As fans came to the Monterey Fairgrounds for the second day of the California Roots Festival, it had a day-one energy to it. Some were still recovering from the extra day the festival had been given the day prior, and some filtered in throughout the day as they got off of work for the weekend, but all were excited for what the second day had in store for them.
Appropriately enough, hailing from Santa Cruz, just an hour up the road, The Expendables were the first band of the day to truly pack the bowl stage with thousands in attendance filling in as far as the eye could see. From the first notes of “Down Down Down” the audience could tell they were in for an upbeat and unforgettable show. The band was as animated as could be from “Sacrifice” to “Ganja Smugglin’” and kept their flow from beginning to end. Friend of The Expendables, Cali Roots, and the entire state of California, Dan Kelly of Fortunate Youth, joined the band onstage to help end their set with “Bowl for Two.” Kelly was far from the only one singing along with the band as the whole audience as the entire crowd joined in to sing the lyrics “I packed this bowl for two, and I want to share it with you.”
In organizing a music festival, there is almost never a day where issues don’t arise, but how those in charge are able to overcome these complications are what define their reputation. At the last minute, Jamaican superstar Cronixx was forced to bow out of his performance due to travel complications. With limited time to find a comparable replacement, Dan Sheehan and company asked Bermudia’s Collie Buddz to step in and play an extra show on Friday in addition to his already billed performance set for the next day. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, but rather embraced this additional performance with as much enthusiasm as they had any artist onstage that day. Collie Buddz’s legacy is as intertwined with Cali Roots’ as anyone’s but one of his greatest contributions, the 2020 collaboration he pioneered, “Cali Roots Riddim” was given it’s first opportunity to present itself on full display in front of a live audience. Collecting almost two dozen Cali Roots veteran acts to write their own lyrics to a beat he created, the album reminded fans of just how synonymous Cali Roots is with the reggae community. Several artists took this as their opportunity to perform their songs off the album for the first time in front of a crowd at the Monterey Fairgrounds, but Collie’s rendition of “Hold Firm,” his single from the album, was powerful to finally hear out loud.
Cali Roots has always had a tradition of including many hip hop artists in their lineup, but Midwest duo Atmosphere has arguably the longest-standing relationship in the genre with the Cali Roots family, playing countless shows at the Cali Roots festival and it’s affiliated spin-offs. Vocalist Slug’s charisma carried the show from the minute his feet touched the stage, walking on flashing the peace sign on his way up and holding it throughout much of his set. In a show that was equally curated for lifelong fans as well as first time listeners, the setlist consisted of the most popular hits including “The Best Day,” “Sunshine,” and “God Loves Ugly” as well as many heartfelt words and thank you’s to the audience.
Closing out the Cali roots stage for the day, one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend, Pepper, took the stage for a truly memorable and heartfelt performance. The set was rousing with no glaring setlist omissions from their new or old discography, fans sang along to every song from “B.O.O.T.” to “Ashes” throughout the whole show. Fans of the band know that the heart of their music comes from the friendship between Kaley, Brett, and Ye, but on this day they welcomed a new member to the family. Midway through the show, Kaleo introduced a new member of the Pepper Ohana, Jeff Nisen, who had been contributing to the show on a raised platform next to Ye, playing guitar and keys all show long. The last few minutes of Pepper’s set felt a little like the vibe at a Wu-Tang concert, following the mantra of bringing everyone they could up onstage. During “Warning” members of a plethora of bands to play the festival performed verses to help close out the show including Dirty Heads, The Elovaters, Kash’d Out, Tunnel Vision, Fortunate Youth, and many more joined Pepper onstage to all sing a verse or pick up an instrument. The set ended on a sobering note. Fans of reggae all mourned the passing of Andy Chaves, the frontman of Katastro, in the days leading up to Cali Roots. In tribute, Pepper ended their set with a video montage of Chaves’ life set to his music while the artists and audience watched in reverence of a man who had impacted them all on such a profound level.
Longtime in-house headliner for Cali Roots, Rebelution, closed day two on the Bowl stage. Having headlined every Cali Roots since 2016 and several years before that, the band has been a pillar of the Cali Roots family and seen their careers grow with the festivals in front of the fans they share. Taking the stage to start with “Count Me In” the floor belonged to Eric Rachmany and company as they spun a new twist on a familiar set. A man of few words, Rachmany wasted no time on extravagant speeches or heartfelt audience addresses, he gave plenty of time to fill the set with every hit and single including “Celebrate,” Feeling Alright,” and “Fade Away” but he did have some words for the audience claiming during Pretty Lady “I love this festival because it mixes the modern, reggae American scene with the legends of reggae music.” In a set that gave every member of the band their moment in the limelight, the solos performed by saxophonist Eric Hirschhorn defined the enthusiasm of the show. Effortlessly moving his 10 pounds of brass with him while he danced around the stage embodied not just the mood of their set, but of the whole festival. Rebelution ended the night on an optimistic note with “Sky Is the Limit,” taking a while to bow and thank the crowd after their performance. As the crowd left the fairgrounds they could only feel encouraged that there was still half the festival left to go.
Check out more photos from Day 2 at Cali Roots 2022.