Cali Roots 2023 | Day One | Recap

Article Contributed by Nick Gumas | Published on Thursday, June 15, 2023

The twelfth annual California Roots Festival came and went this year leaving a mark on all who attended from near and far. The annual family reunion for the Reggae community featured many of the classic names we have come so accustomed to seeing on the marque while welcoming in a few new faces, including some of the most inspirational names in early Hip Hop from Hieroglyphics to The Wu-Tang Clan. While the lineup fostered inspiration for a fun-filled weekend, it was clear that the festival had evolved. Some changes came in the form of general housekeeping in staying pace with higher overall industry standards of quality, but some may have left some wondering if those leading their movement were still catering to the counterculture.

Fans Embrace the Livestream | California Roots | Monterey, Ca

There were many factors in the weeks leading up to the festival that left some longtime fans anxious that the culture had shifted too drastically. In the weeks leading up to the festival, Cali Roots announced that they would no longer be live streaming their festival as they had in years past. This was coupled with the increased ticket cost for this year’s festival of $460 for a weekend pass. For context, the competing Bottlerock festival taking place at the same time just a few hours North in Napa cost just $430 and featured artists such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Post Malone, and even Cali Roots headlining act The Wu-Tang Clan. This left many wondering if the beloved Monterey Classic would have the same soul and spirit of inclusion as had in years past. Thankfully, in the eleventh hour, many of these fears were quickly dispelled. In a heartfelt message delivered on social media, festival promoter Dan Sheehan gave an emotional sermon where he reflected on messages he had received regarding the impact their live stream had made on the global music community over the years. This revelation prompted the reinstatement of the beloved Livestream, a decision that received universal positive response. This choice not only impacted those watching at home but the aura of the festival itself. The knowledge that the experience was shared not just by the 10,000 or so at the Monterey Fairgrounds, but by bleeding-heart fans across the world fortified the sense of community we have known to rely on in the Reggae community. Just the feeling of being a part of something more universal than a localized music festival, but a worldwide movement was expressed by fans and called out by artists throughout the weekend.

Mihali Savoulidis | Cali Roots | Monterey, Ca

Primed to perform on the festival’s largest platform to date, many artists gave performances that fell nothing short of transcendent and told the story of their life’s work. When summarizing the story of history, many start with ancient Greece. In that context, it feels appropriate that the story of this festival began with the music of our Hellenic brother Mihali Savoulidis. In an energetic introduction from the emcee, he highlighted some of the publications to give acclaim to Savoulidis’ recent albums, Grateful Web appreciatively receiving a shoutout. Taking center stage and beginning his set with his 2022 single “Greater Escape.” The song choice felt appropriate given the two projects who originally featured on the single, The Movement and The Elovaters, also shared space on the weekend’s lineup. The Vermont-based artist showed growth as a solo performer that juxtaposed his time as frontman of Twiddle, yet still stayed true to his talents. While most of his set time was planned from a setlist, he and his accompanying musicians still took time to extemporize and trailed off into several long jams, letting loose and remembering to enjoy themselves along the way. Among his company onstage, Mihali invited members of SOJA onstage to perform with him for much of his set; Trumpeter Rafael Rodriguez and Saxaphonist Hellman Escoria, priming the audience for their set later in the day. He ended his set on an optimistic note, playing the crowd off with his lyrically-driven 2020 single, “Enemies.”

SOJA | Cali Roots | Monterey, Ca

Rodriguez and Escoria returned to the Bowl stage later in the day with their full band, eight-piece figurehead of the Reggae community, SOJA. Frontman Jacob Hemphill expressed his pleasure to be back at the Fairgrounds, reminding the crowd that they had not played at Cali Roots since before the pandemic, claiming that the time in between their performances was “too long.” Beginning their set with “You Don’t Know Me” the videos projected onstage showed countless members of the audience singing along to their lyrics, reminding everyone of the impact this band has had on the genre. Their set came full circle to the beginning of the day, as they invited Mihali back onstage to perform “Back to the Start” alongside them. The onstage collaborations did not end there, as several other artists were brought onstage to perform with the group including Common Kings for “It’s Funny” and Anuhea for “Easier.” The set featured almost every song that the audience could have hoped for, including “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” “Here I Am,” and “Rest of My Life” before ending with “Not Done Yet.”

A Tearful Michael Franti | Cali Roots | Monterey, Ca

Bay Area native Michael Franti made the short drive down from his hometown of Oakland and closed out the Cali Roots stage with his brand of inspiring and uplifting music which felt like a beacon of enlightenment even in a Reggae festival. His set began with an emotional and inspiring video highlighting his evolution since the pandemic, remembering the family and friends he had lost in that time as well as the ways he had grown, claiming there were many things he had “learned, burned, and earned.” He noted reminding himself that when live music finally returned, it would be the sign of a new tomorrow. He appropriately started his performance with “I’m Alive” to punctuate all he had learned to be grateful for. Franti’s demeanor quickly turned and heavy tears started rolling down his face when he brought attention to the empty seat beside him. He informed the audience that in the hours before his set, his best friend of several decades and bassist of his accompanying band Spearhead, Carl Young, was rushed to the hospital with heart issues and spoke about the relationship between the two. He then stressed the importance of coming together for those we love and made frequent trips through the audience during his set to hug and high-five the fans who he thanked for supporting his passion through the years. He then identified a member of the audience wearing a shirt from his first tour and invited them onstage, presenting them with a microphone, and asking them to sing along throughout his performance of “The Sound of Sunshine.” The hat Franti wore throughout his set, reading simply “Stay Human” embodied his message both in music and in life, as he brought the crowd together in spirit through his music. The show ended with a bid to inspire the next generation as he invited every child in the audience onstage with him to sing along to “Say Hey (I Love You.)” Noticing there were a few minutes left allotted in his time, the band elected to give the audience their full money’s worth and repeated the chorus over and over until the last moment they could.

Rebelution | Cali Roots | Monterey, Ca

The night ended with a scene comforting to everyone who has ever attended Cali Roots in the past. A group that has become almost like a homegrown Cali Roots’ in-house headliner, Rebelution, performed a show that felt so familiar, but never stale. Beginning their show with De-Stress, the audience breathed a collective sigh of relief as soon as it was apparent that the beloved aesthetic and tone of the band remained on point. Frontman Eric Rachmany addressed the audience to thank them for their dedication early on stating “I think we’re coming up on 20 years of being a band… Thank you for all the memories, thank you for all the contact highs, thank you, Cali Roots.” The band took some creative liberties with their classics, notably when performing a 50’s style melody to introduce their hit “Fade Away” reminding the audience of the love they had shared throughout so many decades. Rachmany fully took charge of his platform for a moment during the set, a lone spotlight illuminating him as the rest of the stage went dark as he serenaded the crowd by himself during the introduction of “Feeling Alright.” The band’s theatrics flared as many members left the stage after an instrumental solo during “Sky is the Limit.” The band returned for an encore that drove the night home, ending the first day of the ambitious weekend with an acoustic rendition of “Healing,” then the full band joined in to play “Satisfied” and finally closed with “Roots Reggae Music.”

Security Stays Focused | California Roots | Monterey, Ca

Check out more photos from Day One of Cali Roots 2023.