Wednesday night I slipped into my most fashionable ensemble (aka a black tank top and jeans) and headed into Hollywood to attend Billabong’s sixth annual Design for Humanity event. Set at Paramount Studio’s New York City backlot, the evening of music, fashion, and art had much more of a festival vibe to it than that of a typical concert. Numerous food trucks, a custom art gallery, and a runway fashion show of Billabong bikinis plus three stages featuring absolutely stellar performances by Imagine Dragons, Walk the Moon, The Lumineers, and The Joy Formidable resulted in a one-of-a-kind event that raised over $111,000 in ticket sales alone for the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation. Great night for a great cause.
The first performance of the evening was my most anticipated: Imagine Dragons. I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with the group’s Continued Silence EP since first discovering the indie rock act via an acoustic video for their song “It’s Time” — “love/hate” because I love everything about the EP except for the length, which I (you guessed it) hate. It’s too short! Six songs is not nearly enough to satisfy my Imagine Dragons needs, so I was super stoked to hear the band play several new tracks in addition to my favorites from the EP, “Radioactive,” “Demons,” and of course, “It’s Time.” Frontman Dan Reynolds delivered a flawless vocal performance while banging on the large bass drum stationed vertically mid-stage, and his humble gratitude to the audience and the city of Los Angles for their support of Imagine Dragons was endearing.
One of the many logistical benefits of Design for Humanity’s venue choice was that as soon as one band would finish performing, another was ready to go on a different stage. With no time to kill between sets, the crowd hustled faster than a New York cabbie on his way to JFK so as not to miss a minute of Walk The Moon. The Cincinnati-based quartet launched into the first song of their set, “Quesadilla,” before the final strains of Imagine Dragons’ closer cleared the night air. Their synthy, bouncy pop music had the people in the crowd giddily bopping up and down like they were junior high students at the best pep rally ever. The smile on Walk the Moon frontman Nicholas Petricca’s face was absolutely infectious, and nearly every song included the opportunity for a crowd clap-along, so we jumped right on that. Set highlights included “Shiver,” “Tightrope,” and of course, the song we were all waiting to hear, “Anna Sun.” By the end of Walk the Moon’s performance, the mood at the event was as cheery and bright as the colors streaked across the band members’ faces.
Folk-rock trio The Lumineers were up next, and they brought a different vibe to the night, one more grounded than the light, bounciness of Walk the Moon, but no less communal and uplifting. Frontman Wesley Schultz was quick to kick up his heels while performing tracks from the Denver-based group’s self-titled debut album, including “Flowers In Your Hair,” “The Dead Sea,” and hit single, “Ho Hey,” the first strains of which prompted a girl standing behind me to let out a shriek of pure joy. The group even treated the audience to a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t recognized until mid-way through. We’ll just chalk that up to The Lumineers’ ability to make any song their own (or as a sign that I need to brush up on my Dylan).
Oddly enough, of the four performers, I was least familiar with event headliners The Joy Formidable heading into Design for Humanity. Add to that the sudden appearance of Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba directly beside me during the Welsh trio’s set, and I have to say their performance ended up being a bit of a blur for me. Between sneaking glances at Skiba (and consequently swooning on the inside), I found myself in awe of The Joy Formidable’s firecracker of a frontwoman, Ritzy Bryan, who had a bit of a Courtney Love thing going on, with her bleached hair, school girl dress, and wide guitar stance. My crash course in the Joy Formidable the week prior to the event did allow me to recognize several tracks from the group’s debut, The Big Roar, including my personal favorite, “The Greatest Light is The Greatest Shade.”
Between sets I was able to check out the art auction, sample some of the best toffee ever, catch a ping pong game, and visit the Green/Flash Surf Art Gallery, which featured one-of-a-kind custom wetsuit designs. The best part of that gallery? The whole floor was covered with sand. Even with a New York City backdrop, leave it to Billabong to ensure that I went home from Design For Humanity with a little sand between my toes.
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