Day three of Cali Roots X was a roller coaster, bringing more excitement and stress on the powers that be than possibly any other day in the festival’s decade of success. For starters, the weather forecast for the day was inconsistent at best. Conflicting reports seemed to pop up throughout the night before and the morning of. Some news outlets reported possible light showers; some went as far as to suggest a chance of thunder. Either way, the uncertainty mounted as the day moved forward.
In an unfortunate Cali Roots first, UB40, the band set to close out the Cali Roots stage for the weekend, canceled due to medical circumstances well after the bands that day had already begun to play. While this through much of the day out of whack, there was one golden nugget that came out of it. Over the years, one thing that has made Cali Roots so special was the fact that due to carful scheduling, one could theoretically see every performance start to finish, assuming foot traffic conditions made that possible. UB40’s cancelation led to a rearranging of the day’s set times overlapping several high-profile acts’ performances, making this no longer possible. This was an interesting thing to see in the context of the festival’s development, as despite the growing entertainment options, no stage seemed devoid of viewers. Audiences flocked to both stages in volumes so dense it made one wonder how this venue could have intended support this capacity with only one active stage going at a time. This, of course, screams the question that Cali Roots goers have been whispering for years; has California Roots finally outgrown the physical limitations of the Monterey Fairgrounds? Regardless of what lies on the horizon for Cali Roots, day three of 2019 was an unforgettable experience in and of itself.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez performed Sunday morning on the Cali Roots stage just as the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds. In a set full of incredibly conscious hip hop, he set the tone for his standard narrative of supporting his ingenious agenda and reminded the audience that the festival was taking place on “stolen land.” His family ties close to his heart, he performed his whole set alongside his sister who sang backup vocals, and was eventually joined by fellow Native American musician and activist Nahko Bear, often referred to by Xiuhtezcatl as an older brother figure, to perform their song “Young.”
While his beard was much shorter than it was when he originally took these songs to the studio almost 15 years ago, Matisyahu’s rendition of his breakthrough “Live at Stubb’s” album was well received. Reggae has always by nature been a spiritual genre, but Matisyahu’s lyrics promoting his heritage as a Hasidic Jew lent a worldly perspective to the entire weekend. The decision to play this very traditional and meaningful album as opposed to a set full of his more popular singles was a peaceful reminder of the meaning behind this music.
Collie Buddz, an artist who has long since been known to play the closest one could get to a “bad boy” type, emerged throughout this festival a changed man. Having seemingly performed in every other set throughout the weekend as a featured act, his personal set demonstrated just why so many of his peers gave him their admiration. He won the crowd over with not just his music, but his personality and generosity. Delivering a set of his own that included all of his hits and then some, he announced halfway through his show that he had bought the entire bowl stage pizza, as his crew came through the pit with hundreds of cardboard boxes, distributing them to the crowd behind the barricade.
Cypress Hill’s set having been moved to the final timeslot on their stage was preluded by an unexpected introduction, a DJ set by Beastie Boy Mix Master Mike, a surprise that justified the schedule change that allowed them to headline the Cali Roots stage. After the crowd’s hip hop muscles were good and limber, Mix Master Mike stayed onstage to accompany the rest of the band. Cypress Hill’s set billed as a performance of their breakthrough 1993 album “Black Sunday” did not disappoint. Vocalist B-Reel emerged from behind the stage, joint the size of a hot dog in hand, opening the set with the anthem for their movement “I wanna get high.” After they played Black Sunday in full, the band let themselves loose, filling in the rest of their set with some of their biggest hits from across generations.
SOJA wasted no time in starting their set, launching into an explosive set as they opened with fog cannons introducing their first song “I Don’t Wanna Wait.” Their enthusiasm was as high as Bobby Lee Jefferson’s leg kicks as singer Jacob Hemphill addressed an elephant in the room. Hemphill’s voice cracked in a tambour not heard since inaugurating of the Liberty Bell as he introduced his next song, a cover of UB40’s Impossible Love, a dedication to his father who passed away in 2012. “When I was a kid, my dad taught me how to do all this stuff, like piano and guitar, and he did it all using UB40 songs, because it was something we had in common with each other, and when you’re a kid, having something in common with your dad is like, a big fucking deal.” The band followed up with a few bars of the song that came across as anything but inauthentic. SOJA’s set included a multitude of guest talent invited onstage to perform alongside them, the volume of artists almost rivaling that of Slightly Stoopid from the previous night. Among the artists invited onstage included Xiutezcatl and his violinist Richard Vagner, Collie Buddz, Nahko Bear, and Hirie. Showcasing everyone’s talents, including their own, even guitarist Trevor Yong enjoyed an extended vocal solo during “You and Me.”
The cancellations earlier in the day left quite a bit of dead air, so to speak, in between SOJA’s and Rebelution’s set. Festival organizer and king pin Dan Sheehan took to the Bowl stage with some of his closest friends and Cali Roots collaborators in that gap to fill the time with a loud and heartfelt speech. Thanking day ones and first-timers alike, he promised that ten years was still just the beginning for Cali Roots and even brighter days were on the horizon for the festival.
Rebelution, a band that has become synonymous with the Cali Roots festival itself, closed out the festival to everyone’s delight. Their traditional light show to begin their show draped the crowd in a blanket of lasers as the musicians took their place onstage one by one. By now, every seasoned Cali Roots enthusiast has come to expect Rebelution’s annual traditional headlining set, but this year they somehow just clicked even more than usual. The band had commanding control of the mood of the festival as they kept playing single after single, the crowd seeming to know every word to every song they played. In fact, no song during the set was negatively received as the band got the crowd to “Celebrate” as they reached outside of their “Comfort Zone” and watched the festival “Fade Away” with their set. As the performance drew to an end, there was calm but not sad energy throughout the fairgrounds as everyone calmly left through the gates. Until next year, Cali Roots.