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In contrast to the overcast Day One, the sun was shining bright on Day Two of BeachLife Ranch 2023. But the stars might have been shining even brighter. The performers featured country music royalty, rock and roll hall of famers, blues legends, outlaws, and dynamic up and comers.

By the end of the evening, when people at festivals do what they do asking each other who was the biggest surprise of the day, the winning answer seemed to be Larkin Poe.

Larkin Poe are led by sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell. Lead vocalist/guitarist/mandolinist Rebecca and lap-steel/Dobro/harmony vocalist Megan put on a dynamic-guitar riff-based set. This was a guitar fan’s dream: Bluesy, raw, loud. The Highlands stage was big, but Larkin Poe easily belonged on it with both their sound and presence.

Next, on the Lowlands stage, was bluesman Keb’ Mo’. This Grammy award-winner’s playing is smooth and searing and his music has both music and meaning. As you groove to a tune, you start listening to the lyrics and you realize he’s singing about Government Cheese. That’s the sign of a true artist, one who makes you feel and think at the same time. Sometimes a true blues music setting should be on a dimly lit stage, with a guitarist on a stool, but seeing Keb’ Mo’ midday with the bluest of skies and palm trees in the background ended up being a perfect way to experience this legend.

Next is was back to the Highlands stage for more raw Southern Rock by way of Blackberry Smoke. This is a band that has been around for two decades, flying a little under the radar, but also building a reputation for being an incredible live act. They are a tight band, fronted by lead singer and guitarist Charlie Starr, ripping through blues-based, guitar-driven tunes, (no surprise with three guitarists on stage) and the audience went along for every note of the journey. The fans sang along to hits and danced and grooved for the entire set.

Shooter Jennings is country royalty. The son of Waylon Jennings is a multi-hyphenate: Musician, performer, producer, singer, songwriter. On the Lowlands stage, he appeared as Shooter Jennings’ Revival performing The Highwaymen. The original Highwaymen were the foursome of Jennings father, Waylon, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash. The Revival started at last year’s BeachLife Ranch and while this is a tribute to legends, this is definitely Shooter’s version. He brings in his family and his friends. He’s the leader and ringmaster, singing and playing the keyboards, while others like Sara Watkins, headliner Cody Jinks, the aforementioned Charlie Starr, Amanda Shires, The White Buffalo, Joe Purdy, Robert Randolph took the mic at center stage, and backed by Shooter’s band, ripped into classics, but most of all, made the Revival one of the hits of the day. Hopefully we’ll see the return of Shooter and the Revival for at future BeachLife Ranch festivals for a long time to come.

Speaking of country royalty, the Highlands stage hosted a queen. Wynonna Judd exuded power and presence the moment she took the stage. Her voice is powerful, a true gift and her range is spectacular. Wynonna went from commanding the giant stage to touchingly tender with her tribute to her late mother, Naomi. She held the audience in the palm of her hand as she weaved in and out of a diverse 15-song set of her solo songs, Judds hits, country tunes and the hardest of rock. (Her cover of Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll was rumbling and revelatory.) At one point during the set, Wynonna wanted to know by show of hands if this was anyone’s first time seeing her live. For those who raised their hands, it probably won’t be their last.

The day had two headliners. Hitting the Lowlands stage as the sun went down were Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, The Doobie Brothers. They kicked off their set with "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)and the hits didn’t stop. One reason was this show was part of their 50th Anniversary Tour and The Doobies were joined by Michael McDonald. So the audience was treated to the voice behind "It Keeps You Runnin’," "Minute by Minute", "What a Fool Believes", and more. Unfortunately, due to back surgery issues, the other main voice of The Doobie Brothers, Tom Johnston, had to sit this one out. But as long as there is guitarist/vocalist Patrick Simmons and guitarist/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist John McFee in the band, the audience will still get rocking versions of "China Grove", "Long Train Runnin’," and "Without You". The hits were great, the deep cuts like "Clear as the Driven Snow" were spellbinding. There was a three-song encore of "Black Water", "Takin’ It to the Streets", and "Listen to the Music", which turned into a giant audience sing-along and normally would have been a fitting end to the great day of music.

But this wasn’t a normal day. The other headliner, Cody Jinks was about to hit the Highlands stage, hard. Jinks was about to prove why he was a headliner, if anyone had any questions. He comes to country music by way of heavy metal, which helps explain the roar of three guitars that started the set. Cody Jinks is back by the The Tonedeaf Hippies. The name is obviously tongue-in-cheek, because these are a great bunch of musicians. Jinks comes from the outlaw country genre and it was easy to understand why he’s become a sensation. His set was strong, and varied (he traded electric guitar for acoustic seamlessly.) His ZZ Top-styled beard combined with a winning smile showed he’s going to be commanding the big stage with top billing for a long time to come.

Daniel Gray

Photojournalist - Los Angeles

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