We were the four horsemen of the apocalypse without the horses. Or the apocalypse. So just four men, armed with notebooks, listening to 24 hours of music in one of the most colorful neighborhoods in the city. The annual Ocean Beach Street Fair & Chili Cook-off boasted dozens of bands on five different stages. Add the around-the-clock music in O.B. bars and what you had was more than 100 musical acts playing from 2 a.m. (Saturday, June 28) until 2 a.m. (Sunday, June 29). This is our report:
Saturday, 2:03 a.m., Newport Avenue
Nathan Dinsdale: Remnants of the Last Call crowd disperse into the night as five policemen chat outside Hodad's, watching for stumblers trying to open their car door with their house key. Within minutes, the streets are empty, save for a sizable group lingering outside the restaurant Portugalia. The rest of the city has gone to sleep. Our day is just beginning.
2:20 a.m., Portugalia
I pull up a chair near the stage where DJs Red Sonya and Alien Tom are setting up turntables. I spot a man with long, curly hair holding an ice cube to his forehead as he wanders aimlessly around the dimly lit room.“Dude, what happened?” somebody asks.“Dude, I'll tell you later,” he responds, shaking his head.
2:33 a.m., Portugalia
Turns out, ice-cube guy is Jefferson Jay. He's the reason why I'm not in bed dreaming about rescuing Megan Fox from a vat of Cool Whip. The Portugalia open-mic host and namesake of the Jefferson Jay Band is also the man behind “Jefferson Jay's 24 Hours of Free Music.” This is hour one.
I inquire about the large, pink welt on his forehead. He smirks and says nothing. I jokingly ask if he “fell down the stairs.”
“Ah, don't CityBeat me, man,” he chortles.
I have no idea what this means, but it's clear he doesn't want to talk about it. This event is another story. I've just woken from a nap and he apparently hasn't slept since February, so my sluggish brain struggles to catch his verbal volleys as Jay explains how this event is a revolutionary concept with all proceeds (donations and merch sales, mostly) going to the 70-plus acts scheduled to perform. He says things like “We're giving people something raw and real,” “I'm trying to build something organic,” “This is about the artists and the community” and “We're trying to amplify our vibe.”
This is going to be a long night.
3:03 a.m., Portugalia
Aside from “throbbing beats” and “pulsating rhythms,” I tend to rely on other cultural touchstones to describe electronic music. In this case, Alien Tom—a scruffy white guy sporting ratty dreadlocks—supplements his throbbing beats and pulsating rhythms with prison-break sirens, phaser blasts, the ree-ree-ree shower scene from Psycho and the music from the Friday the 13th movies that plays right before Jason emerges from a laundry hamper holding a meat cleaver.
Later, the DJs will use Atari bleeps, Speak & Spell blips and that bwup-wup-wup noise Super Mario makes when he doubles in size after jumping on a mushroom.
3:18 a.m., Portugalia
A motley crew has assembled on the dance floor. There are ponytail burnouts, diehard rockers, indie geeks, frat boys, hip-hop dudes, glow-stick kids, ironic hipsters, a few potential school-grounds shooters and a homeless guy sitting at a table, fast asleep.
The dancing is equally eclectic. Some are doing the Caucasian shuffle while others appear to be having a slow-motion epileptic seizure and the rest take their moves from the passenger-seat chick in that “Days Go By” Mitsubishi commercial.
There are easily 50 people, maybe even 75. All drawn here in some bizarre perversion of A Clean, Well-Lighted Place minus, you know, the lights.
3:49 a.m., Portugalia
An absurd number of people are wearing sunglasses. Indoors. At night. One is Alien Tom. Another is Heath Ledger circa 10 Things I Hate About You mainlining Monster energy drinks. And then there's the stocky man I've dubbed “Fab 4 Freddy” (for his Beatles “Fab 4” baseball jersey). I dig your style, Fred.
Homeless Guy is now sleeping facedown on the table. I know he's alive only because his nostrils are fogging up the glass tabletop. Too bad, he's missing a skinny girl in a black and white dress doing an interpretative dance with a hula hoop.
3:53 a.m., Portugalia
God help us. Somebody found a second hula hoop.
4:27 a.m., Portugalia
A new DJ I'm calling “Purple Shirt”—because DJ names are arbitrary, plus he's wearing a purple shirt—successfully killed the vibe with “Freaky Motherfuckers,” a club track about anal sex, cunnilingus and catching ejaculate in a cup.We're now operating under the principle that it's still a party as long as one person's dancing. Right now, that person is Alien Tom. The rest are outside smoking. The attendance is still impressive considering there's no alcohol and a Diet Coke costs $3.
5:31 a.m., Portugalia
Not counting meandering smokers, we're down to 13 people. Five are DJs. Two work here. One is a comatose homeless man. One is me. But three people are still wearing sunglasses. Outside, the sky fades from black to ash to charcoal to gray to—I need coffee.
7:41 a.m., Portugalia
The graveyard shift was replaced by the acoustic guild around 6 a.m. I took a break for a caffeine IV drip and to walk the dog (that's not a euphemism, it's a Shi Tzu). When I return, a pair of longhairs with guitars (Mac Mac) is on stage. One looks kinda like Paul Giamatti, the other an acid flashback of John Malkovich.
Malkovich sings a “Love Song to California,” which isn't half bad. But it's also hard to fuck up a song about California. Which is probably why people don't write love songs to Maine. Giamatti is adequate, but the whole raspy, chain-smoking, problem-drinking voice generally only works if you're Tom Waits, a 92-year-old blues fossil or a really hot woman. He is none of these.
8:07 a.m., Portugalia
A skinny dude with aviator sunglasses requests “Free Bird.” Strangely, nobody smashes a chair over the guy's head when he makes two more “Free Bird” requests in the next 20 minutes. Chalk it up to slow morning reflexes, not a lack of desire.
Like many in the small crowd, he's either friend or kin to pianist/singer Marty Cowles, who's joined by his guitarist buddy Matt to play a couple originals and several Beatles songs. Cowles is ingratiatingly self-deprecating and he gets points for having the balls to play “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on the keyboard, but the dissonant clanging and his limited vocal range diverts my attention to The Wildest TV Commercial Moments on the muted TV above the bar. This is the most entertaining part of my morning.
8:45 a.m., Newport Avenue
The most frightening performance of the day involves, naturally, a clown, who I imagine—underneath the purple wig, Technicolor suit and clown makeup—looks a lot like Kathy Bates in Misery. She stands beside a portly man in a turquoise shirt and a portly woman in a motorized wheelchair. Together, the unholy trinity sings “Jesus Loves You” for everyone within earshot. The scene is infinitely more disturbing than anything John Wayne Gacy ever put to canvas. I back away slowly.
9:07 a.m., Portugalia
Richard Romero—looking like Noxzema-commercial Joe Namath—strums his guitar and sings about watching the birds and the bees make sweet love. He also uses a distortion pedal, presumably to add “ambiance.”
“Right on!” Fab 4 Freddy shouts.
9:24 a.m., Portugalia
Roach from Point Break takes the stage. Dude (actual name: Steve Keaney) looks like he woke up facedown on the beach three minutes ago. He can barely talk between sets (Uhhh, I wrote this song, um, like, five or three or four years, uh, ago) but still manages to sing, play guitar and harmonica—all fairly well—without a hitch. Somewhere, Jack Johnson is smiling.
10:02 a.m., Newport Avenue
Todd Kroviak: It's overcast and surprisingly cool during the 10-minute stroll from my car to the Street Fair. Parking is scarce enough to prompt locals to rent their driveways for the day. I can't decide who's more delusional—the guy with a cardboard sign that says “All-Day Parking $75” or the person willing to pay it.
10:15 a.m., Main Stage
Destructo Bunny does his best to appease the groggy crowd. Like most backpack rappers, he looks more likely to be spotted puffing green at a Hiero concert than bumping 'Pac in an Escalade. His phrasing can be awkward (especially during the token “freestyle”), but, considering he's sequencing beats, rapping and DJing all by himself, he shows legitimate three-dimensional skills. Now, about that name....
10:28 a.m., Chili Cookoff Area
I don't think situating an Eczema-treatment booth right across from the Chili Cookoff is the best way to enhance appetites. Just a suggestion.
10:35 a.m., Bacon Street Sun Stage
Gadfly peddles its reggae-influenced punk to a small but appreciative crowd that includes a kid with a Mohawk performing a one-boy mosh pit. I wish I were in middle school again so I could get really excited about bands that sound like Sublime.
10:48 a.m., Artists Alley Stage
Aside from being chased through an open field by 50 golden retriever puppies, few things are more joyful than a performance by the Paul Green School of Rock. If you've seen the Jack Black flick, you get the point: A ragtag group of kids directed through classic-rock songs by a middle-aged musician.
In the real-life version, none of the kids is a musical prodigy. They're just everyday teens (and pre-teens) whose performances are rocking, poignant and hilarious. Highlights include The Who's “Baba O'Riley,” and a rendition of Zeppelin's “Dazed and Confused,” complete with a mimicking of Page's violin bow trick. At the end of the set, the band bows to rapturous applause.
11:22 a.m., Portugalia
The Chuck Walker Trio works its liquid, woozy funk into a decent groove before it falls apart into mush. I'm tempted to call it free jazz, but only under the pretense that it was designed as such. Albert Ayler this isn't.
11:55 a.m., 92107 Stage
This may be the first time in their existence that anyone (me) has sat patiently waiting for the Hip Replacements to perform. The singer begins by saying, “We've been around town for a long time.” Judging by the two ladies in front of me who might actually need hip replacements, he's not blowing smoke.
12:11 p.m., Amateur Wrestling Stage
“Jebidiah” has long hair and overalls that hang loosely over his cut-off plaid shirt. He weighs 239 pounds, is “from Alabama” and doesn't like anything. Or, in his words, he “don't like nothin'.” He is subsequently annihilated by a luchador. Poor Jebidiah.
12:15 p.m., Chili Cookoff
I don't know what compels people to stand around in 85-degree heat eating some of the most gaseous, combustible foodstuffs known to man, but it's definitely a huge draw. I assume the judges will leave shortly to avoid what I refer to as the “port-a-john blues.”
12:43 p.m., Artists Alley Stage
Jimmy Dean & The Sausage Kings is a tough-looking band, despite the goofy name. The singer/pianist (presumably Mr. Dean) looks like an ex-Hell's Angel. He and his group of greaser cronies kick out a honky-tonk/rockabilly hybrid that's perfect for biker bars.
12:54 p.m., Bacon Street Sun Stage
There's nothing particularly memorable about Joey Harris & The Mentals' bland boogie rock, beside the fact that they convinced me to divert my attention toward finding a delicious Italian sausage sandwich. Which, for the record, wasn't prepared by Jimmy Dean or his Sausage Kings.
1:09 p.m., Main Stage
The shady confines of CityBeat's promotional booth give me the chance to enjoy my lunch while watching Anthony Smith's Trunk Fulla Funk. At this point, the sound of unnecessary wah-wah pedals is guaranteed to haunt my dreams. Guys, the cornerstone of any good funk band lies in hard grooves, not wanky guitar effects. A coworker points out that I'll have heard more Hammond B3 organ today than in any other four-hour period of my life. Touche, sir.
1:35 p.m., Wonderland Acoustic Stage
Compass Rose lead singer David Scott Castner has a strong but generic voice, kinda like Rob Thomas. Accompanied by a violinist and light drumming, the musicianship is solid, but the songs are forgettable. There's a chance that Castner won't remember playing this set anyway, considering he looks like he's been permanently stoned for years.
1:40 p.m., Portugalia
I'm charred. I forgot to wear sunscreen and the stiffness in my face is setting in as Robin Lee takes the stage. I'm trying to focus on the music, but I just keep thinking about the three days of pain and peeling that will follow. Lee's intentions are good, but this isn't open-mic night.
1:58 p.m., Bacon Street Sun Stage
The Christopher Dale Trio is cut straight from the cloth of '90s alt-rock. Like an acoustic Seven Mary Three or Better Than Ezra, their earnestness is overwhelming. It's a trip down memory lane to the days when I listened to FM radio for at least an hour a day.
I'm not big on nostalgia.
2:15 p.m., Portugalia
Dryw Keltz: Being a savvy ex-OBecian, I know some tricks for dodging traffic. Even still, I'm forced to park six blocks away and hoof it to Portugalia just in time to catch Philly B. One might expect a rapper from the City of Brotherly Love but, alas, it's just another singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar.
“I forgot the name of this song, so I wrote ‘Iron & Wine-sounding song with capo' on the setlist,” Philly says. At least he's not afraid to reveal his influences.
2:27 p.m., Wonderland Acoustic Stage
This stage is welcoming, mellow and completely neutered. Chelsea Flor is another acoustic troubadour (did everyone in O.B. bring an acoustic guitar today?) but with a Joni Mitchell bent. Even with an accompanying electric guitarist, the songs aren't grabbing me, so I wander down the street.
2:42 p.m., Artists Alley Stage
The saxophone being my nemesis, my legs quivered when I saw Chris Klich wielding that instrument of terror as he led his formidable, yet undoubtedly evil, jazz quartet. I was tempted to dunk my head in the nearest port-a-potty for the duration of their set, but there wasn't enough time before the first smooth sax notes hit. Instead, I stood there, arms folded bitterly, until I came to something of an understanding for why snobby intellectuals dig quality jazz. These guys—especially the bassist—were pretty good.
But I still hate the sax.
3:15 p.m., Winston's
The Whiskey Dicks exist in a world where a lead singer isn't afraid to deep-throat his microphone and a cover of Motley Crue's “Live Wire” seems not only appropriate, but mandatory. These guys seem like a hell of a lot of fun as long as they're not your roommates. I had a blast watching them with my only hope being that I have more than two Miller Lites next time I see them play.
3:55 p.m., 92107 Stage
On my way to the main stage, I stop for Barbara Nesbitt's acoustic set. Once again, quality voice and musicianship that nevertheless leaves me wishing people would just bring a full band to events like this. But she does do a sweeeeet cover of “Wild Horses.”
4:25 p.m., Main Stage
Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band is the musical low point of my afternoon, although the crowd is eating up their bad hobo blues. But just because you can do the hippie dance to any type of music doesn't mean that you actually should. And if you're on the hobo revivalist schtickwagon, you probably shouldn't tell the audience about the time you saw your cousin on an episode of Cops. It kinda ruins the mystique.
My annoyance is exacerbated by the fact that, judging from the sea of people cavorting in and around the beer garden, it seems that O.B. has been invaded by P.B. for the day. Hey, just because your Block Party got shut down….
5:33 p.m., 92107 Stage
Newly invigorated after dinner at The BBQ House, I settle in to catch Deadline Friday's set. They open by slaying the Allman Brothers' “Whipping Post,” a song that's not exactly a pushover to cover. The dueling guitars are fantastic and, as an added bonus, the drummer is the one singing. The band's overall vibe is quality Southern rock mixed with some Laurel Canyon-in-the-'70s mystique. Great playing, great harmonies and a tight sound. Thankfully, my day ends on a high note.
6:28 p.m., Artists Alley Stage
Nathan Dinsdale: You might expect Blizzard to play heavy Scandinavian death metal. Instead, their forecast calls for scattered showers of hard rock with light flurries of punk brought on by an emo tropical depression. But they've apparently made an impression on the guy in the beer garden shouting “One more!” long after they leave the stage. Maybe he's talking about beer.
6:42 p.m., Bacon Street Sun Stage
SweetTooth singer/guitarist Matt Silvia introduces the song “There and Back Again” by explaining how it was written for a friend fighting in Iraq. Today, he notes, it has an added meaning.
“The music community lost probably its greatest guitarist today,” Silvia says, solemnly. “Craig Yerkes, I know you're out there. This is for you, brother.”
Silvia sings about being far away from home and how “the weight of the world is so heavy I can't feel at all.” Bill Coomes, who played with Yerkes in The Grams, joins in on backing vocals. It's a somber, poignant moment made a tad surreal by the sizable crowd, which includes a chick on rollerblades, a shirtless head-banger and a bald guy in a tie-dyed shirt performing an LSD version of the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”
7:05 p.m., Main Stage
The Devastators work the sun-baked, beer-marinated crowd into a perpetual groove as the sun begins to sag in the sky. There's plenty to critique about reggae-rock but The Devastators are solid. Besides, dogging on reggae at the beach on a drunken sunny day is like talking shit about the sand.
7:31 p.m., Portugalia
Fab 4 Freddy is looking a little haggard, but still hanging on. Turns out, he's actually quirky local musician (by “quirky” I mean “he occasionally sets himself on fire”) Clifford Jomuad. I ask him who's played the best set of the day.
“Clifford,” he deadpans.
I see that Paul Giamatti has acquired a musical-note henna tattoo on his cheek. I can't say it's a particularly good look on him.
8:35 p.m., Gallagher's
I'm now the second person in history to wait on the Hip Replacements. I'm hoping my patience will be rewarded with a geriatric Replacements cover band. But no such luck.
8:54 p.m., Gallagher's
There's something kinda creepy about an older man singing “I Just Want to Make Love to You” in a faux-Irish beach bar filled with half-naked 20-somethings. Not that the Hip Replacements—most notably the bassist in the gold, yes gold, suit—don't have some style. But they're simply a bar band. Nothing more, nothing less.
9:35 p.m., Gallagher's
It's time to bounce. I give my wife the options—Dream Street, Winston's, Portugalia, The Harp or Pacific Shores. “Here's what I think,” she says, thoughtfully, “I say we order four Jell-O shots and go out to the pier and look for dolphins.”
And that, my friends, is why I'm married.
9:45 p.m., Nick's at the Pier (drinking Arrogant Bastard Ale)
Seth Combs: What's left of the Street Fair looks like the set of an anti-littering PSA. Drunken, sun-burned troglodytes tripping over beer cups, puke and half-eaten funnel-cakes (which look a lot like the puke) on their way back to their cars and perhaps later a DUI.
There's no music at Nick's, but I need some pre-douchebaggery grub. The guys next to me move from a conversation about how one wants to punch his sister to betting that the other can't name the first 10 U.S. presidents. What the fuck am I doing here?
10:33 p.m., Winston's (Jack on the rocks)
Ah, a friendly face, CityBeat's own heathen columnist Ed Decker. I'm told I just missed a kick-ass set (from Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band). Instead I get stuck with Electric Waste Band, a Grateful Dead tribute whose covers are just as suck-ass as the originals.
I tell Ed that it seems unfair that bands like Ha Ha Tonka and Rev. Peyton traveled thousands of miles to perform, only to play second fiddle to a local Dead cover band.
“Welcome to O.B.,” he chortles. Somebody get me another drink.
11:32 p.m., The Harp (Jack on the rocks + shot of Jameson)
If there's anything funnier than the drunken Birkenstocks at Winston's, it's watching this crowd's fumbling attempts at swing dancing to local rockabillies The Stilettos.
The singer—equipped with standard-issue tats, pompadour and wife-beater—has a bright future as an Elvis impersonator or a stand-in for a live-action Johnny Bravo movie. But you can't argue with the enthusiastic ladies who scream at every hint of flexed bicep.
I've always had a hard time getting a drink at this bar and the gorgeous, freckled brunette next to me has been waiting even longer. The bartender points to me. I point to Freckles and shout, “She was here first.” She orders some shots and shouts in my ear, “Thanks. Chivalry is not dead.”
The fact that there's a female in O.B. at this hour who can even pronounce “chivalry” is a turn-on. She buys me a shot of Jameson, and I chase the Irish piss down with succulent sour mash just in time to watch Freckles shimmy off like a Dublin stray cat.
I suddenly really like this band. I need to slow down on the booze.
Sunday, 12:03 a.m. (pocketed bottle of Ancient Age)
As I head to the Rite Aid parking lot to meet my friend Jordan, I spot Freckles and a posse of girls standing with some guys who look like they could be extras in one of those caveman insurance commercials. I give her a harmless
“You be safe now,” as one of the Neanderthals is clearly her boyfriend.
“Hey, faggot, I saw you checking out my girl.”
This guy would probably kick my ass. Just ignore him and keep walking.
“Yeah, well your girl bought this faggot a drink, so you tell me who the man is!”
What the fuck did I just say?
12:12 a.m., Pacific Shores (Ancient Age + Jack on the rocks)
A passing cop car and some serious intervention from Freckles and her friends distracted Encino Man long enough for me to make an escape. Jordan and I duck into the back entrance of Pac Shores. After a few minutes, I convince him to come with me to Dream Street, even though I'm not fully convinced myself.
12:46 a.m., Dream Street (Jack on the rocks)
Is it a rule that you have to be a shitty band to play at Dream Street? I'm not bummed that I missed Dannicus Live, but I'd trade their Irish cock rock and a Guinness enema any day for the band I'm listening to now. How the hell Deny the Silents came to headline is beyond me. Somebody please tell this band that nu-metal died in 2001.
1:12 a.m., The Tilted Stick (shot of Jack and a Bud)
The music is wrapping up at every venue, but I'm watching a blonde nearly fall off the bar while dancing to—I shit you not—“Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra. Not exactly your standard Girls Gone Wild soundtrack. Christ. Is this really going to be the musical highlight of the night?
1:48 a.m., Voltaire Street (nursing Ancient Age bottle)
I snag a local fella's bike and drunkenly pedal around Voltaire until I rather illogically decide that I want to go swim in the ocean. I can see the visions of Jeff Buckley dancing around Jordan's head.
2:27 a.m. (saltwater with hints of dog piss)
After my swim—and a quick duck behind a concrete wall to hide from the cops—we stumble down Abbot Street and run into a young piker with a guitar who serenades us with (what else?) “Redemption Song.”
Despite the rudimentary guitar skills, it's the most pleasant thing I've heard all night. I'm reminded of that scene in Before Sunrise where the Viennese street poet writes a poem for the two lovebirds, although Jordan is a rather poor Julie Delpy to my Ethan Hawke.
In six hours, I'll wake up feeling like seven kinds of shit. But I'll be chuckling through my headaches, sand still in my crack.
Editor's note: The original version of this story said it was Peter Hall who had a 'strong but generic voice' under the '1:35 p.m., Wonderland Acoustic Stage.' The story has been changed to reflect the fact that it was Compass Rose on the stage at that time, not Peter Hall.