Well, it happened – another magical weekend in Monterey came and went. Memorial Day Weekend at the Monterey Fairgrounds has become commonly known as the 'Coachella of reggae music', something 'indescribable' and 'an experience of a lifetime'. Ever since the premiere Cali Roots back in 2010, the festival has morphed and coagulated into something so much more than merely a display of topnotch music and art – it is a movement. A movement, by definition, doesn't ebb and flow with the status quo: it leads the resistance; it tangents away from the norm; it provides the people with a better option. That is just scraping the surface of what the California Roots Music and Arts Festival brings to the proverbial table. You simply cannot put Cali Roots into words.
You simply cannot put Cali Roots into words.
Now that the event has grown to be an industry giant, you would think that it would sell out with sponsors, become a destination solely for scene-sters and hipsters, or lose its grassroots authenticity for those who have been there since Year One. Miraculously, eight years later, that is not the case at all. Entering into the fairgrounds (although at capacity), you can still get from Stage A to Stage B, receive a beer refill, or use a bathroom facility in a reasonable amount of time. Security guards are dancing and waving at you as you pass by, and everyone everywhere is smiling as they meet new people dressed in the most interesting garb. Truly, the clothing is getting more bizarre and elaborate every year, and new for 2017 was the rise of the furries and the one-sies. No one saw that coming. But, it doesn't matter – all who entered through the grounds gate left their dispositions at the door.
Day One started off overcast, yet temperate with the thrill of anticipation flowing through everyone's bodies to keep them warm. The 8th Annual started off with SYNRGY on the Cali Roots stage, Skanks Roots preaching to the people on the OG Stage, and the Passafire boys bringing the heat on the Bowl Stage right off the bat. Their new album Longshot is FIRE, by the way. Just saying, so you know that their early Cali Roots set was welcomed with a large crowd ready to rock! By noon, festival-goers already had their money's worth. More Friday performances were Zach Deputy, Common Kings, The Late Ones, Beebs, Matisyahu, Stick Figure, Jesse Royal, SOJA, and Rebelution ending the night off right. For those that were going off the Day One rundown, there was a slight change in plans when Six60 couldn't make the fest. Bummer. Although scrapped from the lineup, Matt Masih and friends paid tribute to not only the 50th anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival (cough, Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire just so happened to take place feet away from the OG Stage), but also the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love – when hippies protesting the war and a country divided flocked to San Francisco in 1967 to spread love, listen to the Grateful Dead, and hand flowers to cops. In a time when this American nation was in utter and total disarray, there was a movement for love and peace; 50 years later, California Roots stands as the modern movement. With songs from the late 1960s, Masih made an impact on old and young with the importance of unity within music – a lesson that should never be forgotten.
Photography by Gia Krietzberg and Chris Gomez
And then, Day Two came along and BLEW EVERYONE'S MIND. You know it's going to be a good day when you're already dancing, jumping, skipping, and skanking around within the first hour, thanks to the high-energy, tons of fun, hip-hoppy sets of Tyrone's Jacket, the DARENOTS, and Unified Highway. That's right – Eric Rachmany closed down the night before and opened the next day with his Amp Live side project. Talk about working a double shift… Rising Appalachia brought beautiful energy to the Cali Roots stage, Tribal Theory absolutely annihilated the OG Stage, Protoje danced all kinds of funky for the Bowl audience, and the day continued on in this fashion. Between Alborosie, Yellowman, Through the Roots, Iration, Easy Star All Stars, and a special acoustic performance by HIRIE, event attendees were elevated high above the clouds for the headliners. Let's talk about what happened next: Nahko and Medicine for the People always deliver. They do. However, this Saturday performance went beyond its normal measure, with such an intimate vibe (despite entertaining 10,000 people all at once). Nahko pulled concert-goers up on stage to not only partake in the music, but connect with each other. All kinds of emotions purged, drawing strangers together in harmony and tranquility. Yet, the next song would kick up the tempo and turn the whole fairgrounds into a giant dance party. The phrase 'you just had to be there' doesn't even apply, since the whole fest was being live-streamed for the viewers at home! Everyone was invited to this Cali Roots party. It's unfortunate to say that wasn't the case for the main headliner of the night; Nas turned out to be a private show, sorry streamers. That being said, being able to witness Nas in the flesh was a milestone in itself. Nasty Nas obliterated the Bowl Stage, with hits across decades weaved in between rare tracks. If you didn't leave Day Two in a Cali Roots state of mind, you did it wrong.
All kinds of emotions purged, drawing strangers together in harmony and tranquility.
Typically, by Day Three, Cali Roots-goers are normally hungover. Tired. Ready to coast through the day, cherishing the final moments before the weekend hits its conclusion. Nope. Not this year. Day Three 2017 had a lineup too good to end the party early: Ballyhoo!, Roots of Creation, RDGLDGRN, Iya Terra, Collie Buddz, Jah9, Humble Soul, Anthony B, Mellow Mood, Jurassic 5, John Brown's Body, Thievery Corporation, and the hip hop-reggae-rock gods themselves, the Dirty Heads. Every act that graced the Sunday stage brought the thunder, and then some. To point out highlights is almost pointless, but let's do so anyway. RDGLDGRN has one of the greatest band dynamics ever, with stage presence that most bands never achieve. Iya Terra surprisingly stole Cali Roots 2017 – there's no debating it, hands down best set of the weekend. Witnessing Jurassic 5 made everyone feel like a kid again, and watching them breakdance made everyone feel like maybe we SHOULD be kids again. They're getting up there in age, but can still breakdance like teenagers? What is this, the Benjamin Button band?? And, then there's Thievery Corporation… what a mystical, ethereal experience to finally have Thievery at Cali Roots. It seemed almost as if they have been at the festival all eight years in spirit. Leaving Dirty Heads, attendees felt like it couldn't be over. Maybe Cali Roots #9 will be four days long, since Day Three happened all too fast. We shall see.
Until next year, the 8th Annual California Roots Music and Arts Festival will remain in the forefront of everyone's minds. See highlights from 2017 in our daily photo galleries, and stay tuned for the first artist announcement for 2018 when the time comes!