Date: Saturday, May 26th & Sunday, May 27th 2012
Line up: SOJA, Pepper, J Boog, Iration, The Green, The Expendables, Anuhea, Mishka, Passafire, Seedless, Thrive,
Location: Monterey County Fairgrounds. Monterey, CA
What: 3rd Annual Cali-Roots Music & Arts Festival
For reggae aficionados, the 3rd annual California Roots Music and Arts Festival was billed as a musical paradise for fans, bands and artists alike. Over 35 bands made the trek to Monterey, California for, essentially, reggae’s version of Woodstock. In only its third year running, the growth from year one to year three was unprecedented. Many of the bands have witnessed the success as each year passed, performing on smaller stages at its inception, but with the festival’s maturation, the bands have experienced exponential evolution, as well.
Day One, May 26th 2012
The two-day onslaught of music, art, love and respect was over abundant, and appeared never-ending. At the start of day one at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, the threat of rain filled the skies, but as soon as the music started at noon on Saturday, the rain subsided and the reggae party began. With Just Chill opening up the musical soundwaves on stage two, a large crowd already gathered to captured the good vibes, and that sentiment did not stop until Josh Heinrichs, SkillinJah and Lance Sitton closed out the festivities late into Monday morning inside the fairgrounds Turf Club.
To describe this festival in one way, the word family comes to mind. There were countless collaborations onstage, and a plethora of band members gathering in the crowd to capture their favorite musical acts from the road.
As Simpkin Project hit the stage at 1:00 pm, members of Seedless, Fortunate Youth and Passafire joined together to honor the talents of true musicians working their craft. Not long after, Fortunate Youth’s percussionist, Travis Walpole joined solo artist E.N. Young onstage to add another layer to the group’s sound with his relentless percussions. In fact, the weekend was a busy one for Walpole, or as he affectionately known as, “Travi Bongos”, as he collaborated with the aforementioned E.N Young, Micah Brown and then came back the following day to perform with his own band, Fortunate Youth for their set.
But, that was the exact essence of this festival. Band members running from stage to stage just to jump on a song or two with their fellow comrades, and huddling up backstage to take in their favorite musicians tracks.
The grand main stage this year was an added feature from previous years, as the past main stage was utilized as the second stage, proving just how far this festival has grown in three years. Yet, the talent that graced each stage was not diminished, at all. The crowd that assembled in front of each stage made the bands feel like they were the only show in town. In fact, if there was another show in town, those fans would have missed out on the real concert going on at the Monterey County Fairgrounds.
From the moment HI Roots kicked off the festivities on the main stage, fans were in for a treat all the way through Saturday night’s headliners SOJA performing after 8:00pm.
In between those two sets, fans were turned into navigators, just to search out the best acts on each of the three stages, while walking past an abundance of clothing booths, art galleries and mouthwatering gourmet eateries. It was certainly a chore to try and witness all of the desired musical acts, but proper planning was necessary to catch a glimpse of each of the musical talents.
This festival attested the exponential growth within the reggae-rock community, ten fold. One band that has been along for the ride since the beginning was Thrive, and with their main stage set beginning at 4:20 pm, the reggae party was officially in full swing as the Santa Cruz, CA locals belted out their infamous song “California Roots”.
Everyone in attendance had their dancing feet in proper movement at this point, and it was right on time for national touring act Passafire’s main stage set, as the Savannah, GA natives opened with “Kiss My Head”.
Although, the label <>“California Roots” implies California music, there was a heavy presence of island culture and musical flavor amongst the fairgrounds with Hawaiian sensation Anuhea, Mishka hailing from Bermuda, and of course, the 808 state’s most popular touring band, The Green, all hitting the stage throughout the two-day festival. But, perhaps the fan favorite on Saturday night was J Boog.
The drive to play music for the crowd’s enjoyment is what fuels each and every touring band. J Boog gave validity to this statement as he flew into California from a performance in Dubai just minutes before meeting hundreds of fans at The Pier’s Meet & Greet.
With sweat running down from his red baseball hat after racing from the backstage area to the meet and greet and then back to the main stage for his set time, that was the least of his worries, because he was now at home, in front of a packed crowd singing along to his highly acclaimed hit song “Lets Do It Again”.
All of these memorable showcase acts led up to the blockbuster performance by SOJA. With nearly every single fan that entered the gates at 11:00 am sticking around for the main act, fans climbed the branches of nearby trees just to get a better view of the talented musicians from Arlington, VA.
With this being SOJA’s first performance at California Roots, this was the show to see, not just for the fans, but for all of the previous performers from the day and the following day collecting themselves backstage to get within earshot of the reggae kingpins. J Boog, Anuhea, Mishka, members of Passafire, Fortunate Youth, Seedless, Iration, and The Green all lined the backdrop to the stage to witness the spectacle firsthand. Then, midway through SOJA’s set, Jacob Hemphill invited The Green onstage to join in their rendition of “Come In”, which lasted nearly seven minutes long, and that wasn’t long enough!
Throughout SOJA’s performance all the mainstay tracks and fan favorites were played up to the crowd’s excitement including the band’s latest title track, “Strength To Survive”, “Mentality”, “Not Done Yet”, “Tell Me”, as well as a new twist to “Everything Changes” with Jacob and his six-string guitar carrying the majority of the song solo, before being joined by the rest of the band to closeout the first day of California Roots.
Still, the night was not over. The fans stayed in constant motion venturing off to their respective after hour functions at the Cali Roots, with after parties hosted at Planet Gemini across from the main gates, and the Turf Club inside the doors of the fairgrounds. Day one melded into day two with The Green performing hours earlier with SOJA, then their own private party, along with a full hour set on stage two on Sunday.
Day Two, May 27th 2012
But, the party did not stop there. Day two of the festival kicked off with The Closeouts on the main stage at noon, followed by Fiction 20 Down on the second stage, only thirty-minutes later. One of the surprises of the weekend was the youthful presence of up-and-coming bands in the reggae scene with Sono Vero, full of talented teenagers bringing together all the proper roots-rock-reggae style of a veteran band at their young age.
Another band that was invited to Cali Roots for the first time was Katastro, displaying why they were such a big draw on the main stage at 3:00pm. Although, they don’t possess the cookie-cutter reggae sound, without a doubt, they brought the passion that invigorated the crowd for the remaining acts to follow.
After Katastro’s set, fans were on a mission, racing across the fairgrounds to get the best view possible for crowd favorites, Fortunate Youth on the second stage. The afternoon musical medley was overflowing with can’t miss bands, including Zen Robbi playing in the Turf Club, Seedless performing on the main stage with Sono Vero’s saxophone player Eric Hirschhorn, as well as Dan Kelly of Fortunate Youth performing with his buddies on “The Light”.
Then it was time for Thrive’s second set of the weekend on the second stage, followed by Iration on the main stage, before The Green, The Expendables and Pepper wrapped up the holiday weekend in proper fashion.
One great thing about the festival was, no matter where you were on the fairgrounds, the music from the two outdoor stages resonated throughout the outdoor venue, allowing fans to not miss a single note or lyric from either stage. It seemed like not one second passed without some sort of music being played, whether it was live music or the DJ spinning reggae favorites over the soundsystem.
Furthermore, anxious fans gathered for The Pier’s special Meet and Greet with Iration, with no one left disappointed with a long, winding line, as The Green performed on the second stage, less than a hundred yards away. Even the five members of Iration didn’t fuss, as they sang along and danced with excitable fans to The Green’s songs, one after another.
From one end of the fairgrounds to the other, fans sang along to The Expendables “Bowl For Two” like they were dancing in the front row, looking right into Geoff Weers’ eyes. It was a pleasant sight to see, knowing that none of the music was being overshadowed by the countless attractions at each turn.
However, the one attraction everyone joined together to enjoy was the festival’s grand finale on the main stage, Kailua-Kona’s prodigal sons, Pepper. Breaking the ice with their hit song, “No Control”, the crowd was thrown into a frenzy for the final act.
This was a special show for Pepper, as it was only their second performance of 2012, as they have been recording their new album with producer Matt Wallace (Maroon 5/R.E.M.). Although, no new, or unreleased, tracks were performed, the old staples were good enough for the passionate fans at Cali Roots.
With nearly every band and their respective band members and families lining the backdrop of the main stage, the family environment was ever-present. But, at one point during Pepper’s “Point and Shoot”, one overzealous fan wanted to get a little closer to the trio, as he bolted to the front of the stage before being corralled by the stage manager.
Nevertheless, the old classics from Pepper were more than sufficient to entice the crowd during their set and proved to be timeless, as the entire crowd sang along to every lyric of the final two songs, “Stone Love” and “Ashes”. Pepper fired every single bullet in their repertoire, but fans wanted more! After gazing out into the packed crowd, Pepper’s guitarist/vocalist, Kaleo Wassman, shouted out, “What took us so long to play Monterey?!” Before continuing on to say, “Next year, let’s have the exact same lineup as this year, and bring our boys Slightly Stoopid! What do you think about that?!”
There is no question that this year’s lineup trumped all previous years in terms of talent, band interaction, chemistry onstage between the performers during collaborations, as well as the crowd’s overall enjoyment. It is difficult to imagine an even bigger festival next year for the fourth annual California Roots Music and Arts Festival. After all, not many pictured the unbelievable growth from year one to year three in Monterey.
If year three of the California Roots Festival proved anything, it is that each subsequent year, this festival will grow, just like the bands, fans and community will do the same. If you missed this year’s edition, do yourself a favor and mark your calendar for the fourth annual festival! It’s already been confirmed for May 25th & May 26th 2013. Here’s your notice!