Feature Photo by Josué Rivas for California Roots X
Written by Mark Apuzzo
California Roots has finished its 10th Annual Music & Arts festival and boy was it a doozy. This reggae staple delivered stellar jams all Memorial Day weekend as the love overflowed from its attendees. Hosted at the Monterey Fairgrounds, this iconic location was packed with people of all ages as folks danced and partied the weekend away.
The venue is laid out in a very linear fashion with the Cali Roots Stage at one end, a small unlisted “C” stage in the middle and The Bowl Stage at the other end. There weren’t any overlapping sets between the two main stages however the acts did butt up back to back. The “C” stage wasn’t used for any listed sets but instead used as pop-up acoustic sets and viewings of interviews on the big screen. They would also stream headlining acts to the screen so folks who wanted to sit and relax in peace could still see the show.
Arts & Merch Everywhere
Art and Merch vendors were lining both sides of the strip between the stages, selling everything from paintings of cosmic elephants to hemp hats and authentic African sculptures. There was also a corner called the Lemon Tree Art Retreat which was exclusively artist with their art, as well as artistic workshops held throughout the weekend.
What’s a festival without food & drinks?
The food vendors were set up at the very end of the strip, past the bowl stage. The heavenly aromas filled your nose as you chose between your choice of Mexican, African, Caribbean, Chinese, American and more. Many of these vendors offered a variety of vegan options as well (I had some of the most bomb vegan pulled pork tacos I’ve ever had!). And what festival is complete without something to drink? There was a blend of local breweries as well-known brands to help you get your buzz on, a few juice groups, some tea, and even some kombucha too.
…And maybe a smoke break too?
Not a fan of drinking? Maybe you prefer smoking? Well, here in California it’s not a problem. Local dispensaries had some booths present in addition to the several bud companies at the festival. With that being said, smoking was definitely accepted as part of the festival.
The first day had the best weather all weekend. At sunny and 70, you couldn’t have asked for better festival weather. The day was kicked off with performances from Fiji, For Peace Band, Don Carlos, Ballyhoo!, The Skints, Common Kings, Citizen Cope, Steel Pulse, and The Green. Each artist brought their own unique brand of reggae and reggae inspired music to the stages.
As the sun began its descent Atmosphere came on the Bowl Stage to deliver his iconic style of upbeat, positive hip-hop. This nice change of pace had everyone bopping along to hit songs like “Yesterday” and “The Best Day.” Next was Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals headlining the Roots Stage. They absolutely earned their spot—They brought a stirring performance with heavy emphasis on hand percussions on top of Ben Harper’s beautiful lap steel guitar playing. The set wasn’t actually an acoustic set but at many points throughout it almost had the serene energy that comes from acoustic sets.
Closing out Day One with their first time ever headlining was Stick Figure. They put on an amazing set of what I can only really describe as a sort of ethereal reggae. Their music floated through the air, whispering sweet nothings into your ears, only to be whisked away by the flash of the lasers and a new song. It was not all low energy and there were plenty of upbeat classic American-Reggae style songs too but I felt they really shone in the way they embraced the more subtle energies in their music. We got a premier for a new song called “Shine” and several sit-ins from various other artists at the festival. My favorite sit-in though was the lead singer’s dog Coco, who spent the whole show on stage. They finished their set for an exuberant crowd and everyone headed out to rest up for Day 2.
On Day 2 we had a bit of an overcast day with spotty sunshine, but tunes groovy enough to brighten anyone’s day. The day was filled with sets from Roots of a Rebellion, Jo Mersa Marley (Grandson of Bob, son of Stephen), Ocean Alley, Iya Terra, The Movement, The Expendables, G Love and Special Sauce, Pepper and Protoje. The music brought from the second day acts was a bit more diverse than the first day. The musical styles ranged from psychedelic-surf rock, punk-rock reggae, classic reggae and more.
As the evening began, Tash Sultana took the Bowl Stage. If you haven’t seen or heard of Tash yet you better get on it. This Australian solo act was absolutely mesmerizing. I was in awe at the level of musical talent that courses through this girl. Tash was able to bring the energy of an entire band as she ran and danced around the stage looping different instruments. She started with a guitar and would frequently revert back to it as it was her main instrument. Her other instruments ranged from trumpet to chimes, drums, keyboards and more. Tash has described herself as a live artist, so when she is performing you get to truly experience what she is capable of beyond her studio music.
Once her performance ended, we headed over to the Roots Stage to see Dirty Heads headline there. Quite contrary to Tash, the Dirty Heads set was almost exactly the same as their studio music. They played a variety of their old and new music, sticking primarily with their most popular songs. It was a great set for those looking to sing along to familiar music and pick up the tempo after a lower-energy set beforehand.
Closing out Day 2 was Slightly Stoopid. Members had been busy performing with bands all weekend and now it was their time to shine. With a full brass section and guests galore, Slightly Stoopid brought huge energy to the stage. It seemed like everyone they performed with earlier were now taking turns performing with them for different songs. We had guest appearances from Con Carlos, Collie Buddz, members of Stick Figure, G Love and more; and it was incredible. With that being said, the set really showcased the diversity of music that Slightly Stoopid is capable of. The rain started to drizzle down at this point but that wasn’t going to stop any of us. In fact, it actually ended up looking beautiful. The droplets would reflect in the lasers and it looked like it was a raining sea of glitter above us.
Day 3 attendees woke up to early morning rain, but by the time music started up at 10:30 the sun had burned through and the weather was actually nicer than the day before. However, all was not sunshine and rainbows Day 3. Due to unforeseen circumstances UB 40 ft. Ali and Astro had to cancel. This was supposed to be the headlining act on the Roots Stage, the second to last set of the night. To adjust, festival organizers shifted set times later into the day. Unfortunately, this resulted in some dead space throughout the day. Despite these setbacks, the third day was still a blast with some special sets in store.
The day started out with The Elovaters, Kabaka Pyramid, Xiuhtezcatl, Dread Mar-1, Jesse Royal and Alborosie. Halfway through the day Matisyahu came out and performed the entirety of his Live at Stubbs set. This set and album were one of the biggest factors in Matisyahu’s rise to fame. So getting to see them perform it in its entirety was an awesome experience.
Next up I have to mention Collie Buddz‘s set. Not only was it a great set with amazing energy from Colin, but the true highlight of the set came halfway through his performance: Collie Buddz announced that he had bought us all pizza! They then proceeded to pass out dozens of boxes of pizza into the crowd from the front of the stage and from the sound booth towards the back. Regardless of where people were at, they had a chance to snag a slice. He finished up his set to a very happy crowd.
After that came Nahko and Medicine for the People. Their music truly felt like medicine for the soul. The rain finally rolled through at this point, but no one seemed to mind as we were serenaded by Nahko. Cypress Hill came on next and performed the entirety of his Black Sunday album. He also included a few extra songs to help fill in some extra time as the new closer for the Roots Stage. Following him was Soja and then a very long 50 minute wait for the final act of the night, Rebelution. When they finally took the stage they were greeted with howls of excitement. They put on an amazing show—giving us some older deeper tracks, coupled with new music and some phenomenal guest performances. The rain may have been falling but the devoted attendees didn’t seem to mind as this festival came to a close.
After 10 successful years, California Roots has established itself as one of the best premier reggae festivals in the whole country (and possibly the world). The crowds are some of the friendliest, loving people I’ve had the pleasure of dancing with. The vendors and artists fill the space with such beautiful art, to-die-for food and of course, all the reggae you could ask for. There’s no other way I’d want to kick off my summer than at California Roots. Be on the lookout for their galleries from the weekend here and we’ll see you next year!