“I’m gonna get you high today, ’cause it’s Friday; you ain’t got no job… and you ain’t got shit to do…” Even though Ice Cube’s set wasn’t until Sunday, the famous words resonated Friday at Cali Roots and the pep in our step and stars in our eyes confirmed that magic was in the air. Feet tired and voices hoarse, high on adrenaline and vibes, festival-goers decked out in butterfly wings, mermaid costumes and everything in between roared through the dew-covered gates and fluttered towards the Bowl Stage for award-winning Hawai’i roots legends, Natural Vibrations.
Satsang opened the Cali Roots Stage with their enchanting, non-genre style of singer-songwriting, with Nathan Feinstein of Iya Terra joining for a song.
After stopping at the first-aid tent for sunscreen, Nattali Rize graced us with her ever-powerful presence at the Bowl. Next up was Kingston, Jamaica-bred quartet EarthKry, bringing their own style of roots reggae-soul to the Cali Roots Stage — their sweet melodies all but begging the crowd to dance. Sneaking in a quick late lunch from Island Noodle (the soba noodles were to die for!!) and heading back into the Bowl with The Movement’s Josh Swain belting “Take Me To The Ocean” with the audience singing along imprinted a core memory.
SA-Roc, the first female emcee ever to be signed to the Rhymsayers label, graced the Cali Roots Stage next and impressed with her hard-hitting, smoky-voiced brand of hip hop, present on tracks like “Gold Leaf”, “Something Real” and “Hand of God” off the seminal 2020 album Sharecropper’s Daughter. Later, Santa Cruz locals, The Expendables — ever the cannabis enthusiasts — busted out fan-favorite “Bowl For Two” and the entire Bowl was hot-boxed for five solid minutes.
Hope everyone’s okay with a contact high!
Racing back to the Cali Roots Stage for Brother Ali’s 4:15pm set proved difficult. Wading through a sea of people at rush hour, there was just barely enough time to grab a Sierra Nevada beer, a lemonade from Barrett’s and bacon fries before catching the famed MC perform his newest singles “Goin’ Through It” and “More Than This”.
After immediately jamming to the pop-up stage to briefly catch Kyle Smith, J Boog wowed on the Bowl Stage: his combination of harmonizing backup singers and a hard-hitting brass section completing the signature set. After Chronixx canceled due to rumored visa issues, the replacement set “Collie Buddz and Friends”, took direction from the collaborative Cali Roots Riddim album. Performing live versions of those tracks with artists like Iya Terra, Dub Inc. and Anthony B, Collie Buddz shined on the Cali Roots Stage as the sun began to sink low in the Monterey sky.
The call of night beckoned and Atmosphere emcee, Slug, swaggered onstage as dusk fell upon the Bowl.
The place was abuzz with anxious anticipation. His opening heart-to-heart with the audience was a gentle prequel for the ground-smashing energy the remainder of his set brought and as he freestyled his way through technical difficulties, Slug proved his improvisational techniques knew no bounds.
Kona-bred Pepper closed out the Cali Roots Stage, with a plucky “Gin and Juice” cover solo from drummer Yesod Williams, along with Konatown standbys like “B.O.O.T” and “Stone Love”. A heartfelt video montage tribute to Andy J. Chaves of Katastro played on the screen afterwards and as embraces, tears and memories flowed, a collective unity and love for a rare soul gone too soon brought everyone a bit closer.
GRAMMY-Award winning Rebelution took the last stage of the night; Eric Rachmany’s blooming guitar riffs outshined only by the mind-numbing laser and light show the Santa Barbara quartet has become known for. Throwing up everything from the classic beats of “Bright Side of Life” to newer hits like “Satisfied” against psychedelic screen graphics, Rebelution left the crowd in a blissful flow state for their entire 90-minute superset.
Photography by Sean McCracken; Recap by Allie Adams