There are many different styles of country music: old-time, country folk, classic, Americana, bluegrass, indie, alt, experimental, country pop, truck driving, honky tonk, cowpunk, outlaw, country rock … but many of them were represented at Beachlife Ranch festival. The event, located right on the beach, has existed since 2019 and has significantly grown over the years, but for this new September edition, they had brought the ranch to the middle of the beach for three days of fun and country music. It was a family affair with mechanical bull riding for kids, line dancing for all ages, and whiskey tasting at every corner for the + 21. On Sunday, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy asked the question I asked myself the entire weekend: what does this peanut butter whiskey really taste like?
It’s not difficult to mix genres and Beachlife Ranch was quite inclusive as not all performers were country per se… This is exactly what Hall and Oates said when they took the stage on Friday night; they were headlining the first night of the festival and they effectively are not even close to being country. But it did not matter, the beach balls flew non-stop during their set, and everyone was having an excellent time as the two ’80s legends played many of their hits as if years did not matter – “She’s Gone,” “Sara Smile,” “Private Eyes,” “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List,” “You Make My Dreams”… They could have been out of their familiar territory but didn’t have to work very hard to earn the crowd.
Friday was quite diverse and did start with a busy schedule. However, Beachlife Ranch is one of the few festivals that didn’t give me a FOMO: you could wander back and forth from the Hither stage to the Yonder stage and not miss an act, thanks to a smart schedule. Plus, you will not find many festivals that give a full hour (or more) to each performer.
Early afternoon, the White Buffalo captivated the crowd with a cavernous voice, poignant melancholic melodies abruptly changing to electrifying moments, while, all day long, it was possible to appreciate the diversity of styles under the big country/American umbrella. Jamestown Revival was all about quite familiar ‘70s nostalgic vocal harmonies while Waxahatchee, with her more modern and indie approach to folk, was all about sweet vocal harmonies with Alabama twang. She did a new song (and admitted being a bit scared) as well as a beautiful Lucinda Williams cover. You can’t really call indie rocker Peter Yorn country, but he covered The Stones’ “Dead Flower,” among old and new songs (he just released a new album entitled “Hawaii” this year). He was getting out of his post-pandemic retirement, without feeling rusty, as he told us. As for the rest of the day, you could not have gone with more contrasting genres: All the members of Old Crow Medicine Show were pure showmen, as they played their hillbilly country with insane energy and stand-up-act humor. They jiggled with every instrument, from banjo, mandolin, violin, and washing board, jumped and run without missing a note. As the party guys they are (as well as excellent musicians) they ended their set with a bang and a Kiss cover (“Rock & Roll All Night” of course). The Lumineers may have been the second headliner of the day but they probably stole the night with their emotionally-charged, easy-melodic hooks and an all-bright set. Do all songs have to be uplifting and sound like anthems? That surely is their formula, and their explosive banjo-mandolin-violin-piano combo had never sounded more bombastic, beautifully working in front of a very enthusiastic crowd.
Saturday started a bit slower than Friday: a Foo Fighter and his country music side project (Chris Shiflett) followed by CAM, an electro dance pop number with heartfelt country accents, the Infamous Stringbusters, an all-string section playing folk and bluegrass while covering Marvin Gaye, and Ashley McBryde, a country rocker backed up by a high-energy band – you can always count on a badass woman to bring back rock & roll. However, the highlight of the night had to be an homage to Waylon Jennings with an all-star line-up. Led by son Shooter Jennings and a backup band, Mike and the Moonpies, we were treated to a series of covers successively interpreted by (among a few others) Fear’s Lee Ving, X’s John Doe, Promise of the Real’s Lukas Nelson, Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett, Devon Allman (Gregg’s son), country stars The White Buffalo, Orville Peck, Gethen Jenkins, and Jon Brennan, alt blues rock musician and producer Strange Majik and Waylon’s wife and collaborator Jessi Colter. Waylon Jennings’s songs (and a few covers made famous by Jennings) sounded very good, powerful, and poignant as Shooter was visibly moved by the reception of the event. No offense to Dierks Bentley – he looks like a nice guy who even came during the Infamous Stringbusters’ set to perform a song with them – but his songs sounded a bit shallow in comparison. However, his “Beers are on me” act worked perfectly for a packed and drunk Saturday night. One thing is sure, he showed his appreciation for women. Not only he had a visual slideshow tribute featuring many of his favorite female artists during a song, but he also brought back on stage Tenille Townes and Ashley McBryde (both had played earlier) for some hot duos. With a gravelly voice and a non-stop high-energy show, he put on a hell of a party in front of a rowdy crowd that just wanted to get drunk on a plane (one of his songs).
Sunday night got even bigger with Brandi Carlile’s soothing presence and her larger-than-life powerhouse. She played all her hits, “The Story,” “The Joke,” “Right on Time,” “This Time Tomorrow,” as well as a few covers like Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Radiohead’s “Creep” whose ascending bombast must have been written for her. The three-part harmonies with twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth were as heartfelt as expected, while she kept sharing many details of her life with a disarming honesty during the entire show. She called herself a “Happy gay,” irresistibly spreading joy with formidable stage energy… the disheveled energy is honestly what surprised me the most… We were far from the soaring guitars of Drive By Truckers who had rocked the place a bit earlier. Their southern rock sounded quite rebellious in the middle of other more pop-oriented acts, but they had attracted a loyal crowd that also stayed for Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. “He sounds so much like his daddy,” I heard coming from the crowd. However, Lukas does his own thing with rare sincerity and honesty. Despite being a country royalty, and working under a huge shadow, he owns a ferocious guitar and a killer smile. And, of course, Wilco played earlier during the day in front of a devoted and loving crowd, and hearing Jeff Tweedy sing the familiar line, “You were right about the stars/Each one is a setting sun” just as the sun was plunging into the sea was quite a magical moment. They were the most experimental, and the most interestingly complex band with Nels Cline’s dizzying electric guitar, bursting some incredible energy: it was as if the stage had been struck by lightning during an impossible thunderstorm of shredding guitars. They performed several songs of their masterpiece “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” – “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Jesus, Etc.,” “War on War” – an album that, 21 years ago, had this eerie aura of premonition, but I will always remember Tweedy’s heartbreaking “Our love, our love, our love is all we have.” There were many ways to love country music at Beachlife Ranch.
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