Memorial Day weekend, Monterey Fairgrounds played host to the ninth annual, three-day reggae movement known as Cali Roots. In the three days, Grateful Web was at Cali Roots, there was one word we just kept hearing over and over again; “Homecoming.” From fans we met in the crowd to artists we spoke with behind the scenes, it seemed to be the magic word that everyone could relate to. But to say Cali Roots is a homecoming would be if anything, an understatement. There is a captivating aura throughout this festival unlike any other. It draws you in with open arms and instills a sense of family and community among those who attend. Artists who have performed in previous years such as Beebs, Alborosie, and Nahko (of Medicine for the People) could be seen wandering the fairgrounds as a friend of the festival as opposed to artists. Their presence was a constant reminder of the transcendent nature of the festival’s mission. In our time at Cali Roots, we experienced more than words could ever describe, and by the weekend’s end we truly felt changed and inspired to live every day of our lives with a little more love in our hearts.
The Cali Roots family came bright and early to celebrate day one. The line stretched around the fairgrounds as fans waited eagerly for the gates to open, some showing up hours beforehand. When Tropidelic inaugurated the Cali Roots stage to play the first song of the festival, the crowd looked healthy and fuller than a typical morning set. If one thing was immediately clear about Cali Roots 2018, it was that there would be no lack of enthusiasm.
The day featured artists young and old but particularly given credit to reggae artists from a generation ago. In the spirit of the second word of the festival’s name, Alpha Blondy and Steel Pulse represented the roots of reggae to a crowd made up mostly of people too young to have been around for the birth of the genre. Immediately after Alpha Blondy opened his set with an extended rendition of his song “Jerusalem,” we could feel the passion that had founded the reggae movement. Steel Pulse followed up this performance in support of classic reggae several hours later with a strong set of their own at the larger, Bowl stage.
Throughout the weekend, but especially the first day, artist Beebs had full control of the pop-up stage located in the center of the fairgrounds. Switching between acting as the stage’s emcee, performing her original music, and interviewing musicians throughout the day, she found a way to make herself the center of attention in the best way possible, all the while promoting her newest single “Life is too Short.” The center pop up stage was its community throughout the weekend. With more bean bag chairs set up than could be occupied, and live streams to many of the bands on the other stages, it became a natural spot to relax throughout the day.
Although Cali Roots is known for being a Reggae festival through and through, they always make a point to feature a healthy representation of rap and hip-hop. As the sun began to set, local hip-hop icon E-40 took the stage. From Mac Dre to G-Eazy, the Bay Area has a lengthy history of rappers to start their careers a few hours up the roads from Monterey, but arguably none have had more of an impact on the industry than this boy from Vallejo. Being a hometown crowd, the audience showed him all the love in the world as he played every hit from “Function” to “Choices.” Always eager to engage the audience, he was quick with commentary and memorable quotes throughout his set. Before launching into his single Snap Yo Fingers, he remarked to the audience about its inception, commenting that he and Little John “Came together like a booger to the nose” to make the single.
This was not the only rap act of the day. Directly supporting the headliner, Atmosphere gave a set on the Cali Roots stage that uplifted through positive and clear vocals. Halfway through their set, they surprised the crowd by inviting Brother Ali, who had already given a full and exciting set of his own earlier that day, onstage with them to perform a pair of songs with them.
The spirit of Cali Roots was epitomized in the middle of headliner Iration’s set. During a relatively slower song, a seemingly out of place cheer came from a group amidst the crowd. When we turned to see what prompted the excitement, whispers of “they got engaged” made their way throughout the crowd, supported by a couple hugging in the middle of the commotion. This sight was the perfect embodiment of the love the festival strives to promote.
Toward the end of the set, Iration singer Micah Pueschel announced to the audience “I feel that at a festival, Friday is when you go way too hard... and go out when you know you shouldn’t” We decided to interpret this as advice instead of a cautionary tale, and following his performance walked across the street to local music bar Planet Gemini to take in the official Cali Roots after party, headlined by yet another Bay Area legend, Del the Funky Homosapien.
Across the street, the venue was packed with fans and artists alike looking to unwind after a long day of reggae. Once again emceed by Beebs, she started the night with an acoustic set before allowing hip-hop duo Down to Earth to open for the headliner. Del’s set was incredibly well received by the crowd. An Oakland native known largely for his work with Gorillaz, Hieroglyphics, and countless others, he is arguably most celebrated as an icon for his dedication to his message and his refusal to sell out. Playing a mix of new and old songs, he went through his discography giving the crowd everything from “Mistadobalina” to a few freestyled bars. With Del’s set closing with the bars, the crowd could be heard voicing their satisfaction with the full day they had packed into day one of Cali Roots, and their excitement for what was in store for the rest of the weekend.