Is there a more pleasant place to hold an eclectic, music/art/comedy/food festival than Del Mar, California? The organizers behind KAABOO — now in its fourth year — got it right picking the SoCal city as their home base. Located right next to the beach, there’s a permanent ocean breeze. The crowd is pleasant. The lack of dust is pleasant. The fact that it’s on fairgrounds means there are real bathrooms everywhere, a rare festival commodity. Pleasant, pleasant, pleasant.
My years working as a brand ambassador have made me something of a festival expert, so I was intrigued to check out this new breed of glamorous, intensely comfortable gathering — clearly catering to a slightly more sophisticated crowd. I wanted to see if all the pleasant-ness added up to something awesome or not. Because that’s the ultimate question, right?
Taking the tram from the parking lot into KAABOO, I was flooded with sense memories. I was born a stone’s throw away in La Jolla, CA, and some of my earliest recollection include being on the fairgrounds for the Del Mar County Fair. The tram is the same color as an Orange Julius and I remember riding it with my grandparents. This time I was going to see a music lineup that a first glance could be considered “epic bands with absent lead singers” — Robert Plant, Slash, TLC, the Wailers, Stone Temple Pilots… It was a little mismatched, a little odd — like the fest itself — and excitement levels were high.
Here’s what I found once I hit the grounds.
I like that KAABOO puts as much emphasis on comedy, culinary, and art as on the music. In addition to music headliners Foo Fighters, Halsey, Post Malone, Imagine Dragons, N.E.R.D., Katy Perry and Wiz Khalifa, there were also comedy sets in the “Laugh With Me” pavilion by Craig Ferguson, Iliza Shlesinger, Whitney Cummings and Judd Apatow. There were live murals being painted everywhere, and entire exhibition halls of art. If you wanted to rest your feet and watch a cooking demonstration by one of the brightest stars in the chef world, Michael Mina, Ludo Lefebvre, Marc Forgione, Michelle Bernstein, Daniela Soto-Innes were just a few of the names on hand.
Tech is in the mix, too. KAABOO feels like a festival of the future. You can load money onto your wristband to use it as a credit card, and you can pre-order food on their app to skip the line. It was like Coachella, Art Basel, and the mall had a baby who weekends at Vegas pool parties and enjoys a fine foie gras.
That’s not to say there weren’t touches of soul to balance the capitalism. I fell in love with a chill zone, decorated like a 1970’s living room, admired the stilt walkers and roller skaters spraying the crowd with bubbles, and savored the chance to slow down at a mini drive-in movie theater playing everything from Beetle Juice to old surf movies.
LEGENDS IN THE FLESH
Having N.E.R.D. at the fest felt like a great get for KAABOO. For me, it meant a chance to interview Chad Hugo, one half of The Neptunes (with Pharrell Williams). My interview was scheduled for 4:20 pm, which felt auspicious. How to start a conversation with someone responsible for songs that made the careers of Justin Timberlake, Kelis, Snoop, Robin Thicke, and scores of others? You don’t. You notice he’s early, waiting in the media room of KAABOO Del Mar, wearing a silver astronaut suit. You say “Hi, I’m early too.” And you ask what’s inspiring him these days.
He mentions the hurricane he just flew out of, back home in Virginia Beach; tattoos; and, of course, music. More snippets from our time together:
How are you evolving as an artist? How do you navigate your own evolving tastes and sounds with what your fans expect?
That’s an interesting question — because the new album is all minimal and it’s really mechanical. But it seems like it would give freedom to a listener to add their own take on it, in my opinion. With our first album, people still come up to me with tattoos inspired by that music. It just happened the other day. It’s awesome.
That’s beyond a compliment because it means something to them to the point they wanted to have it forever. Do you have any tattoos?
I’ve got this here on my arm, a lightning bolt in an ice cube. It’s meant to be a paradox. And on my bicep, I have a robot chameleon.
I have a pet chameleon! Do you as well?
I don’t. I’m just fascinated by how they change colors and blend in with their surroundings. It’s just there on my shoulder and I forget about it sometimes.
Because it’s doing its job – blending in. You should get one.
You’re right. Okay, I will.
So with your set tonight, any specific song you’re really excited to perform?
All of it. It’s performance art, we’ve developed the show with the dancers and the band. And with Pharrell, there’s always something to look at on the stage. And there’s an LED backdrop, and the songs push different tempos. We just put the listener into warp speed and try and take them on a journey, on a voyage with the ‘tunes. The Neptunes. Which it all started with.