The California Roots Festival Legacy, and Their New “Virtual” Concert for the World

By: Brendan Clemente

It’s an odd feeling not heading to Monterey this year for the iconic California Roots Music and Arts Festival. The festival has been a tradition for me and my wife the past nine years in a row, and the feeling that something important is missing has weighed heavily on us this week. As the weekend quickly approaches, it becomes more and more real that we won’t be making the journey this year.

There will be no lines of smiling faces excited to enter the fairgrounds as soon as the gates swing open; no electricity in the air as thousands of people from all over the world arrive to experience the magic; no standing in the crowd with your best friends as the sounds of your favorite bands wash over you like a warm blanket; and no sharing loving embraces with people who have become family over the years.

No, this year it will be different. The serene coastal town is going to remain mostly quiet as the cool spring air gives way to warmer summer breezes, and what would’ve been the festival’s eleventh anniversary will be postponed.

It’s tough to put into words just how much this festival means to me, and to so many other people. The first time I went I was just a kid living by the beach in San Diego, hoping to see some great music and go on a fun road trip. I ended up spending most of that weekend with the girl that I would eventually start dating and marry, and had one of the best times of my life at the historic fairgrounds.

We vowed to go back every year and celebrate, and we did. Over time I got more and more involved with the festival, and was fortunate enough to become close with the lovely and tight-knit team that runs it. I soon found myself writing about it as a blogger, and even had the amazing chance to play the fest a couple times over the years.

As staff, we refer to Cali Roots as a “family reunion”, because we’ve all grown so close to each other over time. Every May we travel from various parts of the country and world to help put this amazing event on, and walk into the fairgrounds to witness the familiar sights and sounds, as cheerful memories from years past flood into our consciousness.

For all the incredible fans who attend the festival the feeling is similar, hugging and reuniting with friends they’ve made over the years, and experiencing the unique magic that makes it all so special. California Roots is so much more than just a music festival – it’s a celebration, it’s a living, it’s a way of life, it’s a reunion, it’s a therapy session, and so much more.

It’s the place we go to forget about our problems for a few days and remind ourselves of the true joys of living; it’s a place where we erase the imaginary lines that divide us, and come together to celebrate our favorite things in life as a team and family; it’s a place where everyone, from the fan attending for the first time to the founders of the festival, share the same love for music and this scene, and it shines through brilliantly in every single detail of the weekend.

And when an event like this spans more than a decade as Cali Roots has, the connections are even deeper and more powerful. We’ve all been through a lot together, and in a way, you literally grew up with these people, and had the pleasure of seeing each other change and grow over the years. Sometimes it meant brand new lives coming along for the journey; other times it meant shedding tears for loved ones who weren’t with us anymore.

The words I’m writing now won’t do California Roots any real justice – there’s simply no way to describe it that will ever accurately portray the overwhelming feelings of love and gratitude I have when we step into the fairgrounds each May. Just thinking about it right now is bringing tears of joy to my eyes, looking back on all the incredible memories we’ve shared, and realizing how many of the most special and important parts of my life live with California Roots.

There’s nothing we can do to change the fact that it won’t be the same this year. But I think it’s important to remember that the reason this festival is so special is because of the beautiful people that make it up – the fans, the staff, the friends, the family, the vendors, and the artists. Although we can’t be together in person, we can all still be there for each other, and do our best to find the silver lining in this whole thing.

This is why I’m so excited about “Can’t Stop the Music”, the virtual online festival Cali Roots put together for us to enjoy this weekend. No, it won’t be the same as being there in person, but just think of how many people around the world will be tuning in and smiling as they relive the beautiful sights and sounds of some of their favorite performances from over the years, and even hear some new ones that we can all enjoy for the first time together from our homes.

I look forward to the day that we can share a warm smile and embrace in person, as well as continue creating amazing new memories at California Roots. But for now, let’s do our best to collectively broadcast to the world the love, good vibes, and incredible music that this festival embodies. Let’s lift each other up, and be the reason for each other’s smiles!

Festival Merch