Walking into the gates of Chandler’s Rawhide Events Center is always enlivening. It’s country themed, like the rest of Arizona, but the quaint old-timey-themed photo ops of Rawhide make it more of an experience than most festival front gates offer. Like last year, Arizona Roots was returning for another two days of the finest reggae rock in the business — a sister fest of the colossal Cali Roots Fest in Monterey, now in its 11th year. The magic between the two remain intertwined. Waking up in Phoenix areas on Saturday, February 22nd to pouring rain, AZ Roots attendees were wary of the grounds. With an email from festival staff, festival-goers received an extra two hours to gather whatever rainwear they could find, as the gates were pushed back due to weather. Time to gear up!
The flooded swamplands known as general admission prompted fully grown adults to shirk their shoes and parade around like kids in the mud!
Fans waited patiently to enter the grounds along the Rawhide fence, as the rain continued to pour down and festival workers rushed to lay down emergency precautions for the amounting mud. Like the weather gods knew it was time for fun, the heavy downpour lifted the minute worker walky-talkies echoed the announcement that the 2nd Annual AZ Roots Festival had officially begun. It was nothing but sunny skies from there on out, with light sprinkles peppering the headlining performance of Damian Marley. Like we said, the weather gods knew. The main stage kicked off first with DUBBEST, followed by Kush County on the smaller Rawhide Stage. All set times were cut short due to the delay in gates, yet opening bands still managed to rock the early bird crowd as a result of quick security lines and competent staff members. Gotta love a well-organized festival, despite last minute emergency measures!
Speaking of, in this day and age, festival-goers usually get annoyed when it comes to wet, muddy grounds. It’s not what they signed up for. Yet, AZ Roots attendees did something rather significant — they embraced the circumstances. The flooded swamplands known as general admission prompted fully grown adults to shirk their shoes and parade around like kids in the mud! It was like Woodstock 2.0! There were kids in attendance, too, splashing around barefoot or in their rain boots, having the time of their lives. How remarkably unexpected. The tranquil sounds of Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad paired nicely with these playful antics, as well as SYNRGY’s uplifting reggae rock on the Rawhide Stage.
On that note, Satsang led the way when it came to relatable reggae for the weekend. The messages embedded in their music can really turn any day around! LAW Records’ Vana Liya, dressed to the nines in sparkle-patterned pants, took over next. Ms. Vana was later spotted Sunday taking pictures with attendees in taco garb, waving signs with friends saying “Follow @VanaLiyaMusic, Let’s Taco Bout It”. Silly girl… But, that was the vibe of AZ Roots: dress as a taco, dress in a onesie, dress in a Donald Trump-is-giving-me-a-piggy-back-ride costume. All silliness accepted.
Collie Buddz took over the main stage midday, inviting a fan up to do “Blind To You” verses, like he is known to do. Sometimes the fan does a good job; sometimes they fail miserably. This fan CRUSHED it. Colin’s favorable reactions to this fan’s performance was visible all the way to the back of the crowd. As the sun traveled past the mountains to reveal a trademark Arizona sunset, Passafire completely annihilated their performance on the Rawhide Stage (as they do). One stage done for the night, Steel Pulse then entertained all on the main AZ Roots Stage before Day One came to a close altogether with another intense show from Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. Cue the blinding rain coming down in buckets as you tried to drive home.
With such synergistic, electric feels, Arizona Roots has quickly become an annual favorite.
Day Two started out with perfect weather albeit muddy puddles from the day before. If you were returning to the Rawhide, you were wearing shoes that could be sacrificed. Up first were Long Beach natives 4th & Orange and AZ locals ZeeCeeKeely. A big ZCK presence showed up bright and early for their set and even movie star Peter Dante (of Adam Sandler’s posse) joined the boys onstage. What fun! The jam band reggae sounds of The Expanders were up next as local band Clint Stevens rocked the more intimate stage. Dante jumped up for impromptu performance number two. Before we knew it, Iya Terra took centerstage, melting minds with their polished, rock-n-roll-meets-reggae aura. Their cover of “War Pigs” wrapped into one of their originals is utterly outstanding to see. Fayuca took everyone south of the border (as ringleader Dante made everyone dance shouting “HEY! HEY! HEY!” over and over) before the pop reggae rock of HIRIE conveniently began right at 4:20pm. What a way to celebrate! Touching on that note, the booth next to the Rootfire clan was openly selling weed? Is that how Arizona rolls these days? (Pun very much intended.)
Florida’s Artikal Sound System, with lead singer Logan Rex in a stunning crystal fringe ensemble, led attendees into the evening hours following another stunning sunset before The Expendables kicked it up to 11 with punk rock-infused jams. They even performed new singles — one too new for a name! Tribal Seeds played crowd-pleasers before Cali Roots veterans and AZ Roots returning headliners Rebelution closed down Year Two in style. The performance was topnotch, considering lead singer Eric Rachmany flew in hot from Guam, arriving an hour before he stepped onstage. Jet lag be damned! With such synergistic, electric feels, Arizona Roots has quickly become an annual favorite. We can’t wait to be included for next year!
Photography by Sean McCracken