The Cali Roots 9 experience

The annual California Roots Festival could easily be compared to a modern-day Woodstock of reggae – three days of peace and music. In fact, Jimi Hendrix famously torched his guitar on the very stage thousands gather around year after year for this event. But, at the same time, Cali Roots is uniquely and authentically its own. There isn’t quite any other festival like it. California Roots brings all walks of life together to share something magical that is going down in history as a movement that is bigger than ourselves. I feel grateful and inspired just to be in attendance to such an event. 

…Cali Roots embraces you and makes you part of the family. 

As soon as you enter the Monterey Fairground gates, the good vibes of music and people take over and all worries are forgotten. It is truly an unforgettable and even an addicting feeling. That’s why people from all over the world travel back to Cali Roots each year. It is the best escape from the daily struggles of reality one can ask for. The founders of this festival have created a reality of their own: one filled with happiness, love, freedom, art and, of course, music. No matter if you've been once or all nine years, Cali Roots embraces you and makes you part of the family. 

I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet – the music! This year, every performance left a lasting impression on me. It has now been a few weeks since the festival and I’m still riding a high from all the touching and inspiring moments I witnessed on the stages of Cali Roots 9. We started off Day One catching the up-and-coming band, Tropidelic, who I had been hearing so much about and they did not disappoint. The Movement packed The Bowl Stage, starting off the weekend with a strong performance. I think the highlight of Day One for me was HIRIE; the band was sounding and looking ever so tight, and between the aerial dancer who accompanied them on stage and HIRIE skanking in her high heals, it was a beautiful set. Reggae legend Alpha Blondy and reggae revivalist Chronixx followed each other back-to-back with memorable performances, taking us into the evening. We were blessed with more legendary music as Steel Pulse took the stage just as the sun was setting on Day One. Atmosphere and Iration headlined the two stages, leaving everyone ready for more on Day Two.

I arrived on the second day just in time to see Xiuhtezcatl. I was incredibly impressed by this 18-year-old musician. On his last song, Nahko Bear joined him on stage. I knew what a powerful performance I had just witnessed when I looked out to the crowd and noticed a girl who was so touched she was crying as she sang along. I’d have to say the award for most fun set of Day Two would have to go to Fortunate Youth. Their charismatic personalities shine so bright while they perform and considering they’d probably also win the 'most weed smoked during a performance' award, how could you not have fun? I felt as if I was in a Fortunate Youth cartoon show, with bouncing bananas and 20-foot joint balloons flying around. Following FY, we found a nice spot in the grass to vibe with Trevor Hall. And, lucky us! Nahko Bear came out a second time to sing “Uncle Jo” with Trevor. Next up, we sang along to Bob Marley songs with his son, Stephen Marley, got funky with Ozomatli, and “did it again” with J Boog. The powerhouse of a band, Rebelution, came on the close out Day 2 with the most high-energy set of the weekend I’d say.

If I were to describe California Roots in one word, it would be 'passion'.

Day Three was jam-packed with so much goodness, it would be way too hard to choose just one highlight performance of the day! New Kingston and DARENOTS started off the final day of Cali Roots, setting the perfect morning vibes to take us into the rest of the day. Some of my favorite parts of the day were dancing and grooving with Raging Fyah, singing our hearts out with Mike Love and a special acoustic set by Iya Terra to change up the pace a bit. And, the day just kept getting better! Other memorable performances included The Original Wailers, soulful Tash Sultana, The Green and Xavier Rudd. Slightly Stoopid, usually the festival headliners, played an earlier set this year, which was refreshing to enjoy them while there was still some sun out! They shocked the crowd by bringing out Alborosie and Don Carlos, who weren’t even on the festival bill to join them for a few songs. Tribal Seeds and 311 were the two headliners of Day Three: both bands brought their A-game and gave us a set that had me wanting Cali Roots to never end!

If I were to describe California Roots in one word, it would be 'passion'. From the artists to the fans to the festival producers to the media personnel covering the event, every single person is passionate about what they’re doing. And, that’s what makes it so extraordinary to be a part of. Every band stepped up their performances for Cali Roots 9, making it extra special. You never knew what or who you were gonna see, but what you did know is that all of it was unforgettable! Top Shelf Reggae looks forward to this event every single year and we are so ecstatic to see what the 10th Annual has in store!

Photography by Sean McCracken

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