Cali fest looks Ja's way

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Cali fest looks Ja's way

Observer senior writer

Thursday, January 23, 2020

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A respectable audience of 1,700 turned out for the California Roots Music and Arts Festival in Monterey 10 years ago. Then, it was a one-day event that featured largely unknown American bands.

It has evolved into California Roots, a three-day concert that showcases top reggae acts from the United States and Jamaica. Its home remains Monterey, an iconic city in central California where Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin got their big break 53 years ago.

This year's event is scheduled for May 22-24, with its line-up again studded by American acts who have dominated the Billboard Reggae Albums Chart for the past decade. One of those, Tribal Seeds, appeared on the first California Roots in 2010.

While other US artistes like Rebelution, J Boog, The Movement, Stick Figure, The Green, The Expendables, Common Kings and Hirie are also on the card, several Jamaican acts will be featured this year. They include Chronixx, Tarrus Riley and EarthKry (on opening day); Sean Paul (second day) and Damian “Junior Gong” Marley and Jimmy Cliff, who perform on closing day.

That represents an increase of one in Jamaican artistes over last year. In 2019, Don Carlos, Jo Mersa Marley, Kabaka Pyramid, Protoje and Jesse Royal were on the show, as well as Grammy-winning British band Steel Pulse.

Dan Sheehan is co-producer of California Roots, which is organised by Ineffable Music Group, a California-based company that also manages Stick Figure and Bermudan singer Collie Buddz. He told the Jamaica Observer, that it is important to strike the right balance in terms of performers.

“We strive to bring Jamaican acts to the festival. It's a fine balance to have the acts like Rebelution and Stick Figure as well as Tarrus Riley, Sean Paul, and EarthKry. I also think it's very important to have legends like Jimmy Cliff to educate the fans on the roots of reggae,” he said.

Recently, Steel Pulse lead singer and rhythm guitarist David Hinds pointed to a disparity between American and Jamaican acts on American reggae festivals, especially in California, which has been traditionally receptive to the latter for over 30 years. Pioneer festivals Reggae On The River and the Sierra Neva Music Festival have showcased the best in roots-reggae from Jamaica, but no longer have that impact.

California Roots, Sheehan pointed out, has long shed the tag of fledgling. Attracting big names like Marley, Rebelution, Chronixx and Tarrus Riley on the same line-up is proof of that.

“We have become the biggest reggae festival in the United States. It's not because we sell the most tickets; it's because when you mention the name Cali Roots to anyone that knows reggae in the US they know our brand and festival,” he explained. “The vibe and energy separate us from the rest.”

Last year's show, May 24-26, also fielded Ben Harper, Rebelution, Slightly Stoopid, UB40 (with Ali and Astro), Matisyahu and Alborosie. It drew over 13,000 fans, the largest draw since California Roots' inception.

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