Since 2016, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder and Los Angeles-based concert promoter Live Nation have curated the annual Ohana Festival, bringing music, art, education and diversity to the multi-day event, which takes place at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point.
Now in its sixth year, Ohana returns to its seaside home Sept. 30-Oct. 2 with Stevie Nicks, Vedder and Pink topping the bill, along with an eclectic mix of other artists like Khruangbin, Brittany Howard, Jack White, Billy Strings, Manchester Orchestra, St. Vincent, Dermot Kennedy, Grouplove, Bomba Estero, Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs, The Revivalists and many more.
“It would be easy to put a bunch of like-minded rock bands on the bill, and you will see some of that, but just look at our headliners alone this year: It’s an incredible lineup,” Rich Best, president of booking at Live Nation in California said during a recent Zoom chat.
Best said that his crew works closely with Vedder and his team, including longtime cohort Mark Smith; when it comes to crafting the lineup each year, it ends up looking much like Vedder’s personal playlist, “very inclusive and diverse,” Best added.
Ohana has a laid-back vibe and has become known as a place for unique performances and once-in-a-lifetime collaborations, which Best attributes to the more communal backstage experience. With a capacity of about 15,000 per day, Ohana has a relatively intimate footprint with a small backstage hangout, which is where a lot of the ideas for the on-stage surprises come about.
“Backstage at Ohana, there’s no ego,” Best said. “It’s a celebration of music and a celebration of the artistry. There’s no, ‘This is my compound, stay out.’ That’s how you get things like Mike McCready and Matt Cameron ripping Soundgarden with Brandi Carlile and I can’t even count how many collaborations Eddie has done. And that’s all been very organic.”
Vedder takes his duties seriously and shows up to the festival early and is there throughout the three-day weekend. Though he has been spotted taking surfing breaks during the event, he’s randomly popped up to play with acts like Simon Townshend, X and Jack Irons in the past.
“It’s not uncommon for Eddie to greet fans at the doors when the festival opens or to be playing a Beatles or Tom Petty song on the ukulele on the stage 10 minutes after the festival begins,” Best said. “One year, he got up there and just ripped an acoustic version of “Porch” (by Pearl Jam), which no one knew was coming.”
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Sustainability and ocean and beach conservation are also important elements of Ohana. Vedder selected Doheny State Beach to be the home of the festival because it was the first place he ever learned to surf. He also wanted to be able to give back to the area, Best said, which is why they’ve participated in beach cleanups and continue to partner with and raise funds for the Doheny State Beach Foundation, San Onofre Parks Foundation, Surfrider Foundation’s South OC Chapter and others.
Over at Ohana’s Storytellers Stage, there’s an ever-growing collection of exhibits and panel discussions with conservationists, environmentalists, researchers and professional surfers happening throughout the festival. This year’s programming includes a conversation with Louie Psihoyos and Captain Paul Watson about marine wildlife conservation; surfer, photographer and shark attack survivor Mike Coots talking about saving the Great White Sharks; and a conversation about deep ocean exploration with Sylvia Earle, the first woman to serve as Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Vedder and Pearl Jam have also partnered with Project RED (Reduction, Education, Distribution), an overdose prevention initiative from the Alano Club of Portland, for its latest tour. Representatives from local harm reduction and recovery organizations will also be on-site at Ohana to offer information about services for those in or seeking recovery from substance use or mental health disorders.
“Ohana has always had those core values and this sort of mission,” Best said. “It’s a significant piece of what Ohana is and what the experience is. It’s a communal gathering of people to enjoy live music, but the Storytellers Stage, it’s about, not just an education, but bring awareness and some much-needed funding to some of these organizations.”
Following a pause in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival returned in 2021 (though it was interrupted by a sudden downpour and lightning storm that temporarily shut down the show before resuming as scheduled). Promoters also expanded Ohana and introduced its Encore Weekend, a two-day fest headlined by Pearl Jam both evenings that immediately followed the initial Ohana Festival last year. That was a success and was scheduled to happen again Oct. 8-9 this year with performances by Vedder, Alanis Morissette, The Black Keys and Haim. However, the event was abruptly canceled in July and fans were issued refunds.
“Encore Weekend is something I think you could see in the future, for sure,” Best said. “I think that honestly, right now, there’s a lot going. It’s not a reflection of any of the artists that were booked, it’s just a lot to ask of the customer this year. There’s no shortage of entertainment and certainly other festivals out there and people have lives and kids, sports, jobs and all of those things, so we wanted to keep the focus on our first weekend, but I think we’ll see it again.”
With: Stevie Nicks, Khruangbin, Brittany Howard, Eddie Vedder, Jack White, Billy Strings, Pink, St. Vincent, Dermot Kennedy and more.
When: Sept. 30-Oct. 2, doors open daily at noon
Where: Doheny State Beach, 25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point
Tickets: $159 single-day general admission pass; $450 three-day general admission pass; $499 single-day VIP admission pass; $1,399 weekend VIP admission pass; $9,950 three-day unlimited VIP+ experience; Shuttle passes are $13-$33. All tickets are available at ohanafest.com.