Cali Roots 2023: Day One

Entering the gates of the Monterey Fairgrounds for another Memorial Day Weekend at the California Roots Music & Arts Festival is always a cathartic experience. This year, however, the anticipation was soaring as it marked the 12th anniversary of the notorious annual event. What sets this year apart is not only the extension to a 4th day which was a relatively new feature, but also the all-encompassing sense of unity felt throughout, not only among festival goers but also among the performers themselves.

Cali Roots is the only festival that brings the entire reggae-rock-roots family together in one place simultaneously.

Not to mention the numerous surprises in store throughout the weekend thanks to the wherewithal from the famed production team, Good Vibez.

In fact, unity within this community was felt before the festival even kicked off. Cali Roots took a moment prior to doors to inform old and new attendees that renowned concert photographer, Carlos Gonzales (propixmedialive), needed our help! Carlos was recently diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). Carlos has devoted many years to capturing and savoring the magical moments we all cling to dearly. Cali Roots coordinators and Good Vibez production members had this to say: 

Even if you’ve never met Carlos, you’ve likely admired the incredible images he has captured at all of our Cali Roots & Good Vibez events over the years. He isn’t just a photographer, he is a storyteller. He always says “Anyone can take a photo but not everyone can capture the story behind it”. He is fearless with the camera in his hand. His photos need no explanation, they are distinctive, they touch your heart & demonstrate an expression of life. 

In a show of solidarity (and in true music community fashion), 10% of all Cali Roots festival merchandise sales on Thursday, May 25 was donated to Carlos and his family. If you weren’t able to snag day 1 merch, you can still donate to Carlos’ GoFundMe page, here.

When gates opened up that first day, eager festival goers swarmed the grounds in anticipation of grabbing a spot at the rail for the guitar-shredding musical stylings of Mihali. While that was happening, production teams were working hard on the Cali Roots stage in preparation for Mykal Rose & Subatomic Sound System. weekend kicked off with French reggae artists, Dub Inc. blew everyone away with their unparalleled energy at the same time Santa Cruz band, Thrive graced the OG stage. Infectious smiles spread like wildfire throughout the grounds, as everyone reveled in the long-awaited magic of Cali Roots. New Zealand band, Katchafire, elevated the vibe with their energy, just before Thievery Corporation won over the hearts of the Bowl Stage audience with their unique instrumentation and numerous featured artists. For those that couldn’t secure a spot at the rail, Hawaiian native, Anuhea offered a chill alternative on the OG Stage. The rest of the day was held down by festival steeple performers and beloved artists, Atmosphere, SOJA, Michael Franti & Spearhead, and headlining band Rebelution. 

Cali Roots is one of the only festivals that bring the entire reggae rock family together in one place at the same time while simultaneously inviting and embracing artists outside of the reggae genre.

How Cali Roots is able to maintain the notorious vibe we all crave across roots reggae, reggae rock, hip-hop, punk rock, ska and more is truly an impressive feat and is a large component in what makes this festival so unique.

But the night didn’t end there— after parties sprouted in every direction, whether in the campgrounds, at the Jade Lounge across the street, or in various hotels. Cali Roots was already delivering an extraordinary experience and music lovers were not slowing down! Stay tuned for coverage from the remaining days!

Photography by Sean McCracken and John Bender

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