The annual Shabang Live Music and Arts Festival returned May 5-6 with a celebration of San Luis Obispo’s DIY scene through music, interactive booths, art installations and more.
Shabang outgrew its previous Laguna Lake venue and opted for the more expansive Dairy Creek Golf Course. Shabang Public Relations Specialist Nikki Morgan said the festival drew in 10,000 people, reaching the same number as the year prior.
Despite this year’s festival expanding in stages, vendors and its venue, Shabang held close to the communal roots it has had since the day it started nine years ago to promote local house shows. With more room for interactive and immersive experiences, the festival continued to thrive as a people-oriented space “right in our own backyard.”
Shabang expanded by 25 performers and 15 vendors with the largest stage last year becoming the smallest. However, music and art from local bands and business owners served as a reminder of the unique central coast community.
“I appreciate the community — this is Shabang, this is SLO, we fucking love each other,” psychology sophomore Ava Cuffari said.
After opening Shabang Music & Arts Festival weekend by conducting a “Harmony Flow” yoga class, theater junior Claire Gretlin transformed from a yoga instructor into what she called a “dominatrix pirate.” Decked out in bedazzled gems, a fur coat and layered jewelry, Gretlin excitedly took a walk around the festival grounds to engage with vendors and other Shabang attendees.
“Shabang is all about meeting and connecting with people,” Gretlin said.
Gretlin was one attendee at Shabang who felt they got closer to the central coast community. The two-day annual event brought people together who wanted to freely express and enjoy themselves, according to Gretlin.
“[It] is such a great space for community, connection and shared joy in SLO,” Gretlin said.
Though Shabang began as a primarily surf rock music festival, this year’s festival featured a wider variety of genres, including EDM, grunge and indie rock, according to Morgan.
“It used to be just kind of surf rock, but now we do a little bit of everything,” Morgan said.
The four music stages compartmentalized these genres to certain areas of the festival so attendees could choose what they wanted to see.
The Cuesta Ridge stage highlighted the music scene of the Central Coast by featuring smaller bands, including several winners from Shabang’s Battle of the Bands competitions.
The Battle of the Bands events were auxiliary concerts that occurred prior to Shabang in San Diego, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo, with the purpose of giving smaller bands a chance to play at a festival. Although Shabang 2023 grew in size this year, Morgan said the festival still showed appreciation for its DIY roots.
“What stokes me out is as this platform grows, they’re still giving an opportunity for local bands and smaller-sized bands to get on a big stage in front of people,” lead singer of local band Dudeo Perez Noah Boland said.
Santa Cruz-based femme punk band Sluttony, Berkeley-based The Moondrops, San Diego-based St. Luna and Santa Barbara-based Glenn Annie were the Battle of the Bands winners who played at the Cuesta Ridge stage.
These performances were interspersed with acts by San Luis Obispo-based bands Earthship and IMUA. One of the last acts to play at Cuesta Ridge was San Clemente-based band Repeater, whose vocalist is a Cal Poly student. Repeater gave an energetic show, inciting a mosh pit that stirred up dust from the dry ground of Dairy Creek Golf Course before turning the stage over to the Los Angeles-based Death Valley Girls.
According to Morgan, the Funk Safari stage was a newer addition to Shabang in order to integrate more electronic music genres such as EDM and house to the festival. Colorful spotlights and on-stage dancers added unique visual elements to the stage.
Acts that featured deep bass and samples from early 2000s pop songs, such as DJ Susan, had the crowd jumping, moshing and even doing backflips. Deep house electronic duo Bob Moses headlined this stage on Friday night, with bass that reverberated throughout the whole venue.
The Laguna Lake stage, whose name is a tribute to the past venue of the festival, drew the largest crowds and featured the festival’s more well-known artists such as Tijuana Panthers, Vundabar, Men I Trust and Hippo Campus.
Tijuana Panthers, a surf rock band from Long Beach, set a laid-back tone as one of the first acts on Friday evening, playing songs like “NOBO” and “Creatures” that were chock-full of reverb and echoey vocals.
Vundabar, who traveled all the way from Boston, had a slightly different configuration than normal: vocalist and guitarist Brandon Hagen had broken his wrist in a shower-related accident in a “European budget hotel.” Because he couldn’t play guitar, Hagen instead danced around onstage with a maraca.
“Our band is very much me playing guitar, so when I didn’t play guitar [was] weird. But movement is so fun,” Hagen said in reference to his dancing.
Men I Trust, one of the most anticipated acts of the festival, headlined on Friday night at the Laguna Lake stage. Dreamy indie pop songs combined with the soft, raspy voice of vocalist Emmanuelle Proulx created a trance-like motion as audience members slowly swayed back and forth during the set.
Proulx commented on the chilly weather, telling the crowd “You guys are strong. We are weak Canadians.”
The band rounded out the night with their song “Show Me How,” which has over 254 million streams on Spotify. The song served as a lullaby for the audience who would shortly be heading home, ready to take on the next day of Shabang.
Hippo Campus was the final performance on Saturday night. The indie rock group from Minnesota had a commanding presence onstage, outfitted with a vocalist, lead guitarist, keyboard player, saxophonist, bassist and drummer.
Vocalist Jake Luppen donned Pit Viper sunglasses and begged the crowd to throw cigarettes onto the stage before introducing their song “Sex Tape.” Luppen also occasionally experimented with a vocal modulator to recreate the autotuned vocals in the studio version of songs such as “Buttercup.”
The setlist consisted mostly of the band’s older music, to the delight of many audience members, who sat on each other’s shoulders and sang along to songs like “Way It Goes.”
ART & CULTURE
From tooth gems to canvas painting, the interactive aspects of the festival were significant to expanding this year’s culture.
“There’s so much more to do than last year,” mechanical engineering senior Sydney Donaldson said. “It’s cool to experience all the different things [the festival] has.”
“The Fun Fine” artist Kym Casner from Jamestown, California heard of Shabang from a friend and decided to apply this year as a vendor. Casner was not only there to sell her tie-dye work, but she also wanted to bring the communal experience of Shabang to her booth by hosting a workshop for attendees.
“It’s great to have that hands-on aspect of making tie-dye together on the spot,” Casner said.
Despite the larger size of this year’s grounds, there was still an “intimate” feeling the festival provided, according to Kritter Klips vendor Justin “Meow.” He enjoyed contributing to the intimacy by freely conversing with by-passers and helping them try on their furry cat ear clips, and of course making what he called “cat dad jokes.”
The festival also added new art installations to fill the space of this year’s venue. Shabang attendees could chill with friends and rest along the latest giant poles at Funk Safari and the inflatable mushrooms by Hush House Silent Disco.
Similar to last year, Shabang included installations made from Cal Poly students who competed in this year’s Design Village competition, according to Morgan.
“We try to bring as much of SLO here as we can, whether it’s the community, scenery, food, art, music or culture,” Morgan said.
The creation of the Silent Disco Stage was one of the many homages to SLO culture, according to Morgan. The house-like structure of the Silent Disco Stage was meant to symbolize the popularity of house music in SLO.
The expansion of Shabang this year uplifted it as a platform for celebrating SLO culture and the wide range of local artists in the area, Morgan said.
“SLO never really had anything like this; No one expected it,” Morgan said. “It just started with a bunch of friends to now a [10,000-person] festival, and we all are just enjoying the ride.”