In a tribute to legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix, dreadlocked guitarist Trevor Young of roots reggae band SOJA sparked a flame to his guitar Friday night at The Bowl stage in Monterey, Calif., the same place Hendrix famously did so decades before.
SOJA was one of several reggae bands that came together for the 5th annual California Roots Music and Arts Festival in Monterey. Over the course of the three-day event, campers emerged from their tents in the Monterey County Fairgrounds to see reggae-favorite bands Steel Pulse, Groundation, The Green and many others.
At this year’s festival, the main arena of the Monterey County Fairgrounds was added as a third stage and received strong reception from the artists and audience members alike. During the performance by California reggae band Rebelution, lead vocalist Eric Rachmany acknowledged the festival’s growth this year and thanked the crowd for its support.
As the bands performed, live painters moved their bodies onstage to the music while painting colorful canvases. Along the main promenade of vendors, the painters showcased their work and offered it for sale in booths throughout the weekend.
Among the first to perform at The Bowl stage was progressive reggae artist Stick Figure. Songs “Breathe” and “Thick & Thin” brought steady-paced roots music to the fresh audience and backup vocals by keyboardist Kevin Bong harmonized fluidly with the voice of frontman Scott Woodruff.
The festival’s music took on a funky, pulsing feel during Passafire’s afternoon set. Will Kubley’s unique style of play made it seem that his role as bassist was that of a lead instrumentalist.
A reggae band from New Zealand, Katchafire performed songs “Love Letter” and “Seriously” on the same stage setting a relaxing, bright aesthetic to the afternoon.
As the sun set, Steel Pulse opened with “Blues Dance Raid,” drawing loud cheers from the crowd as the band went on to perform a mix of new and old material. The song “No More Weapons” featured keyboardist Selwyn Brown taking on the part sung by Damian Marley in the original 2004 recording.
SOJA showed maturity and professionalism as a band during its headlining performance. The group’s stage energy mirrored that of the crowds that filled the grassy grounds of the racetrack during performances of “I Don’t Wanna Wait” and new single “I Believe,” which included a guest appearance by singer J Boog, who had performed earlier that day.
New material from SOJA’s upcoming album was performed along with layered rhythms during an all-band-member drum solo. Guitarist Young took on a fiery solo toward the end of the band’s encore and proceeded to torch his instrument as the stage lights came to a close.
Outside of the reggae genre, Saturday afternoon included Arizona rock band Katastro and Boston-based hip-hop group Aer. The artists’ change in style made the musical experience dynamic while both bands showed hints of reggae influence during their performances.
The evening bill on Saturday featured Iration and Rebelution, two California reggae bands that were formed at UC Santa Barbara.
Iration performed “One Way Track” off its newest album, “Automatic,” and improved upon the group’s guitar work with the addition of guitarist Micah Brown.
Rebelution added saxophone and trumpet players to its show, providing harmonious, raw brass sounds on “Attention Span” and “Safe and Sound.” The presence of brass instruments made the music sound richer than in previous performances.
The sun came out in full force on Sunday, day three of the festivities. Hawaiian bands The Green and Pepper brought soothing music to festivalgoers, who danced in the heat and relaxed in the shade of surrounding pine trees.
The all-ages event was the perfect setting for world band Groundation, whose lead vocalist Harrison Stafford said he has spent more time performing internationally than in the U.S. Stafford said that playing music for all generations is what Groundation strives to do.
“We play songs like ‘Headstrong’ that are about honoring our long line of history,” Stafford said. “When they say, ‘the children are our future,’ it’s really in trick. Older people are the future. They have the knowledge to pass on.”
Festival organizers laid out the various aspects of the three-day event into an organized experience for fans. Festivalgoers, as well as artists who have performed previously at the “Cali Roots” festival, noted consistently just how much the festival had grown this year and the potential it has to be a cornerstone California music festival in the years to come.