KAABOO takes final Del Mar bow: Was the festival rushing too fast to its new home at Petco Park?

Sheryl Crow performs at KAABOO Del Mar on Sept. 15, 2019.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The fifth and final KAABOO Del Mar ended with a bang, but it had nothing to do with music, despite memorable performances


KAABOO Del Mar concluded its 2019 edition on Sunday with an unexpected bang, but it had nothing to do with the music, comedy, cuisine or visual art that fuel the five-year-old festival.

And, no, that bang did not come when leather jacketed-clad comedian Bob Saget joined The Revivalists for a late afternoon version of The Who’s proto-garage-rock classic, “My Generation,” that was more enthusiastic than accomplished.

Rather, it was the surprise announcement that the unabashedly upscale KAABOO Del Mar is now history.

Starting next year, the festival — newly renamed KAABOO San Diego — will be held in, and around, Petco Park in downtown San Diego. The move is the result of a new partnership between KAABOO and the San Diego Padres. The teaming means the festival has officially bid farewell to the Del Mar Racetrack and adjacent fairgrounds, KAABOO’s home since its inception in 2015.

How the three-day weekend event will fare at Petco Park next Sept. 18-20 remains to be seen. (The Padres will be playing the Diamondbacks in Arizona that same week from Sept. 17-20 and have Sept 21 off, before returning to Petco the next day for a home game.)

But how the 2019 edition of KAABOO fared is now a matter of record for the festival, which drew a sold-out audience of 35,000 each day for the second consecutive year. And, given how ready the festival appears for a new infusion of energy and some upgrades, the move to Petco Park next year may prove particularly well-timed.

Happily, there were standout performances throughout the weekend. They came from, among others, The Bangles and Sheryl Crow (Sunday), Squeeze and the Dave Matthews Band (Saturday), and Kings of Leon and Maren Morris (Friday).

There were also memorable performances by such seasoned veterans as Little Steven and Southside Johnny. And Saturday’s rousing and suitably uplifting set by the Jon Foreman-led Switchfoot set the bar extremely high for any other San Diego-bred act that might perform at KAABOO in the future.

But while this year’s lineup boasted nearly 90 acts, it lacked the overall oomph of the 2018 edition, which boasted everyone from Robert Plant, Foo Fighters and Earth, Wind & Fire to Katy Perry, Halsey and Post Malone. For an event celebrating its fifth anniversary, the “wow” factor seemed to be missing. There was also a general lack of female performers and artists of color.

Or, as third-time KAABOO attendee Amara Hatab of Phoenix put it Sunday: “If I had never been to KAABOO before and saw this lineup (advertised), I don’t necessarily know how intrigued I would be to come.

Also missing were a number of elements whose absence suggested some budget-cutting may have been a factor.

The free, open-air shuttles that took attendees to and from their cars were gone this year. So was the large expanse of sand that, for the four previous years of KAABOO, had provided a beach-like ambiance in front of the Sunset Cliffs Stage at the west end of the fairgrounds.

Also gone was a conspicuous number of the flushing toilets that in other years were in close proximity to the Sunset Cliffs Stage, the festival’s largest performance area.

“There are some things missing,” San Diego medical professional Mark Allen — who was attending his fourth consecutive KAABOO — said Friday afternoon, as Andrew McMahon performed on the Sunset Cliffs Stage.

Allen and his partner, Shannon Thomas, were watching McMahon and his band from KAABOO’s elevated Bask Swim Club pool area. They had each paid $999 for a three-day Hang Five pass, the festival’s lowest priced VIP package. Bask was open to any attendee, but for an additional fee.

“The price for the pool was $20 or $25 the first year we came to KAABOO, and now I think it’s $40 (per day),” Allen said, “but it’s still great.”

Far from great was the audio quality for some of the performances, in particular Friday night’s joint appearance by hip-hop legends Snoop Dogg and Wu-Tang Clan. Make that, Friday night’s joint appearance by Snoop Dogg and Wu-Tang Clan that wasn’t a joint performance.

Never mind that it was billed on KAABOO’s website, and in the programs handed to attendees, as “Snoop Dogg + Wu Tang Clan.” And never mind that when the KAABOO schedule was announced in March, the lineup promised a “Snoop Dogg & Wu-Tang Clan 25th anniversary set.”

If Snoop and the eight members of Wu-Tang did any collaborating Friday, it was solely backstage. And while the sound was at least adequate for Long Beach native Snoop, who performed after Wu-Tang, it was so inadequate for the prior performance by the New York-bred Wu-Tang that — as I walked toward the USAA Grandview Stage, on which the group appeared — I wondered if its members were miming their performance. I could clearly see them on the two large LED screens that bedecked the stage, but not hear them.

Even fans near the stage had difficulty hearing Wu-Tang’s vocals (as U-T freelance writer Scott McDonald’s review attests in vivid detail). Meanwhile, at the Sunset Cliffs Stage, the sound was often better the farther back one stood and more muddled closer to the stage.

Conversations with randomly chosen attendees brought other issues to the fore.

These ranged from the apparently broken air conditioning in KAABOO’s indoor Humor Me comedy venue on Sunday and the apparent reduction of shaded areas outdoors, including the sandy faux beach at Bask, to the conspicuously greater amount of reserved space allotted to VIP ticket holders at the outdoor stages (to the detriment of those with general admission tickets).

Then there were the free festival schedules. Last year, they were printed on glossy paper with easily legible print. This year, the schedules were on matte paper and print was small enough to prompt squinting. The price for parking, meanwhile, was higher this time around. The wait for those using Uber or Lyft to get home seemed even longer than last year, a factor KAABOO’s producers believe will be largely remedied by the move to Petco Park.

It is unclear whether the producers were seeking to trim their budget in Del Mar this year, or if they were rushed as they prepared for next year’s migration to downtown San Diego. Whatever the reason, the greater care and precision that made the third and fourth editions of KAABOO so notable — after expected growing pains the first two years — were less evident this past weekend.

Here’s hoping the new partnership between the festival and the Padres will make next year’s debut of KAABOO San Diego a smoother affair with greater attention to details. Ticket-buyers deserve no less.

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