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KAABOO: San Diego’s ‘Premiere’ Festival Has Some Growing To Do [Festival Review]

Photo by: Carly Ealey

Having heard nothing but praises and excitement for the return of KAABOO this year, I was brimming with curiosity to experience it for myself. On the bill were not only legendary musical talents such as Aerosmith, Sugar Ray, Jack Johnson, Jimmy Buffet, The Chainsmokers and Ludacris – the list goes on. But also laughs from comedians like Sarah Silverman and Cheech & Chong to name a few! I, myself, have never attended a festival that offered more than one type of entertainment. I can only imagine the amount of emails, phone calls and meetings that plagued the staff in order to book and consolidate all of those amazing talents into one weekend. The festival surely sold itself without much effort. Whether you’re team Millenial or team Gen X, skimming over that stacked line up would make either generation want to go. However, although everything was sound in theory, the execution was poorly done and it left me with a lingering feeling of disappointment. Boo. A festival whose home is in one of the greatest cities of America already makes it quite a worthy destination for non-San Diegans and has an enormous potential to do well. But KAABOO, unfortunately, is very much still in its infant stages.

If you consider yourself a San Diego local, then it is likely that you have attended the Del Mar Fair more than once. You are also well aware of how it can cost you a pretty penny. Those ride tickets can aren’t cheap and are you supposed to be happy with just one ride? No. And sorry, you can’t just buy the life-size Minion stuffed toy. You have to win one of our deceivingly easy games and throw every bill you got in your wallet trying to impress your date. Well, KAABOO essentially takes that same fair environment, swaps the deep-fried anything menu with a gourmet selection, replaces the rides with stages, dubs it a “music festival” and doubles the price tag. As a festival enthusiast and a proud San Diegan, it pains me to say that last weekend was a bit of an expensive fiasco and here’s why:

Any given festival costing $300 or more typically allocates a sizable portion of their budget into transforming a place into a venue that looks and sounds like a festival – art installations, hang out spots, booming speakers and intricate lighting systems. Having KAABOO at the fairgrounds meant that there were already existing buildings and structures to add to – so this part should have been easy. Unlike other staple festivals (Coachella, Stagecoach, and Burning Man) held in the middle of the desert where you set up on nothing but flat land and vast open spaces, production have to spend weeks and weeks before and after the event for the building/tear-down process of what makes the festival a magical place. Instead, I was greeted with nothing more than giant wall murals peppered around the fairgrounds. Granted, the featured artists were nothing short of awe-inspiring, don’t get me wrong. And as a fellow artist myself, I have a great appreciation for the ongoing movement within the industry to incorporate art with music. But the lack of creativity on how to showcase those masterpieces made it difficult to get rid of that nagging “Del Mar Fair” exhibit feel. A non-local may not have been as susceptible to the “familiarness” of the environment. But that was just it – everything felt TOO familiar.

Via KAABOO Facebook


At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on why the feeling persisted. You know, aside from missing the mark on your standard festival scenery. But it was the overall shortage of interactive fun that most people yearn for in a festival. When you are gifted the opportunity to experience a whole new festival for the first time, it refreshes your sense of wonder and curiosity. Your head is constantly swiveling back and forth, discovering attractions you’ve never seen before and racking your brain for previous experiences as a reference point for what makes THIS new festival worth checking out. All the while, you’re justifying in your head why half of your paycheck diminished all at once. Then you satisfyingly look back at your friends and smile at the recognition of the mirrored twinkling excitement in their eyes. Eyes that say “I can’t wait to experience everything, we get to do this for 3 whole days.” I was robbed of that feeling. That special moment.  And in its place stood a sentiment of discouragement to explore what else KAABOO had to offer.

I opted to leave early on Friday but returned with high hopes for Saturday. I figured I would save my energy for the rest of the weekend; The Chainsmokers were performing after all. Hands down, the bros of summer (as Billboard Magazine would christen them) played an explosive set, commanding the crowd’s energy song after song. I can bet you anything that this dynamic duo is what attracted most of the younger crowd that night, especially with the availability of single day passes at $112 a piece. Ironically enough, The Chainsmokers’ highly anticipated track “Closer” aka America’s anthem since its release in late July, provided the perfect soundtrack to the sardined parade out of the Grandview Stage and onto the Encore stake out for Ludacris and Steve Aoki. There were rumors that tickets were oversold for Saturday and this became apparent when the building where the after party was being held has “reached capacity” just after 11 o’clock. Mobility was nearly impossible, both inside and outside the building. Once you got in, you couldn’t get out. And if you were one of the unlucky ones who didn’t make it in, stagnation was the name of the game. Both of those scenarios are potential dangerous situations that should have been anticipated.

 C Flanigan
C Flanigan Copyright © 2016 C Flanigan

When you have someone like Aerosmith and The Chainsmokers both end at the same time, how can you not expect two dauntingly large crowds to head towards the same after party? Or why not just hold the afterparty at a bigger stage with more open space. Sure, the demographics of this particular event seems to be older in general, and it might have been unforeseen that more people would be interested in staying for the last performance; but logistically, those single day pass holders came here to party and make the most of their one night. Their bed time is nowhere near midnight and they should have been accommodated, not pepper sprayed. I have NEVER in my years of attending festivals hear of an incident where cops used pepper spray to disperse a crowd. One word says it all. Wait for it… Ludacris. Absolutely ludicrous. Attendees’ safety should be a hundred percent KABOO’s priority next year. The solution could be as easy as alternating or staggering the set times. Bigger festivals with attendees in the thousands, often imbricate huge headliners on purpose to avoid saturating one stage over the other. And though that is quite possibly the worst festival conundrum known to mankind, it is necessary for our safety. It encourages better foot traffic and minimizes the chances of bottleneck situations.

 C Flanigan
C Flanigan Copyright © 2016 C Flanigan

All in all, there are a number of things that KAABOO can certainly improve upon for next year if they intend to stay and become a San Diego staple. I have faith that with better planning and a fresh set of eyes, KAABOO 2017 can turn around this year’s shortages and mishaps. Obviously, they’ve got the line up down because so far, it’s only gotten better since 2015. And honestly, who wouldn’t mind traveling down to San Diego for some perfect beach weather and good music? KAABOO now just needs to figure out how to take advantage of that and tear a page from fellow successful festivals like CRSSD Fest, perhaps. Without some major changes, I can see this festival isolating a great portion of San Diego locals. Unless it was and always has been their intention to exclusively attract Del Mar and La Jolla peeps with “…Rover(s) that I know you can’t afford.”

There, someone had to say it.

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