Thursday, May 28, 2015

Shipkicker Festival, Day 1 review: Long Beach, Calif.

A version of my review originally appeared at

Shipkicker was all about the location - and some good country music to boot.

Just a few songs into his set last Saturday night, Dustin Lynch (left) glanced at the water toward the Queen Mary and said, "I'll remember this for the rest of my life. It gets no better than looking at a boat like that" while performing.

The inaugural country music festival kicked off with seven hours of live music from an equal number of regional and national acts.

According to spokesperson Tori Elder, the event drew more than 4,000 people on Day 1 and is already expected to return in 2016.

By mid-afternoon, many people had spread blankets out on a designated grass area. Others tried their luck riding a mechanical bull, practiced line dancing (there was a lesson from the main stage) on some makeshift wood floors or sampled food truck wares. A long line to buy commemorate t-shirts, screen printed live by Red Eye Media in Long Beach (for a mere $7), didn't abate until later in the evening. During music layovers, some cowboys did dance offs. One carried both a large stuffed horse and a small plastic one.

Lynch was a ball of energy from the get-go at Waterfront Events Park. On break from sporadic tour dates opening for Luke Bryan (which continue through the fall and include Oct. 17-18 at Irvine Meadows), the gregarious singer opened with "To the Sky," from last year's "Where It's At."

During the highly satisfying performance, Lynch worked the stage often, shook hands and took selfies for fans. The band rocked so hard on "She Cranks My Tractor," "Wild in Your Smile," "Sing to Me" and "Name on It," I half expected them to break out into a Judas Priest cover.

Instead, they ably tackled '90s song selections or snippets by Joe Diffie, Garth Brooks, David Lee Murphy and Brooks & Dunn, plus Drake (!) and Justin Timberlake. The latter provided a rare opportunity to display Lynch's falsetto chops.

Highlights included "Hell of a Night" (boasting a subtle funk undertow), first big country hit "Cowboys & Angels" (an affecting ballad about Lynch's grandparents) and last year's infectious chart topper "Where It's At."

Eric Paslay was a revelation. The Texas native - who apparently postponed his honeymoon a day to be at Shipkicker - has co-penned hits for Jake Owen, Eli Young Band, Love and Theft. All were done live here and came across equally as strong as those artists' recorded versions. 

Launching the exceptional 90-minute set with the feisty "Like a Song," off 2014's self-titled debut, Paslay took time to provide background on some material (despite the chatty crowd) and delivered it passionately.

Key examples: the uplifting "Country Side of Heaven," "Deep As it is Wide," "Less Than Whole" and "She Don't Love You." One teenage guy could barely contain his excitement over the music.

There was plenty of time for mildly rocking out too. Paslay's covers of Tom Petty's "American Girl" and The Stones' "Satisfaction" were welcome chances for him to loosen up and connect with fans. Lead guitarist Tyler Tomlinson added welcome atmospheric effects throughout. Finally, the crowd went wild for Paslay's infectious hit "Friday Night." Definitely one of the best country acts I've seen this year.

Earlier in the day, following turns from Brian Lynn Jones, Neil Morrow and Jay Hollister Band, River Road played a solid batch of tunes from their new album. The SoCal country/rock quintet bore a Gin Blossoms influence on the appealing "Sunrise." A take on The Romantics' "What I Like About You" got a good response, while Justin Foutz impressed with his guitar work during "Coup de Ville."

Jukebox Mafia's acoustic-based, looped beatbox songs and long stretch of covers got tiresome real fast. Although the Nashville duo has toured with Miranda Lambert, they failed to make a lasting impression.

Photos by Drew A. Kelley  

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