WHEN YOU ASK ORGANIZER DAN SHEEHAN WHAT MAKES THE CALIFORNIA ROOTS MUSIC AND ART FESTIVAL SINGLE, he talks about how attendees can catch every set (there are no overlapping performances) and the festival’s commitment to sustainability before settling on a simpler, albeit multi-dimensional answer -” the atmosphere”. Various images come to mind: colorful clothing and art; of a large crowd swaying to a beating rhythm inspired by the islands. But what exactly is the vibe? And how does he define this long-standing festival?
CALI ROOTS, AS IT IS FAMILIARLY KNOWN, STARTED AS A ONE-DAY LOCAL MUSIC EVENT IN 2010; now it’s the biggest reggae festival in the US Since then, a whole new generation of Californian reggae bands have exploded, and now, as the 11th annual festival approaches (the 2020 and 2021 editions have been canceled) , Cali Roots is a great mix of both the coastal vibe of California and the sounds of the Caribbean.
Angel Raygoza, 31, was “lucky to see some of that growth,” he says. A resident of Bakersfield, he heard good things about Cali Roots before he even decided to go in 2013.
“I loved the lineup,” he says of his initial decision to buy a ticket. He was already a reggae fan – enjoying the music of San Diego’s Slightly Stoopid and Bob Marley, naturally. But what he got out of the experience turned out to be much more than the musical acts. “It was my first time camping at a festival and experiencing that kind of community,” Raygoza says. There were people from Orange County, but also people from Colorado and other states. “All types of people,” he says. “I’ve seen everyone from one-year-olds, with their ears protected, to grandmas and grandpas. Most people are in their 20s and 30s, but it’s not just limited to that age group.
Since then, Raygoza has made it an annual tradition to hit Cali Roots with a small group of friends from Bakersfield. He even met his best friend, Heather Bryan, through Cali Roots. She was looking to make it to the 2017 festival, her first. She found one.
NO ONE KNOWS MORE ABOUT CALI ROOTS than Sheehan, who took over in the festival’s third year and has been running it ever since.
“Two years is a long time,” he comments, of the festival’s forced hiatus due to Covid. He’s been sitting on the current lineup for two years, trying to keep everything in line, “starting and stopping, starting and stopping,” which is “mentally taxing,” he says. All it wants is the best and safest experience it can provide for attendees. This year there will be a Covid testing station and a ‘clear bag’ policy to maximize visitor safety, both due to reduced touchpoints (Covid) and the need to avoid weapons .
But when the fans show up on festival weekend, all the starts, stops and expectations fade away. “This year will be no different than previous years,” says Sheehan, promising the same “organic feeling that gets people excited.”
Sheehan’s love for reggae is lifelong, although he also loves country and Americana these days. He grew up in Hawaii and the first band he mentions is Burning Spear, then “Bob”, obviously, in reference to reggae pioneer Bob Marley.
“We were the only ones in the country doing something like that,” he says of Cali Roots’ early days. Now, there are few similar festivals across the county, but they don’t attract 11,000 people like Cali Roots does.
It’s hard to put a label on ‘vibe’, although there are certain elements – location, sound, community – that help describe it. Reggae is the heartbeat, and a visual art component has also been present from the start – as have other musical genres including rock, hip-hop and more.
“We avoid politics,” Sheehan says when asked about the revolutionary content that is characteristic of reggae music. At the same time, musicians and bands bring with them all sorts of messages, political or otherwise.
“We have a distinct vibe,” Sheehan says of the event. “Jamaica, Miami – they have their own vibe, but it’s very Cali, a new style of reggae, not urban but played near the ocean.”
Location is also important, certainly for fans like Raygoza. Monterey County Fairgrounds is where Jimmy Hendrix gave his most iconic performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. It’s hard not to think about it when you stroll through the fairgrounds, says Raygoza.
Additionally, the relatively small size of the festival grounds contributes to the sense of community that Raygoza values. “It’s a small space, so inevitably you run into the same people,” he says. “There’s a whole online community of people who have met there, so I go there not only with my friends but to see friends. It’s a family reunion.
Finally, for Raygoza (and a few lucky Bakersfield reggae fans he’s bringing with him – they’ll drive together and camp at Laguna Seca) a weekend in Monterey sounds like the promise of a glass of ice-cold, or ice-cold, water. beer, or whatever you chose for a refreshment. Her crew enjoys the Monterey Peninsula for being a cool getaway, and Cali Roots for being a mellow space in which to cool off – physically and mentally.
There’s more than music on tap at Cali Roots.
CALI ROOTS AND ITS SIGNATURE VIBE, is not limited to music. Each year, the organizers bring in a host of artists and vendors from all over, as well as a few local names. So if you need a break from the groups, are looking to experience something new, or find a souvenir to take home, it’s all on offer.
First, to start your day filled with music and art, the festival organizes yoga and sound healing experiences from 10am to 10:30am on the pop-up stage. Sound healing promises to “rejuvenate your nervous system” on Thursday and Saturday mornings, and yoga takes place on Fridays and Sundays.
Local artists featured this year include muralist Arsene Baca and screen printer Chris Powers. Both are part of The shopan artist collective and commercial space based in Monterey. Dirty Girl Plant Co. and Jessica Ansberry of Progress not perfectiona group that organizes “painting parties” stimulating creativity for artists and non-artists, will also be part of the festival.
Meanwhile, on the retail front, a handful of local names are popping up among the many makers of reggae- and reggae-centric apparel, jewelry and art from across the state and nation. . These include hand-poured candles from Johnny Wickshandcrafted and nature-inspired jewelry by Leah Mark Designs and original illustrations (plus some clothes) by Salinas marbled art.
Last but not least: where to turn when you are hungry (or thirsty)? Among the locals on this year’s food vendor list are Mikey Baroni and his pedal-powered cafe Nitrocycle, offering a dose of caffeine or smooth, nitrogenous fresh juice. Farmer’s Market Favorite Central Coast Pizza will be throwing the dough, and Barbecue Casas De Humo is also handy when nothing but ‘cue will do.
CALIFORNIA ROOTS MUSIC AND ARTS FESTIVAL takes place from Thursday to Sunday from May 26 to 29. Monterey County Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairground Road, Monterey. $141/general admission Thursday; $177/Friday-Sunday. Four-day passes are sold out. californiarootsfestival.com.