BeachLife Ranch Country & Americana Festival Delivers a Wonderfully Pleasant Weekend of Music at the Shore

After several years on the same property, the location is perfectly seasoned for music festivals. Any prior glitches are in the past, and a smoothly run festival was enjoyed by everyone. There were plenty of cowgirls in the sand and the three day lineup resulted in a pleasant folksy Americana vibe, with a decidedly country overlay. 

Old Crow Medicine Show during the golden hour.

Old Crow Medicine Show nailed the mood as the sun began to set on Friday. Their cover of Alabama’s “Wagon Wheel” whipped the crowd into a sing along frenzy. The momentum kept up, right through the countrified cover of “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley undoubtedly enjoy the publishing royalties from this unexpected cover of the KISS classic.

The Lumineers

The Lumineers dropped “Ho Hey” early in the set, perhaps to get the obligatory audience sing along out of the way early. They teed up an ambitiously mellow middle set, but soon “Gloria” perked things up, with perennially barefoot keyboardist Stelth Ulvang injecting some crowdpleasing frenzy. The highlight of the Lumineers’ set was a heartfelt rendition of “Ophelia.” 

Darryl Hall noodling at the piano.

Hall & Oates took a page out of other legacy artists’ playbook; they opened with a video montage teasing the audience with riffs from their hits before taking the stage. The duo’s timeless take on blue-eyed soul hit its apogee in their middle of their set with a great cover of Barry Mann’s “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” followed by their original 1976 breakout gem “She’s Gone.” The duo reached back nearly five decades to Abandoned Luncheonette for that hit. As to the song’s crescendo, they did not quite stretch to the high register of their youth, but it was a credible and satisfying rendition. Over to the grand piano Hall sauntered, noodling on the keyboard as crooners are wont to do and then slid into the infectious opening of “Sara Smile.” The duo from Philly had navigated the 80s with a clutch of MTV hits, each of which was assayed at BeachLife Ranch in their encore: “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes” and “You Make My Dreams.” The shimmering production values of their recorded output was unattainable onstage, but the strength of the vintage melodies ensured a satisfying result. 

A couple punters sported counter-programming merch from Devo and The Clash.

On Saturday, a satisfying set from Dierks Bentley set the stage for the most anticipated gathering of the weekend. A poignant tribute to Waylon Jennings was steered by his son Shooter’s amazing performance. Smack in the middle of a deliriously wonderful set, Shooter was joined by Lukas Nelson and the two sons honored their fathers with “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Waylon and Willie were the progenitors of the original outlaw scene, a reaction to the gloss that had slipped into Nashville. John Doe (he of the seminal punk band X) assayed “Stop the World (And Let Me Off)” and The White Buffalo nailed “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).” Bringing resonance to “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” was Devon Allman.

The BeachLife Ranch venue was well designed, with comfortable sight lines available to most everyone. The food and beverage on offer were thematically consistent with the music. The warm vibe was mirrored (and generated) by the friendly staff.

Closing day was an embarrassment of riches, the best of which included Drive By Truckers, Greensky Bluegrass and a full set from Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real. But credit the last two acts of the festival to send everyone home on a musical high. Wilco has been offering thoughtful takes within the Americana genre for years. Toward the end of their set, they offered a triple header run with “Jesus, Etc.,” “Impossible Germany” and “California Stars.” The latter was first recorded with Billy Bragg, and when delivered in the summer evening yards from the Pacific most fans were very blissful.

Headliner Brandi Carlile finished the weekend in fine style. She has been moving from strength to strength over the last several years. I first saw her excellent performance in the Joni Mitchell Tribute several years ago (assisting an aging Kris Kristofferson), and earlier in the summer she brought out Mitchell for a jaw dropping performance at Newport Folk Festival. In the middle of Carlile’s sterling setlist at BeachLife Ranch she dropped two covers from Brits: David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Radiohead’s “Creep.” Carlile’s confidence in tackling such rock cornerstones was impressive.

She sent everyone home with a heartfelt rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and many folks were ready to buy their tickets to the next BeachLife Ranch Festival.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.