry Hannan’s “Society.” The rest of the show went full electric as the other members of the previous night’s band joined Vedder and Hansard.

While the Saturday night electric performance had several repeats from the previous night, Vedder added a few new tunes. The band performed the new songs “I’ll Be Waiting” from Flag Day and The Haves from “Earthling.” The Clash’s classic “Should I Stay or Should I Go” featured Vedder on the ukulele. An extended encore offered a full version of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” as well as another foray into the Pretenders “Precious.” Additional covers included Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power,” Pete Townshend’s “Give Blood” and a jam-heavy finale on Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Eddie Vedder

The Pearl Jam set that closed the festival on Sunday had only a few repeats from Vedder’s solo sets. “Corduroy” got the full PJ treatment. Vedder invited Brandi Carlile, who had performed earlier in the evening, to join him for “Better Man.” The rest of the show was a mix of deep tracks and fan favorites like “Even Flow,” “Given to Fly,” “Black” and the festival closing “Alive.”

Several well-established artists, led by My Morning Jacket’s smokin’ set some additional electric fumes. Jim James was nearly maniacal as he swayed, pranced, and sang through the greatest hits set that included outstanding versions of “Victory Dance,” “One Big Holiday,” “Circuital,” “I’m Amazed,” “Spring (Among the Living),” “Off the Record,” “Wordless Chorus” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2.”

Young girl-power punkers The Regrettes were incredibly fun and spunky. Black Pumas put on an impassioned and soulful performance. Combo Chimbita blended a unique Latin roots sound with psychedelic funk. The Backseat Lovers’ straight-ahead indie rock drove the young women in the crowd into a frenzy. Maggie Rogers played a fine set of her songs and showed endless energy as she bounced around the stage.    

Mac Demarco

Natalie Bergman showed off her pipes on several soul and pop songs. Mac DeMarco played a solo acoustic guitar set that was part crooner, part stand-up comic. He delivered goofy quips in between songs and said, “I’d like to thank Mr. Jam for inviting me. I sure hope I meet him later tonight.” Aside from his soft rock leaning tunes, DeMarco threw in some oldies like “You Make Me Feel So Young” while accompanied by his karaoke machine. The song was made popular by Frank Sinatra in 1956 and the Ohana crowd surprisingly loved it.

Glen Hansard put on a stunning performance. He sang and played guitar on a few of his solo songs as well as doing tracks from his band The Frames. At the end of his set, he pulled singer Lizzie Gibson out of the crowd to join him on an Irish folk duet. As they were singing, Eddie Vedder walked out of the wings and joined them.

For those that missed the action at Ohana Festival, Vedder will be back headlining with Pearl Jam at the same location next weekend at Ohana Encore on October 1 and 2. Brandi Carlile is the only other performer for both weekends. The chill vibe, cool ocean breezes and fantastic performances cemented the festival as a yearly Southern California destination for live music. We know Vedder will put together another strong lineup for the 2022 version of this musical celebration.

Live photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2021.

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