In 2014, I attended the 5th Annual California Roots Festival for the first time when I was still in high school. The only person I knew there was my best friend who I went with and my mom who drove us. After three days at the festival, we left with a ton of new friends and the feeling that we had just been a part of something extremely special. Fast forward six years and I have just arrived home from my 6th year in a row attending the fest. I still felt that magical feeling in the air from the first time I went, except this time, I knew a lot more than two people.
Over all the years, Cali Roots has kept its grassroots vibe …
Over all the years, Cali Roots has kept its grassroots vibe while still working to improve the overall experience. When I walk through those festival gates each year, I know I will be greeted with endless smiling faces, from the fans to the performers (and even the security guards), and knowing I will be leaving with more Cali Roots family members than the year before. This year was the 10th Annual Cali Roots and the festival really outdid itself. From the art retreat to the fashion zone to the pop-up acoustic sets and, of course, the stacked lineup of musical performances, California Roots Music & Arts Festival has done an amazing job of creating a space where people can feel free to truly be themselves.
This year, Day One started off with For Peace Band, who flew all the way from their home island of Guam to grace the stage and get the weekend started early. This was their first ‘official’ Cali Roots performance, but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more from these boys in the future! We arrived just in time to catch the legendary Don Carlos on The Bowl stage. Not only was his performance tight as ever, but I think it’s safe to say that although Uncle Don was the oldest performer of the weekend, he had the best dance moves at Cali Roots this year. Up next was The Skints, another band that flew in all the way from London to be with us in Monterey. Currently leading the movement of modern reggae in the UK, The Skints brought high energy to the crowd and had everyone up and skankin’ to their reggae, dub, ska, hip hop and even punk rock beats. A truly versatile band! They were followed by a nice change of pace, Citizen Cope, who blessed the Cali Roots Stage with his soulful blues, folk and rock vibes. Legendary roots reggae band also from the UK, Steel Pulse, came out with one of the most upfull sets of the day. They had the crowd re-energized, dancing and singing along to their countless classic songs. The Green rocked the Cali Roots Stage next, with their catchy Hawaiian tunes followed by adopted hip hop legend by the reggae scene, Atmosphere. Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals closed out Day One on the Cali Roots Stage with a set that impressed the crowd with their bluesy rhythms and intricate guitar skills.
Day One was extra memorable for a couple reasons. Back in 2014, when I first attended Cali Roots, my friend and I got gifted a CD from a band we had never heard of. The whole way home we bumped their CD and fell in love with the music. The album happened to be Burial Ground by Stick Figure. Six years later, we got to watch them headline Cali Roots with an epic performance. It is truly amazing to see how far this band has come!
Day Two is always special: the energy is buzzing from the previous day and fans still have the whole next day to look forward to. With no end in sight, Roots of a Rebellion got things underway on the CR stage. After their morning coffee, fans moved to The Bowl to catch Jo Mersa Marley. Exuding talent from the Marley bloodline, Mersa captured the crowd and greeted The Bowl with an oh-so-familiar energy. Original songs and timeless anthems from his grandfather, Bob Marley, rang out in a way that livened up The Bowl stage for the rest of the afternoon. More festivalgoers funneled in as Iya Terra prepared for their set. By the time they began, fans were out in full force. The Bowl was packed as the sounds of their modern-day roots reggae music filled the air. They shocked the crowd by mixing things up with a twist of dubstep in their song “Love and Respect” and the crowd went absolutely wild for it. They also played a brand new, unreleased song “Wash Away” off their up and coming album.
Fans rushed back over to the Cali Roots stage to catch The Movement who featured special guests, KBong, Scott Woodruff and Cocoa the Tour Dog of Stick Figure. The Expendables kept things rocking into the evening followed by Pepper, who brings a raging party wherever they go. Both bands brought an intensity you could feel from the opposite side of the festival grounds. Meanwhile, G. Love and Special Sauce got things funky on the CR Stage with their laidback blues and hip hop tunes. A huge highlight of not only Day Two, but the entire weekend, was an incredible performance by multi-instrumentalist, one-person-band, Tash Sultana. Tash’s soulful voice radiated throughout The Bowl, which was packed front to back, and although just one person, Tash kept the crowd entertained as if there was a full eight-piece band onstage. Switching from guitar to trumpet to keyboards to mandolin to flute and more, Tash’s insane talent and overall cool vibe had the festival talking about her set the rest of the weekend. Protoje, leader of the ‘reggae revivalist’ movement in Jamaica, took us into the evening with another unforgettable performance. Day Two headliners were Cali Roots veterans Dirty Heads on the CR Stage and Slightly Stoopid on the Bowl Stage — the perfect end to another successful day of music.
Rebelution closed out the final day of Cali Roots X and it was nothing short of incredible.
Day Three started out rainy and cold, but, like clockwork, the sun came out just as festivalgoers arrived back for the third and final day of music. So much goodness blessed our ears and eyes this weekend and there was still a whole entire day left. This day might have been the most stacked lineup out of them all. We arrived just in time to see Xiuhtezcatl, an incredible and, most importantly, socially-conscious 19-year-old musician, share the stage with Nahko Bear who helped sing his song, “Young”. Two artists emerging artists from Jamaica, Kabaka Pyramid and Jesse Royal, got things rolling on The Bowl Stage. I was particularly impressed with Kabaka Pyramid; although his set was at noon on Day Three, he still had the crowd jumping, dancing and singing along with him.
Collie Buddz easily stole the show on Day Three by passing out 1,000 pizzas, trying to feed every single person in the crowd for his set. It was definitely one of the most talked about and memorable things any artist did that weekend. One of my favorite sets of the weekend was Nahko and Medicine For The People. The rain started to pour down again during their set, but there were no worries, as people danced in the rain or shared umbrellas, continuing to sing along to Nahko’s oldies, new songs and even some songs unreleased. Alborosie is always a large presence at Cali Roots. His soulful energy and hypnotic lyrical cadence had the crowd swaying and listening intently to his powerful messages. At this point, people were “Still Blazing”, taking “Hits From the Bong”, preparing for Cypress Hill to take over the stage. Tired legs from the long weekend were no issue for fans as they jumped around to their timeless old-school hip hop. Two of the biggest reggae powerhouses in America ended the weekend. SOJA gave a beautiful performance featuring young artists, Xuihtezcatl and violinist Richard Vagner before they brought Nahko back out to join them for one of their hit songs, “I Believe”. SOJA could have easily been the festival headliners, but the night wasn’t over just yet! Rebelution closed out the final day of Cali Roots X and it was nothing short of incredible. From their shredding guitar solos, powerful horn sections and topnotch songwriting, they had the crowd chanting along to every song.
Before departing back to respective nooks and crannies of the world, the end of Reb’s set had some racing over to the final afterparty happening at The Jade Lounge across the street. Bret Bollinger and The Bad Habits called up several friends onstage (including KBong who crowdsurfed across the packed house), before The Elovaters entertained everyone as the weekend’s finalé performance… also calling up friends, like Tunnel Vision and movie star Peter Dante. What a night to behold and nobody wanted it to end. The 10th Annual California Roots was one for the books and Top Shelf Music cannot wait for the next 10!
In-article photography by Gia Krietzberg
Cover photography by Sean McCracken