By CASEY M. WALKER
Known simply as “Reggae” by the Humboldt County locals, Reggae on the River is perhaps the longest running reggae festival in the states. Starting in 1984 with headliners The Itals and The Meditations, advance tickets were only a whopping $12 in advance and $15 at the gate for the 1-day event.
Thirty-three years later it has turned into a 3-plus day event. The plus is for those who wish to arrive early for choice parking and camping, which will become little to none as people literally flock from across the nation as well as from across the globe to attend Reggae on the River – those that are in the know plan year round just to go to Reggae.
Last year, I arrived Friday evening, pulled up at will call and claimed our 3 day event wristbands. By the grace of Jah, we were able to secure a decent camping spot and parking onsight. Immediatly after setting up, Irie Adina and I walked towards Center Beach where Clay and his 1973 Greyhound Buffalo bus are situated, along with the purple turbo sound system.
ROTR is just off the long 101 Freeway, when headed north, it’s just past the Mendocino County line – Southern Humboldt County at French’s Camp near Piercy. Situated about 45 minutes inland, and in a valley, the weather is usually hot in the day but gets an occassional breeze. Of course the mighty Eel river runs ever so slowly just beyond a myriad of tents and canopies draped with Rasta colours. The river is the sensible refuge from the elements of the Northern California sun. There is a reason why high grade herbs are grown so successfully up here and the Mountain spring water and an abundance of wonderful sunshine are the reason why.
My two favorite parts of the river, besides the bowl, where the stage and food vendors setup – are south and center beach – which, in my opinion, are very exclusive locations Reggae, both day and night. Of course by day which I mentioned is a relief from the heat but at night after the live music ends comes the sounds of Clay from the Bay (BTown Massive – Cloud9 Collective) with his thunderous Wicked Purple Turbo Soundsystem, spinning Dub classics along with underground sounds from his deep library of hard hitting tunes. Then over at South Beach run by the Humboldt contingent called Rude Lion, is like a night club on a Saturday – only the music is spinning until sunrise. The light shows at both Center and South beach are impressive in their own rights.
Friday evening on the main stage, Nattali Rize, Perfect Giddimani and Kabaka Pyramid with Walshy Fire brought roots, rock and conscious riddims as the sun went down. Kabaka Pyramid and Walshy Fire were a standout performance, using turntablism as part of the musical journey they took me on. He even played the epic classic lp of Sizzla that came out in 2007 and literally – with this one album – changed the game of reggae music. Then he played One Love by Bob Marley as eveyone sang along and when he dropped the music out – the crowd carried the One Love message and as Kabaka held the microphone out to the crowd, it was quite the moment. Kabaka shouted – “Accurate!” which is his “catch phrase” that he uses on many of his big tunes.
The stagelights came on as the night fell, and Stick Figure came on the stage – they drifted into deep trance-like dubs while Cocoa the Dog loyally lays by the feet of his human companions. Cocoa the Dog is quite the added attraction to Stick Figure, and has reached a celebrity status himself – he even has his own Instagram page @cocoathetourdog.
For me, the choice afterparty was at Center Beach and was the scene of people dancing til the break of dawn to the sweet purple sound system and music provided by various guest djs, but the sunrise was brought in by DJ Clay with deep rare reggae grooves the likes of the Abyssinians , Third World (Now That We’ve Found Love) and other rootsy tunes.
Reggae was a perfect blend of old an new – with the likes of Winston Jarrett and the Burning Flames performing, along with J Boog and Slightly Stoopid. Winston Jarrett was really dropping wisdom on the press corps during his press conference – it was like sitting in church!! J Boog was so humble – stating that years ago he was a fan just like all of us, and now he’s onstage worldwide and couldn’t be more humble!! On Saturday, Slightly Stoopid did a great rendition of Franklin’s Tower which was well received by the fans – a lot of whom are crossover Deadheads!
The empresses really made this Reggae on the River impressive and memorable. From Nattali Rize, to Marla Brown (daughter of beloved Dennis Brown), to Dezarie (who stole the show Sunday afternoon), to Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths who culminated the weekends festivities by closing the show Sunday night. Marla Brown did her father’s memory justice, commanding the stage – her strong voice emanating from her small frame was surprising! Dezarie truly stole the show on Sunday afternoon, with the Midnite band including Bassy Benjamin backing her – the Trinidad Heatwave was in full force and effect!! She sang hit after hit – and the audience was completely entranced by her enchanting melodies and words. Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffits with Sly & Robbie Stone were like the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae – if the sundae was the weekend!
Now with less than week away til Reggae on the River – Time to Wash, Rinse and Repeat!! I can’t wait as it’s going to be a really rootsy affair! Visit California Rocker again soon to read my report on Reggae 34!!