Taking place over a span of four days (May 18-21), the Malibu Guitar Festival – presented by D’Angelico Guitars — rocked its host city for a third consecutive year. And like last year, it was the opening night fundraiser at the Casa Escobar restaurant, benefiting special needs and struggling children (e.g., Therasurf, Emily Shane Foundation, and Native American youth of The Karl LaDue Wodakota Foundation) that set the triumphant tone for the rest of the festival.
There were also two special honorees: a humanitarian award was bestowed to Chief Arvol Looking Horse, keeper of the sacred bundle (a collection of holy items used in ceremonies) for the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota nations; and guitarist Robby Krieger of The Doors received a lifetime achievement award for his invaluable contribution to rock ‘n’ roll. The night also featured, on the stage, a veritable who’s who of notable musicians, including Rolling Stones backup vocalist Bernard Fowler, multi-time Grammy nominated singer-songwriter John Hiatt, country star Hunter Hayes, guitarist/singer Pete Pidgeon, Wings guitarist Laurence Juber, the Kenneth Brian Band, and much more.
The gala had a more focused feel and energy than the previous year, somber in the wake of Chris Cornell’s passing the day before, and celebratory in the sense that this was a group of veteran rock dignitaries coming together to honor the city of Malibu and the music community as a whole. These were a tight-knit group of individuals, comprising a family at large, and their heartfelt words were proof of this.
One of the individuals on hand was accomplished rock photographer, Lisa Johnson, who was clearly distraught at the news of Cornell’s death, but was grateful about the strength-in-numbers aspect of the Malibu Guitar Festival — and other functions of this ilk — that had congregated so many talented folks in one place.
“The root purpose of this is about bringing people together for a good cause, and bringing different generations on stage that you would never see anywhere else, such as Kenneth Brian and John Hiatt,” said Johnson.
Guitarist Zack Zotos, who played on stage with Melvyn “Deacon” Jones at the festival, and had previously toured with Cornell’s guitarist, Yogi Lonich, was also in disbelief about the loss of the Temple of the Dog, Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman. That said, he realized the importance of remaining optimistic in the presence of such circumstances – “This is a community-based event, and I’m fortunate to be here and play with great people.”
Pete Pidgeon, a skilled guitarist and singer, was conscientious about courageously taking on the weight of the tragedy by paying tribute to Cornell in his own way, having spontaneously texted festival founder Doug DeLuca about performing Temple of the Dog’s “Say Hello 2 Heaven” on opening night.
“I was up late last night until 1:00 am when it [Cornell’s death] was announced. I saw it via friends on Facebook. I was very upset and made phone calls. I texted Doug DeLuca to come in and he fit me right in and they were already booked enough as it was,” revealed Pidgeon, who was exceptionally proud to be a part of the event.
For guitarist, vocalist and primary songwriter, Kenneth Brian (of his eponymously named band), it was just as much a night of remembrance as it was for moving ahead and doing his due diligence as a consummate professional. The Kenneth Brian Band was in high demand at the festival, as they not only kicked off their new album release – “With Lions” – on May 18th, but spent as much as 15 hours a day rehearsing with other acts, like John Hiatt. Brian, moreover, kept perspective and was cognizant about the greater meaning the festival signified.
“For me, this is about Chief Arvol Looking Horse and the fact that the native people have no voice. People need to know their struggle and give their struggle much more attention,” Brian offered insightfully.
Sentiments relating to worthwhile causes, togetherness, and love were recurrent themes on the 18th. Curiously, while he didn’t perform, it was Malibu native and musician Brandon Jenner who keenly connected not only what the Malibu Guitar Festival has meant to him, but to a city that he has always been proud to call home.
Son of Caitlyn Jenner and member of the prominent Jenner-Kardashian clan, Brandon Jenner, who once even played at the bar mitzvah of DeLuca’s son, is quite possibly the most down-to-earth person anyone could ever meet. With newborn baby girl and wife Leah at his side, who also doubles as his bandmate (dually known as Brandon and Leah), Jenner also has a recent solo album (“Burning Ground”) to his credit. Yet, as gifted as a musician he is, what more so distinguishes Brandon is his humanity, and affection for Malibu, including its Chumash heritage and people.
“It’s a little small town community, and it has grown up so much, and tonight is even bigger. [The familial nature of the event is symbolic] of when I go to a market and I see a lot of people I know and have chats with them. I love people and it’s important to dig deep to get to know them and their stories,” explained Jenner.
Jenner, who is innately aware of how paramount individuality is within the comprehensive scope of fellowship, as substantiated by his regular attendance at Malibu city council meetings, continued: “There’s no difference between you and I. I get deeply affected by this and I want to open people’s eyes to this truth. I don’t apologize anymore, as I’m more confident on the path I’m on, and [looking forward] to showing my daughter the need to fight for what you believe in, and forming your own identity without having to mold yourself for others.”
One would be hard-pressed to find more inclusive and all-encompassing words epitomizing the first night of the Malibu Guitar Festival on May 18th than the ones voiced by Jenner. To Jenner’s point, these musicians are unapologetic for who they are, but you can’t fault them for it. You can only respect these rockers – young and old – who came together in Malibu for the third consecutive year. Needless to say, they hit another home run — this time in gritty fashion — despite the inauspicious news of Cornell’s passing just the day before.
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