By: Paige Hawkins
Welcome to the tenth annual California Roots everyone, the weekend is finally here and I think we can all agree that day one was phenomenal! You could feel the frenzy in the air yesterday morning as strangers sang, jammed and connected with each other in line as they waited impatiently to get into the fairgrounds. The Cali Roots magic was in the air from the second the gates opened as the crowd came in waving flags, totems and in one case even a Rasta-themed frame painted, “reconnecting through peace and reggae,” to show their excitement and spirit. As soon as people got in they started taking pictures with the Cali Roots X at the entrance, everyone clearly excited to be part of the tenth anniversary of the festival and feeling the good vibes from the get-go. The painter at the entrance immediately snagged the attention of the masses streaming through the gates as they walked by with wide eyes, staring at the Cali Roots creation coming to life in front of them before they went to explore and make the weekend their own.
The music started off with For Peace Band at the Cali Roots stage, and their set was the perfect introduction to the weekend. The melodic beats slowly pulled in a bigger and bigger crowd, and the soulfully raspy vocals of their drummer, Freddy Bordallo, smoothly transitioned the set from low-key reggae to more upbeat, playful tunes. Next was Fiji in the Bowl, and his fusion of R&B, classic reggae and hip hop gives him a unique sound that drew everyone in. He gave me chills every time he hit his amazing high notes and kept us all dancing by belting out crowd pleasers and covers that we couldn’t help but sing along with like, “Do it Again,” and “Angel.” Swaying along with the crowd it was easy to feel the love Fiji felt for us when he told us all know how grateful he was to be performing at Cali Roots for the first time. It felt like we were all meant to be there in that moment together, experiencing Cali Roots with Fiji for the first time as a community.
Ballyhoo! Was next at the Cali Roots stage, and their set blew me away. Continuing the theme of keeping the audience involved and interactive, their punk-infused reggae vibes swept through the audience in high-energy waves, inviting people to sing along and wave their hands in the air, (almost like they just don’t care). Inflatable joints bounced on top of the crowd and Rasta flags waved as people skipped and danced through the masses of people to the beat, unable to resist the vibes radiating from the band. That joyfulness continued through to the next act at the Bowl Stage, Don Carlos, who branched off from Slightly Stoopid to perform solo this year. Starting off the set by remind the audience, “don’t forget the message in the music and the music in the message,” he emanated the spirit of Cali Roots. We all got more and more excited as the hypnotic intensity of the music kept everyone dancing and on their feet, including the live painter onstage. Vibing with the music in tones of cool aqua and vibrant pink, the artist became part of the music and the performance, adding another level for the audience that is unique to the Cali Roots experience. Like Fiji, Don Carlos ended his set by giving some of his love to us and letting us know how grateful he was to be part of California Roots. He finished by passionately telling us, “there’s really no place like California. I love California, and I love the people of California,” and Don Carlos, I can promise that the community of California Roots loves you too.
After Don Carlos I spent some time wandering the festival grounds and checking out some of the vendors, artists and experiences that Cali Roots provided us this year. There were consistent interviews and acoustic sets at Smkflwr Village, with the wonderful and colorful Beebs getting some insights into artists like The Expendables and Common Kings. Beebs gives the fans insight into the artists’ experiences, and it was especially touching to hear her and Common Kings discuss how their success is representative of reggae success as a whole. It’s like every part of the festival is designed to foster a feeling of community and togetherness, and the importance of family seeps through every aspect of California Roots because this community is a family. During their acoustic set the Expendables made sure to talk about the value of the festival for them after ten years and how it, “provides music for the soul.” From security guards to media to merchandise staff to the artists, California Roots is a time for coming home and connecting with our reggae clan, and it’s easy to see how the importance of that feeling permeates every aspect of the festival.
The Skints performed at the Cali Roots stage after Don Carlos, and their set was definitely a standout of the day. Described by Clash music as the, “torchbearers for modern British Reggae music,” their return to Cali Roots pumped up the crowd as they explained that this performance was basically their headline of their tour of the west coast. Their unique vibe was incredibly chill but also high-energy, making you think of something intensely cinematic and grand while retaining the down-to-earth qualities of reggae music. The spotlight on keyboardist Marcia Richards blew the crowd away. Her lightning-speed vocals kept the crowd basically hypnotized, emanating a witchy kind of magic that transported us to a different universe as she moved between keyboard, vocals and saxophone with ease.
The Green, Common Kings, Atmosphere, Ben Harper and Stick Figure were the next bands up and and we all got pumped up. With crowds stretching to the back of the Bowl and filling up the entirety of the Cali Roots stage, you could tell that everyone was feeling the party vibes. Stick Figure was the headliner of the night, and people were talking about how amazing they were far through Saturday afternoon. Their ceiling of lasers lit up the whole bowl, and they brought up artists like Half Pint, TJ O’Neill, Collie Buds, Slightly Stoopid and even their dog Cocoa. As the crowd sang along with the music and got into the experience, little kids rolled and screamed in the grass and festie besties got more and more hyped up and into the music. People threaded themselves through the crowds to get the best view, and we all stayed excited and in the moment as peace, good vibes and great music rolled over us like a Monterey wave. Slug, the vocalist of Atmosphere summed up the entirety of the day as he gleefully shouted out to all of us, “I’m having a great day and I’m happy to be alive!” If the first day is any sign of what’s to come, we’re all in for one hell of a weekend.