In The Pipeline: Dirty Heads clean up at Wahoo's

The musical roots and heritage of Huntington Beach were no doubt fortified when the Golden Bear started booking rock and roll acts in the 1960s.

The Jan and Dean classic "Surf City" certainly fed the legacy, as did the old punk club Safari Sam's and a spate of thunderous local bands from the Offspring to Avenged Sevenfold and now the Dirty Heads.

Founded in 1996 by Jared Watson and Dustin Bushnell, the Heads are a modern reggae band that caught its first true wave of success with 2008's anthemic smash single "Lay Me Down" (which has been certified gold and spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, a record for an independent release and more than any single that year by anyone, including the Black Keys, Kings of Leon and 30 Seconds to Mars).

The band tours incessantly, bringing its funky island-meets-street vibe to thousands of fans all over the world, but this is home and so this is where they recently decided to throw a special party.

To celebrate the release of their sophomore album, "Cabin by the Sea," last Saturday, the band decided to launch the collection at the new Wahoo's Fish Taco at 7891 Warner Ave. A stage was erected in the parking lot so the band could perform a rare acoustic set, and hundreds of fans filled in the space once doors opened just after 5 p.m.

I've interviewed the two band leaders numerous times, and I'm always struck by their sense of dedication and work ethic — they care about their music deeply, and so I was excited to hear the new album recently. I'd watched them in the studio last year as certain song fragments had begun to take shape, and I think the final results are stunning.

The band has managed to build upon its sound without sacrificing what helped it make its mark in the first place. The songwriting has evolved, and clearly, the years of playing on the road have helped refine and define the Dirty Heads' sound into something truly unique.

The first single, "Spread Too Thin," has "summer anthem" written all over it, and the video for the song even features Wahoo's founder Wing Lam, whom I spoke with at the album party. He told me that beyond being thrilled to have a new location in Huntington Beach, he was a big Dirty Heads fan himself and had been hanging out with the band recently when they kicked around the idea of a release party at his latest establishment. Mayor Don Hansen added that he feels Wahoo's represents the heart of Surf City culture (I agree) and that he believes the location will do very well.

I also sat down with Watson before the band played, and he said he's more confident in the new album than anything he's done before. "The long period in between the first album and this one gave us a lot of time to grow as a band," he shared with me. "Everything came out even better than we had planned, and I really think that what we've gone through as a band since that first success has helped us discover more about ourselves, and we captured a lot of that. We had a lot of time to write and become more mature as a band, and 'Cabin by the Sea' reflects all of those things."

Surrounded by family and friends along with all the fans, the band was received with waves of love and affection. I watched with Dean Torrence, of Jan and Dean fame, whose presence only added to the musical importance of the event — standing just feet from each other were two generations of local musicians that each played a substantial role in shaping our city's musical presence around the globe.

Against a deep blue sky and a cool ocean breeze, the Dirty Heads' music pulsed and made the crowd move in sync with its rhythms. Lam watched, smiling and getting deep into the music while folks enjoyed fish tacos and pitchers of cold beer.

A great new album from a beloved local band coupled with a successful grand opening from a beach-friendly brand made for a very nice day in Huntington Beach — one of those afternoons you really don't want to end, and the sort of thing this city can always use more of.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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