A heavy marine layer had enveloped KAABOO Del Mar when Shakey Graves started his set on Sunday afternoon. But the billowy blanket of clouds above Trestles stage didn’t prevent things from heating up below ? even if it did take things some time to get started.
With a capacity crowd filling the confines of the paddock area, Shakey Graves (aka Texas-based singer/songwriter Alejandro Rose-Garcia) spent what seemed like an extraordinarily long time getting every instrument on stage tuned and ready to go.
Once it was, the rest of his band left the stage and Rose-Garcia bent down behind his mini-keyboard stand and started playing. After drawing a wild yawp from the anticipatory crowd by turning a few notes of mellow, late-night honkytonk into a wash of feedback, the Austin guitarist popped up from behind his rig and flashed his 1,000-watt grin, as if to introduce himself to the crowd despite already being out there for the better part of 15 minutes.
In a white t-shirt and blue trucker cap, the bearded Rose-Garcia launched into a somewhat psychedelic version of “Roll The Bones,” the title track from his 2011 self-produced debut album.
By mid-song the sprawling crowd was already clapping along and the tone was set for the electric hour-long set.
When his band returned to the stage shortly after, they played an undeniably welcoming version of “Dearly Departed,” the most popular of the three duets with Esmé Patterson from his 2014 breakthrough album, “And the War Came.” But with Patterson absent from the mix, the audience took up the role of duet partner, clapping and singing along. The communal spirit was established early - young, old, kids on dads’ shoulders, friends arm in arm - everyone chipping in on the dusty gospel vibe.
It was a shame that excellent Alabama singer/songwriter (and former Drive By Trucker) Jason Isbell’s set started halfway through Shakey Graves’, since he was only able to manage a meager crowd to huddle at the massive Sunset Cliffs stage. The two performers’ styles are somewhat similar and it was obvious that Rose-Garcia was the victor in their head-to-head match-up.
And with incredible renditions of songs such as “Word of Mouth” from one of the Texas songwriter’s unreleased albums “West of Calgary,” it was easy to see why.
Rose-Garcia gets trapped under the umbrella of Americana, but he’s really so much more. Blues, folk, rock, country, and psychedelic elements are weaved throughout his entire catalog.
He’s a pretty entertaining host as well.
By the time he was telling the crowd how bad things were in the world, even likening it to the burning of witches and the crusades, he was able to turn on a dime and advise everyone at the Trestles Stage to “Lean on back, enjoy the view and go, ‘Whoo, Whoo.’” And that’s what they did.
He closed his wildly entertaining set with a feedback-filled version of “Family and Genus,” and exited with a jump off of the drum riser and a tip of his cap.
“See y’all later,” he said in parting.
And if anyone needed further evidence that they’d just seen one of the best sets of the weekend, almost the entire crowd was still there when the drummer stood up and snapped a picture at the end.
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television. Follow McDonald and his melodic musings on Twitter @eight24_ or Instagram @scotteight24. Send your music musts to firstname.lastname@example.org.