Nestled between stately palm trees and majestic white sand beaches, Ohana Festival takes place on grounds of Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, CA. A bucket-list destination for music lovers, surfers, and Pearl Jam fans alike, the combination of cool Pacific breezes and salty ocean air add an indescribable feeling of California cool to the already heady festival vibes.
With adjacent stages and performances timed within minutes of one another, there is an economy of motion to Ohana that makes attendance almost effortless. Throw in the gentle slope that forms a natural amphitheater with perfect sound and sightlines from everywhere, then factor in the masterful design of the festival grounds, and this furtively massive event had the feel of upscale class and comfortability synonymous with its Orange County zip code. Ohana is, in a word, magic.
Curated by Eddie Vedder who always puts his money where his mouth is, this year’s festival was a conspicuous celebration of both femininity and diversity. Superstars like Brandi Carlile, Maggie Rogers, and Yola positively shone in front of big crowds along with many others, too, like rising stars Sharon Van Etten, Jade Bird, Mon Laferte, and Celisse Henderson. Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder may have been the draw, but these women are the story.
Day One: Friday, September 24, 2021
The weekend started with more than a touch of sadness as Kings of Leon, the originally scheduled headliners for Friday night, were forced to cancel their performance and return home to Nashville, TN to spend time with their dying mother, Betty Ann Murphy, who took a sudden turn for the worse in the days leading up to Ohana. Our thoughts and prayers are with Caleb, Nathan, and Jared Followill as they mourn her recent passing.
— Kings Of Leon (@KingsOfLeon) September 23, 2021
Eddie Vedder would perform an unscheduled bonus set to fill the headlining slot in their absence after the day’s lineup featured opening acts by Modern Eyes, Amo Amo, Kevin Garrett, Plague Vendor, Greer, Durand Jones & The Indications, The Regrettes, Black Pumas, Celisse, and Caamp.
My Morning Jacket played the penultimate set on the main stage, their performance feeling very much like the “Victory Dance” that they opened with. While “One Big Holiday” may have confused some fans with its early set placement, it certainly had the intended celebratory effect before being shortly followed by “Circuital” and “I’m Amazed”. Featuring a setlist replete with heavy hitters and newer releases alike, Jim James and company have long been masters of the festival stage, and this Ohana performance was no exception.
Setlist: My Morning Jacket | Ohana Festival | Dana Point, CA | 9/24/21
Set: Victory Dance, Anytime, One Big Holiday, Circuital, I’m Amazed, Regularly Scheduled Programming, Lay Low, Feel You, Spring (Among the Living), Off The Record, Wordless Chorus, Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2, Wasted
Eddie Vedder was next to the stage, accompanied by newly formed all-star band The Earthlings featuring Chad Smith (drums), Glen Hansard (guitar), Pino Palladino (bass), Andrew Watt (guitar), and Josh Klinghoffer (guitar). Fans were treated early and often as Vedder, clad in a black leather jacket, opened with a cover of R.E.M.’s “Drive” off of the newly released Flag Day soundtrack. A particularly tender “Long Road” followed, as Vedder et al remembered Betty Ann Murphy and rang the bell in her honor before covering Kings of Leon’s “Molly’s Chambers”. “Porch” was next, Chad Smith standing out notably in contrast to Pearl Jam’s Matt Cameron, the song’s usual drummer.
Another notable woman would make her way to the festival stage, this time it was Vedder’s 17-year-old daughter Olivia making her live debut with a stirring performance of “My Father’s Daughter”, also from the Flag Day score. Other highlights included a cover of The Who’s “I’m One” and a newly arranged “Corduroy” that debuted at Eddie Vedder’s Global Citizen’s Vax Live performance with Klinghoffer this past May. Running out of time, the star-studded crew would close the opening night’s festivities with a rousing third verse and chorus-only version of “Purple Rain”.
Setlist: Eddie Vedder & The Earthlings | Ohana Festival | Dana Point, CA | 9/24/21
Setlist: Drive (R.E.M.), Long Road (Pearl Jam), Molly’s Chambers (Kings of Leon), Porch (Pearl Jam), Long Way, Tender Mercies (Glen Hansard), My Father’s Daughter , I’m One (The Who), Corduroy (Pearl Jam), Precious (Pretenders), Purple Rain (Prince)
 w/ Olivia Vedder
 w/ Josh Klinghoffer on vocals
2021 | Day 1 Recap | Ohana Festival
[Video: The Ohana Fest]
Day Two: Saturday, September 25, 2021
Picking up right where it left off, Saturday would see four consecutive female-led acts kick off the day’s events with Liz Brasher, The Aquadolls, Natalie Bergman, and Combo Chimbita taking the stage before The Backseat Lovers, Mac DeMarco, and Cold War Kids, all of whom made the most of their time in front of a sold-out crowd.
Glen Hansard was next to the Ohana stage, his passion as conspicuous as his Irish brogue. Having not performed in a while, he had this to say: “Doing a gig is like robbing a bank—you can prepare for it, but there are going to be variables … playing with Eddie, you just gotta keep the engine ready and pull away when he jumps in.” Hansard would invite a number of guests to the stage, the first of whom was famed rock photographer Danny Clinch whom he spied taking pictures before inviting him to join on harmonica.
Lissie Gipson was next to join her old friend, turning in a stunning performance of “Falling Slowly” from the soundtrack to Once. Another impromptu guest would join the two on stage, this one representing the appearance the entire crowd was anticipating all weekend. Said Hansard of Vedder’s performance, “I promised myself I wasn’t gonna call him up and then he was there and I was like, ‘Oh, Jesus.’” Way to read the room, Glen.
Glen Hansard w/ Eddie Vedder & Lissie Gipson — “Falling Slowly” — 9/25/21
Hansard would continue with a one-sentence description of his dear friend that summarized not just Mr. Vedder’s lifelong activism but more specifically the actions as festival curator unfolding on that very stage in real-time, “Ed is full of the sacred feminine and feminine f*cking beauty.” Amen.
Continuing with an Irish ditty that he and Vedder admittedly once sang drunk in a bar together, Hansard finished his set with the debut of a brand new guitar, one that he had been lusting after for some time that was just gifted to him that very day by—you guessed it—Eddie Vedder. This positively emotional and uplifting performance was the highlight of the day so far, the festival momentarily living up to the order of its billing.
Spoon was next on the adjacent Tiki Stage, moving the dense crowd with hits like “Inside Out” before Maggie Rogers would steal the day back on the main Ohana stage. All popped out with a makeover and new dance moves to match, Rogers’ first show in two years was a real statement show that carried more than a little personal significance for her: “To play after Glen Hansard and before Eddie Vedder … I wrote my essay to get into college about one of Glen’s songs.” It wouldn’t be a far-fetched thought at all to imagine a little girl or boy one day telling a similar story about Ms. Rogers.
Eddie Vedder took the stage solo to kick off Saturday’s headlining bill. Electrifying versions of “Far Behind”, “Rise” on the electric ukulele, and “Society” with Glen Hansard—all from the Into The Wild soundtrack—highlighted the early part of the set, as well as a dedication of Pearl Jam’s “Wishlist” for recently departed Norm MacDonald.
Introducing The Earthlings for their second show in two nights, Eddie first qualified, “We’re a bit nervous because some of the guys in Pearl Jam are here.” Settling in quickly with “Drive”, the band got off to a fiery start as they found comfort in repetition. Resplendent in a flowing white dress, Olivia Vedder returned for a second take on “My Father’s Daughter” before the setlist veered back Into The Wild with an explosive “Hard Sun”.
Behind their iconic frontman, The Earthlings would cover The Clash, The Who, Patti Smith, The Pretenders, and Pete Townsend, before a rowdy cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” that saw Chad Smith trash his drum kit like the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ rock-star drummer that he is. Love the energy, love the edge, and here’s to hoping that the future holds more Earthling sightings.
Eddie Vedder & The Earthlings — “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” (The Clash) — 9/25/21
Setlist: Eddie Vedder & The Earthlings | Ohana Festival | Dana Point, CA | 9/25/21
Setlist: Don’t Be Shy (Cat Stevens) , Far Behind, Rise , Wishlist (Pearl Jam) , Society (Jerry Hannan) , Drive (R.E.M.), I’ll Be Waiting, Tender Mercies, The Haves, My Father’s Daughter (Olivia Vedder), Hard Sun, Long Way, Should I Stay Or Should I Go (The Clash), Corduroy (Pearl Jam), I’m One (The Who). Encore: Better Man, People Have The Power (Patti Smith), Precious (The Pretenders), Give Blood (Pete Townshend), Rockin’ In The Free World (Neil Young)
 Eddie Vedder solo
 Eddie Vedder w/ Glen Hansard
2021 | Day 2 Recap | Ohana Festival
[Video: The Ohana Fest]
Day Three: Sunday, September 26, 2021
Every day at Ohana is special, but this one just had a little extra as the sacred grounds of Doheny State Beach would welcome Pearl Jam proper for the first time in its four-year festival existence. You would think all sell-outs are created equal, but Sunday’s crowd was easily the densest of the three days. Will Dailey, Pony Bradshaw, Night Moves, Real Estate, and Cavetown warmed up the rapidly swelling crowd before a slew of power women took the stage in rapid succession.
Mon Laferte, a captivating Chilean singer-songwriter, was the first to make the Ohana faithful stand and take notice, followed by a lights-out set by the emerald-clad Jade Bird that already has me longing for the day I see her again.
Yola was next to the main stage, immediately seducing fans with the next-level vocals and songwriting that rewarded her with four Grammy nominations. Eager to share her spotlight, Yola welcomed Celisse Henderson and it was not at all insignificant nor was it lost on me that two Black women were absolutely crushing the main stage in front of a largely white audience. Brandi Carlile, too, was invited to join Celisse and Yola on stage before Yola finished her set with a literal show-stopping rendition of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. Sharon Van Etten played the final set of the weekend on the adjacent Tiki stage, thrilling the pre-sunset crowd with her intimate vocals and stunning stage presence.
Brandi Carlile is no stranger to either the big stage or the Seattle music scene, yet still, I found myself somewhat surprised by a performance that literally reached inside me and took hold of my soul. With a voice that can move mountains and ticket sales to match, Brandi is a bonafide rock star. Yet, her overall effect is more of the girl-next-door, warm and approachable in a way that belies her superstar status and gives her songs universal appeal. I’m almost hesitant to type this effusive praise, yet I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of her in Dolly Parton-esque terms.
Playing a mix of hits like “The Joke” and “The Story”, unreleased debuts like “You And Me On The Rock” (coming this Friday), monster covers that include one of the most penetrating versions of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that I’ve ever heard, and offering guest spots to both Celisse Henderson and Yola, Brandi’s kindness and superstardom were on display for the duration. Then, when it literally couldn’t get any better, she read the room and one-upped herself with a nod to her Seattle roots and an iconic cover of Soundgarden’s “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” with special guests Matt Cameron and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. Reflecting back to her opening remarks, “This is the stuff my wildest dreams are made of right here.” Me, too, Brandi. Me, too. It would certainly be easy to conclude that for everyone not named Eddie Vedder, Brandi Carlile undoubtedly won the weekend.
Brandi Carlile — “Woodstock” (Joni Mitchell) — 9/26/21
Now, finally, with nearly three full days of music in the books, one final set remained, and it was the very one that alone justified transcontinental travel.
Only Pearl Jam’s second show since the pandemic began, Pearl Jam returned early and often to Gigaton, its newest album release that’s just greeting live ears for the first time. The live debut of “Retrograde” opened the show, the live version so sexy it was actually sensual. Only “Corduroy” (the old new version) broke up what would have otherwise been six straight Gigaton tracks to open the show including “Dance Of The Clairvoyants”, “Quick Escape”, “7 O’Clock”, and the live debut of “Alright”.
Having been one of the lucky few to be at both Pearl Jam shows in 2021—held on opposite coasts in consecutive weeks—I will unabashedly aver that Gigaton isn’t Backspacer and you should want these songs in your Pearl Jam sets. The band is obviously excited to be playing them and you should be damn excited to hear them, myself having heard eight of twelve tracks with an additional four repeats over the two shows. [Highly notable fact: every one was better the second time around.]
“Red Mosquito” rips and with Danny Clinch on harmonica even more so, yet the second Ohana guest spot in consecutive days for Mr. Danny Clinch had started to feel a little predictable. Just to be clear, I’m not nagging about Danny himself nor the musicianship of anyone on stage. However, this was the third consecutive show (dating back to Fenway Park 9/4/2018) in which Danny was invited to play harmonica on the same song so what should have felt like a special event instead felt a little tired.
“I Got ID” started to make the setlist interesting before a highly unique and memorable “Even Flow” with a tenacious McCready guitar solo that will easily be picked out of the annals of Pearl Jam history in years to come. “Immortality”, “Given To Fly”, and “Evolution” gave way to one of the weekend’s most memorable moments and one I’ve been looking forward to since buying my ticket almost a year ago: Brandi Carlile’s guest spot with Pearl Jam. I won’t take credit for willing it into existence, but I’m so grateful to have been there firsthand to witness the magic that was Eddie and Brandi sharing vocals on “Better Man”, an instant classic in PJ history.
Pearl Jam w/ Brandi Carlile — “Better Man” — 9/26/21
“Let Me Sleep”, a relative rarity from Lost Dogs, opened the second part of the set followed by “Black” and “Crazy Mary”, a rare trio of songs not repeated from last week’s Sea.Hear.Now. set. Closing out the set and the weekend as only Pearl Jam could, we were all emphatically reminded that, in spite of everything, we are still very much “Alive”.
2021 | Day 3 Recap | Ohana Festival
[Video: The Ohana Fest]
Scroll down to check out galleries from all three days of Ohana Festival 2021 courtesy of photographer Matthew Rea.