Last week, I let you in on the annual KAABOO festival, purporting itself to be the answer to all festival woes. Well, I came, I saw, I got mildly sunburnt…but did KAABOO hold up its promises to be “for music lovers by music lovers” and without the usual grit and grime of a typical festival?

Things kicked off early Friday, with most of the opening acts going, I am sure, woefully underattended due to so many of us schmucks working for a living. With the two-hour commute time down to Del Mar, I missed out on a couple of the acts I was most excited to see. Macy Gray had played the night before, while Sugar Ray and St. Paul and the Broken Bones took the stage just before I reached the parking lot.

Citizen Cope was just warming up at one of the festival’s smaller stages. I’ve been a fan of his since high school. “Bullet and a Target,” “Son’s Gonna Rise,” “Let the Drummer Kick It” — Citizen Cope writes amazing songs. That he was one of the openers on one of the smaller stages should say something about the acts set to grace one of the four stages set up for the weekend.

Citizen Cope himself played with a quiet smirk. He sounded exactly like he does on record, but by the nature of his songs and the acoustic set itself, he wasn’t the most lively of performers, letting the strength of his songwriting shine through to raucous applause. “Let the Drummer Kick It” got a particularly warm reception, a welcome surprise given the more hip-hop and electronic nature of the track.

I wandered over towards the Sunset stage to catch a couple of songs of Hall & Oates, taking a detour through the awesome art tent where numerous artists, many of them local, had set up stalls plying their fine arts. Of anything over the weekend, it was KAABOO’s emphasis on art that most impressed me.

From the giant murals speckling the fairgrounds, to the artist stalls, to the encouragement of many artists to continue to paint and work while the show was going on, it seemed clear that KAABOO had taken a page out of Burning Man’s book and saw how beautiful surroundings (beyond sunny, temperate Del Mar) can have a huge effect on concertgoers’ moods. For Friday, too, it more or less worked. People smiled from lounging in the various different environments available: grassy turf, makeshift beaches, and covered lounges.

It all seemed to work. People were having a good time and the usual festival drunkard types were few and far between. I headed back to catch the beginning of Fall Out Boy’s set.

And what a weird set it was.

Dancing girls, contortionists, fireworks, pyrotechnics, giant screens…if I expected anything from a Fall Out Boy show, for it to resemble a Motley Crue show was not it. I waited for “Sugar We’re Going Down” and then took a quick way out to Jimmy Buffet.

As far as ingenious ways to structure a show, pitting Jimmy Buffet against Fall Out Boy was kind of brilliant. I wouldn’t imagine the two acts have much overlap as far as audiences go, so neither stage pulled a crazy huge audience, as I would see the next night for Aerosmith.

Jimmy’s set was stripped-back, and the performance was put front and center. With the exception of some tiki-bar embellishment to the set, there was nothing fancy or as ostentatious as was to be found at the other stage of the night. I caught “Margaritaville” and then headed home.

Saturday was a stacked list. All the biggest names by far had been packed into a single day, including Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind, Lenny Kravitz, Aerosmith, The Chainsmokers, Ludacris, Steve Aoki, Collective Soul, Gin Blossoms, and Sarah Silverman. This, while awesome, ended up being KAABOO’s achilles heel for the day. Despite aspiring to be a step above the typical festival (and thus far, delivering on that promise), they didn’t anticipate that a typical festival audience would still attend. More on that later.

Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice seeing the two acts I was most excited to see for myself (Collective Soul and Goo Goo Dolls) in order to stake a spot for the coming Lenny Kravitz and Aerosmith. Third Eye Blind, one of my top three favorite bands of all time, put in a decent set that was marred only by vocalist Stephen Jenkin’s self-confessed jet lag and sometimes dazed delivery. People were stoked for them, too, which was great to see. I was hoping to catch them playing one of their new songs from their upcoming EP, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Lenny Kravitz was up next with the set of the weekend. He utterly stole the show. A consummate showman, his set was blistering and fun and full of appreciation both for his fellow musicians and for the audience. When finished, he bowed deeply to the audience, a solemn look of thanks on his (gorgeous) features.

Aerosmith, not to be outdone, put on one hell of a show themselves, but by this time the heat, alcohol, and lengthy day was beginning to get to people. Arguments started breaking out all over, people shoved at each other for closer spots. I took it as my cue to leave, squeezing myself between scowling faces, unfriendly grimaces, and some actual shoving as I tried to get OUT of people’s ways. And the mass of people was endless.

Something had gone sour.

I first tried to head over to get in line for Sarah Silverman’s set at the comedy tent, but I encountered more teeming masses of angry, sweaty people. I gave up and figured, with so many people there, Ludacris must have some space. No such luck. I cut my losses and helped myself to the s’mores tent on the way out. People streamed out around me, and the parking lots and exits were already clogged.

I settled in for a nap to wait for the people to leave and heard the curious sounds of a helicopter yelling over a loudspeaker. Apparently the fire marshal had seen the people problem, called in some buds, and put a quick end to Sarah Silverman, Ludacris, and Steve Aoki’s sets. When I woke up an hour later, it was still a pain to get out of the clogged arteries of the highways leading away from the race track.

The next day, however, again saw an about-face of attitude. Maybe because it was Sunday, maybe because the headliners included Jack Johnson and Cheech and Chong, but whatever the reason the festivalgoers were altogether more easy going. Well, unless you happened to be in front of them in line for Cheech and Chong.

With fewer people attending, mobility was a whole lot easier on Sunday. Shakey Graves proved to be the MVP of the day. A huge smile on his face, Shakey Graves powered through some of his best tracks before I ducked out to catch a couple laughs from Garfunkel and Oates. After a couple songs, I again snuck out the back to catch the opening songs of Cypress Hill, stayed for a series of jam-band solos from Blues Traveler, and caught the end of Donavon Frankenreiter’s set back on the stage where I had started out the weekend.

All in all, KAABOO more or less delivered on its promises, bringing an unparalleled set of acts together for a well thought-through evolution of the festival mindset. Was it a revolution? Not exactly. The food and drink (though a step above the usual fare) was typically exorbitant, the bathrooms (while certainly better than the typical port-o-john) still had a stink by the time Day 3 rolled around, and the strange midnight sci-fi police state that I observed from the luxury of my car seat was a curious departure.

Overall, however, it was a pretty great weekend. A step above? Maybe not. But a step forward, certainly, and a huge one at that.

For more info:

KAABOO Del Mar