Date: Friday, May 23rd, 2014
Line Up: SOJA
Venue: California Roots Music Festival – The Bowl – Monterey County Fairgrounds. Monterey, CA
May 23rd, the official launch of the 5th annual California Roots Music Festival, was a day that fans of Reggae music have been waiting on for an entire year. At approximately 11am, festival goers poured into the Monterey County Fairgrounds for a full day, consisting of sunshine, light drizzles, good vibrations, live art and Reggae music.
Throughout the day, fans of all ages were seen walking around with smiles on their faces and music in their ears. Reeform and The Stircrazies started the live music off just hours before the crowd would get its first glimpse of “The Bowl” stage packed full during Stick Figure’s afternoon set. Diversity was present in both the crowd and on the stage as bands like Steel Pulse, The Expanders and The Simpkin Project showcased a classic roots style while Katchafire, J Boog, The Steppas, Kimie and Maoli brought an island roots sound to those in attendance. San Diego’s legendary, B Side Players, added some flavor with their latino roots as they warmed up the Cali Roots stage before Passafire rocked their high energy set. Day one of Cali Roots had a little of everything and the same goes for the festival’s opening day headlining act, SOJA.
The Virginia based band has traveled far and wide before making their way back to the California Roots Festival for the first time since 2012. SOJA has now become one of the most successful touring Reggae bands in today’s scene.
Just before 10pm, the stage lights dimmed, the music stopped and an eerie silence emerged from the crowd. Shortly after, band members stepped onto the stage and the crowd erupted with excitement. Clips of SOJA’s newest music video were being played on the big screens as the band came out to an instrumental that led into “Sorry” from 2006’s Get Wiser. High energy was displayed in the first track with duels taking place between the horn section, Trevor Young on guitar and Bobby Lee on bass.
Next up was “I Don’t Wanna Wait” off of 2009’s Born In Babylon. The popular song had the crowd singing along with the chorus and even featured a powerful freestyle by frontman, Jacob Hemphill, in which he expressed his disgust with politics in today’s government. After a few other songs, things began to really “heat up” on the stage.
The crowd seemed to have found new energy during “To Whom It May Concern,” a track featuring Bobby Lee on lead vocals. Although his microphone wasn’t very loud at first, the crowd could clearly hear him hit his deep tones on the track. Before the song was over, SOJA gave fans a treat as band members randomly tossed drumsticks that they began using to play their instruments with.
With dreads and drumsticks flying everywhere during the previous song, the band then took a second to re-adjust themselves before heading into the next two tracks with a very special guest. “Mentality,” which is frequently used to open their set, featured an additional freestyle by J Boog that led to the introduction of an unreleased song in which lead guitarist, Trevor Young, also has a verse on. Earlier in the day Trevor told The Pier that he was able to contribute a lot of guitar and back-up vocals to their recently announced new album. Dropping August 12th, 2014 under ATO Records the record is titled, Amid The Noise and Haste. SOJA went on to play a total of three new songs off their unreleased album throughout the set.
After having J Boog on stage for a couple of songs, the band easily found a way to keep the crowd on the tips of their toes as they continued to utilize the most of their talent and space on the massive stage. The popular “You Don’t Know Me” began with Jacob thanking Dan Sheehan and crew for putting on such an amazing festival.
Bassist, Bobby Lee, got the crowd pumped up during his second verse in the song which was followed with a heavy guitar solo from Trevor. Before the song was over, 6 of the 8 musicians were at the front of the stage rocking out before eventually ending with a collective guitar solo from Trevor and Jacob. Just when you thought SOJA wouldn’t be able to top the energy and professionalism on their previous song, the entire band made their way to the center of the stage to form a drum line that further showcased their talent and long-time bond with one another.
The time had now come for the grand finale! “Here I am” started off with Jacob introducing each band member individually as they each performed their own solos. Kenny Bongos started off the round of solos before passing the torch to Patrick O’Shea on the keys. Venezuelan saxophonist, Hellman Escorcia, shined on stage just before Rafa began putting his lungs to work on the trumpet. Next was Trevor Young showing why he deserved to go from being the band’s guitar tech, to opening for them and eventually becoming a crucial part of the band’s live performance and diverse talent. Next, Ryan Berty had an impressive showcase on the drums, setting the stage up for what was next to come.
Out of nowhere, Trevor Young lit his guitar on fire and the crowd’s noise level had reached its peak. This act was done on the very same stage that the legendary Jimi Hendrix had done so at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival! The way I see it, the burning of the guitar could be interpreted as a tribute to the guitar legend or as SOJA putting their stamp as the biggest act in today’s reggae scene. With an ending like that, there was no need for an encore. Fans, including myself, had just been witness to another piece of history as day one of the 5th annual California Roots Festival had officially come to an end.
Jacob made sure to once again thank the producers of Cali Roots along with all the fans for being a huge supporter of SOJA, the reggae scene, and spreading respect amongst each other. Before walking off stage, Jacob mentioned, “We’ll see you tomorrow. You know what I’m talking about.” Could this possibly be a hint that he will be joining some of the bands on stage for day 2? Rebelution? Nahko and Medicine For The People?
Either way, The Pier is ready for another day full of good times, good vibes, and unforgettable memories! One girl was overheard shouting to her friend, “This is better than Disneyland!” and The Pier staff couldn’t agree more.
SOJA Set List: (Un-official)
2.) I Don’t Wanna Wait
3.) She Still Loves Me
4.) Strength To Survive
5.) Tear It Down *New Song*
6.) To Whom It May Concern
7.) Mentality (ft. J Boog)
8.) Easier *New Song* (ft. J Boog & Trevor Young)
9.) You Don’t Know Me
10.) Drum Line
11.) I Believe *New Song*
12.) Here I Am (grand finale)
California Roots Website
Article by: David Garcia
Photos by: David Norris
Guitar On Fire Photo By: Josue Rivas
More Photos From The Night…