Shabang 2023 Festival Review

text by digital-media

29 January, 2024

KCSB’s program director, Naila, visited San Louis Obispo last year to get our audience the scoop on Shabang! As the 2024 lineup begins to make its rounds, we hope this review of last year’s festival gives you an idea of what to expect and look forward to.

words and photos by Naila Irfan

Last year, I made a short trek from Santa Barbara up to the Dairy Creek Golf Course in San Luis Obispo to attend the 9th annual Shabang Music Festival. With the recent announcement of the 2024 lineup, I thought I would run it back and give you my first-hand account of the event. This year, they are back and better than ever, and I am so stoked to see what the new year and new lineup has in store for us. The 10 year anniversary is not one you’ll want to miss! 

The 2024 lineup is out and I gotta say… It’s pretty stacked. From what seemed to be a pretty solid mid-size festival, they are rapidly expanding in size, and they have plenty of space to do so! The grounds are open and airy, with beautiful green grass that seems to go on endlessly with a golf course stretching out over the horizon. The stages were close enough to do a mild paced jog from set to set without having to worry about breaking into the full sprint reserved for larger festivals. There was a decently sized crowd as well– enough people to make it feel like a full experience, but also with walking room and space between the stages so as to not feel like a can of sardines.  

With acts like Thundercat, Peach Pit, Sun Room, and Kate Bollinger… I’m excited to see how the venue will expand to accommodate what I assume to be an influx of new attendees. Shabang is hot and on the rise! This is the time to get in while you can, because I predict that it’s only going to get larger and grander from here on out! As I stated earlier, it’s the tenth anniversary. I’m sure they’re gonna pull out all the stops. 

But I digress…. Let’s get into my experience at the festival. I’ll walk you through the Naila play-by-play.

As we pulled into the parking lot, there were shuttles ready to pick us up and take us up to the actual grounds. After a short ride, we walked a bit further to make it to the entrance of the event…. and oh boy was it already bustling and ready to go! Three stages were set up + a silent disco area. Most of my time was spent running over the small hill between the main “Laguna Lake” stage and the “Funk Safari” stage held just across the way. The headliners being at the former, and the DJ sets being at the latter. I do wish I had spent more time at the third smaller stage, but with so many great acts it was hard to catch them all. 

I caught the last half of the Tijuana Panthers set. I had heard good things about the Long Beach surf rock band’s prior performances and stage presence, but still didn’t really know what to expect. I was impressed! The three piece was the second to go onto the main stage, so there wasn’t too much going on in terms of stage production besides their logo on the screen behind them. Still, the three of them filled out the large stage rather nicely, standing in a sort of V formation. Though I didn’t know much about them going into it, I didn’t need to! Their spin on the familiar upbeat surf rock sound grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. It wasn’t long before I was jumping around in the pit with everyone else. I gave their discography a closer listen when I got home, and loved what I had heard.  If you’re interested in checking them out I would listen to: “Cherry Street”, “Creature”, and “Playing for the Old.” 

Towards the end of their set, I made my way across to the smallest of the three main stages, “Cuesta Ridge,” to catch a bit of the band Creative Differences. I came into this one completely blind… (both figuratively and literally, I thought I had misplaced my glasses at one point… turns out my pants had too many pockets…smh) Dressed in all white garb from head to toe, the four piece band had…. Jelly…? A stain…? An interesting cow print…? OH MY GOD THEY”RE COVERED IN BLOOD! Haha. I’m just kidding, though the dye or paint they used was pretty realistic if I do say so myself! The lead singer turned around and had knives LITERALLY sticking out of his back. 10/10 for creativity and effort if I’m being honest. I would even go so far as to argue that they, on the smallest stage, put more energy into their stage presence, appearance, and overall performance than some of the bigger acts!! I wish I could’ve been able to catch more of their set, but so is the way of the festival… you gotta sprint and choose. If I could split myself in half to cover more ground I would! I didn’t stay for very long… because across the way we had DJ Susan bringing the roof down. Call me “chicken little” because the damn sky is falling!

Dear reader, I’m going to be completely honest…. I was not expecting to enjoy DJ Susan’s set as much as I did, but bro was bringing the heat and the energy like no other! It might as well have been his festival!! Dude was literally the chilliest man to ever chill… no nerves at all. I don’t know why I had expected the DJ’s to be super serious and meticulously mixing to make sure that everything was going perfectly…..I mean it was a festival! If I was DJing I would be sweating bullets!!! This is why, however, I was not on the lineup….nor will I be anytime in the foreseeable future. Bro did not give a damn– in the BEST way possible. This is NOT to say that DJ Susan didn’t put his heart and soul into his set… he most definitely did, but I have never seen a more relaxed DJ in my entire life. He was standing on the table, dancing the way I imagine someone mildly stoned would at 3 am to an “IV Frat Party Playlist.” You know the drill…. socks, miscellaneous objects for a microphone, and a whole lot of arm waving. Bro was having the time of his life… he was getting his bag, and loving every minute of it. The crowd was eating it up as well… myself included. 

Unfortunately… The set did eventually come to an end and I made my way over the hill back to the “Laguna Lake” stage to catch Vundabar… a band I knew only by reputation. (The internet indie kids love “Alien Blues”!) I wanted to know what the hype was all about, and if they lived up to it! Sad to report that, I was a bit underwhelmed. They were good, and I can see the appeal, but for one of the bigger bands on the billing… I felt like I was getting more energy from the smaller stages/artists! This could be partially because they are more melodic than the other bands…which I guess makes it so that you can’t really jump up and down (though you can headbang to anything if you try hard enough). But this point is counteracted by another melodic band, Men I Trust (who we will get into later), and the way that they had managed to grab the audience’s attention into a choke hold. One that would knock you out and have your unconscious soul ascending along with the music.

The lead singer, Brandon Hagen, was flailing around quite a bit on the stage, but the other three members seemed a bit like they were just going through the motions. It was like all the energy was coming out of this one point in the middle, while he was surrounded by a wall of (dare I say) nothingness. I almost wanted to poke them with a stick and be like, “Come on! They’re here and they love you! You look like you’re one strum away from disintegrating!” One of the guitarists did a sad little head bob– to call it a head bang would be shameful.  It was like someone had taken NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” music video with the marionettes and surrounded Brandon with them. I was mentally screaming “CUT THE STRINGS! FREE THEM!!” Now reader you may be sitting there going, “Damn Naila that’s a bit harsh don’t you think?” Listen… I’m just some 20 something college radio DJ, and I’m giving you my honest play by play. There were alot of people who seemed to really be enjoying the set! It just wasn’t really doing it for me. Brandon looked like he was trying to give Matty Healy-esque stage presence with the clumsy movements and the “I’m so chill I’m not even trying, I’m just quirky like that” attitude. On top of the outfit and the questionable dance moves… It was like we got the Dollar-Store Matty and put him in a mediocre indie rock band. Like when a kid asks for McDonalds and the parent says “We have food at home!” This was the supposed “food” at home. A bunch of expired packets of condiments and half of an onion in the fridge. And when I say Matty Healy-esque I mean it…. Bro went so far as to do the “Robbers” pose throughout the set (those of you who were on tumblr back in middle school will appreciate this), which I know is something artists do when singing, but combined with the overall attitude I was just kinda like “okayyyyyyy….?”

I caught a bit of VNSSA’s DJ set while eagerly awaiting Men I Trust, and I could quite literally feeeeeeeel the bass in my chest. I don’t think my sternum has ever rattled quite that way before. But I liked it. The energy was there… The DJ’s of the day kept the night pumping and the momentum moving forward. There was a small moment where I felt the rattling in my chest and smelled the scent of banana wafting down around me. I thought to myself, “Well if I’m gonna have a stroke at least I’m going out during a pretty good set…and smelling banana bread toast is better than regular toast I suppose.” Only to find out a little later that it was actually just a vape… sigh. 

Alright… I know you all are DYING to hear how the Men I Trust set went. The most anticipated set of the night for me… And for most of the people there! I’ve been listening to them since I was a little high schooler, with no sense of the world or anything beyond the confines of Fresno. I would lay in bed and stare at the ceiling, being engulfed by Emma Prolux’s ethereal voice and their heavily layered instrumentals. Wistful…Melancholy…Music to float out of your body to. I was a bit anxious to see how it would translate to a live on-stage setting, but those nerves were quickly put to rest as soon as they came out. Encapsulated in the glow of the stage lights, smoke (this time from the fog machine), and the dark SLO night sky, Men I Trust sounded even better live than they do on a studio track. Jaw agape, I watched mesmerized as the hour and a half set flew by like it was nothing. Hands down one of the best live performances I saw in the 2023 concert season.

Bassists are always underrated. Some people will say, “Naila, you can’t even really hear the bass on their tracks!” Well, trust that you’d know if it wasn’t there. Men I Trust has deceptively complicated bass lines, and watching Jessy Caron’s fingers masterfully flying up and down the frets was a sight to behold. They are amazing performers, and it shows. The crowd was absolutely loving it. With my press pass, I was able to be on the other side of the barricade with the photographers, and in hindsight should’ve brought something other than my iphone to take pictures with, but oh well.. You live and you learn. There was this (I presume to be) drunk girl, I’m not sure how she made it past the barricade, but she was twirling around in the space in front of the stage, like she was in her own little world. It was kind of amusing to see her frolicking between the photographers and eventually settling down into the floor beside me. She was having the time of her life, and her friend (who was visibly more sober) was keeping an eye on her to make sure she was okay and didn’t trip.  I remember being drawn out of the performance only once, to look down and hear the slightly slurred words of this drunk girl. She said something along the lines of, “I’m gonna rest my head on your knee now.” And she did exactly that, turned and plopped the back of her head against my knee for the rest of the show.  I shrugged, not bothered at all by it. If anything, I was happy that I seemed harmless enough for her to do that so boldly. She watched the rest of the show from there, absolutely transfixed by the performance in front of us. I feel like the duality of her experience shows exactly how the Men I Trust set made me (and everyone else at the show) feel. Like frolicking and twirling in front of the stage, but also like sinking deep into the floor… and into myself. 


Posted in Blog, Show reviews, Music