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Best Of Reggae on the River 2014

Best Of Reggae on the River 2014

Best Of Reggae on the River 2014

By on - Photos by Lee Abel - Comment

The 20 Best Moments Of This Year's 30th Anniversary.

The 30th annual Reggae On The River festival took place July 31st through August 3rd, 2014 at the original French’s Camp venue in Garberville, California. Of the countless cosmically beautiful moments that made up this year’s celebration, we decided to break it down into 20 of the absolute best things we saw this year. Enjoy the memories and Happy Reggae!

Reggae on the River2014


Oakland, California-based, Panamanian-born cousins Los Rakas lit up the stage Thursday evening, bringing mad clout as the only hip hop act on the bill. Rapping in both Spanish and English, Raka Rich and Raka Dun have been blazing a reputation built on bringing reggaeton and dancehall to Bay Area streets. Big tunes like “Abrazame” and “Ta Lista” had the crowd dancing, but only Los Rakas, whose diverse musicality flows between smooth RnB and rapid-fire hip hop, could take a late-night bedroom jam like “Magia,” blast the bass, and get hundreds of dirty, sweaty festival people bouncing and winding like they were in the club. It’s a Raka party!

Reggae on the River2014

BEST MASHUP: Gaudi + Danny Ladwa + Mykal Rose

Danny Ladwa, a.k.a. Lyrikool Lipz, is London’s baddest beatboxer and he held down the stage flexing his talent alongside Italian DJ Gaudi on Thursday night. Their headlining performance had people amazed, not only for the fluidity of Ladwa’s skills, but also for Gaudi’s brilliant performance – mixing dub beats in real time alongside melodies made by on a red MiniMoog with black keys, a vocal synthesizer called a vocoder, and an electric Theremin. When Mykal Rose finally came out, the crowd was roaring in admiration. Mykal and Gaudi have been in collaboration for some time and their cohesion is palatable – the creative energy was on fire when Rose broke from his usual set list to sing an incredible dub-soaked rarity of “Dangerzone.”

Reggae on the River 2014

BEST MC: Reggae historian Roger Steffens

Reggae on the River 2014Roger Steffens is hailed as one of the most important people in the history of reggae. He is a leader in bringing reggae music to North American radio, and his massive artist archive includes the largest collection of Bob Marley material in the world.

So it was fitting that Mr. Steffens was on site to document Reggae On The River’s 30th anniversary celebration. Alongside his lovely wife Mary, he spent hours conducting video interviews with the staff, press, and artists who have been the heart and soul of America’s oldest reggae festival for decades.

On stage, Steffens introduced the artists with profound appreciation for their contributions to the music, while educating the audience with tidbits of rare and inspiring information. The man is truly a treasure to the music.

BEST EATS: Everything on the menu

Reggae on the River 2014There have been times when I have packed a $100 worth of food into a cooler only to have all the ice melt on Day Two and ruin everything. With temperatures soaring past 100 degrees Fahrenheit all four days of the festival, cooking was the last thing on people’s minds.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see many more food vendors this year, including a variety of delicious international fare. For the Ital folks, the organic vegan and vegetarian options were plenty. For the kids, there were “Rasta Popsicles” in every flavor you can imagine. Food takes love to make and a community to enjoy and this year, Reggae organizers really out did themselves with the selections.


With just three years of experience as an international touring band, the Jamaican quartet i-Kronik has been hailed as one of the most dynamic new backing bands on the scene. At this year’s Reggae, they supported Jah9 and Mega Baton among others but their most memorable moment was a full-band set showcasing each power player as a talented individual. According to local MCs, these guys are the most sought after supporting band on the West Coast tour circuit.

Reggae on the River 2014


“This is a little hands-on therapy, just so you know that Fishbone is real! And we can touch you like you can touch us!” Fishbone frontman Angelo Moore jumped off stage to give the people love before inciting some serious punk rock nostalgia when trombonist “Flying J” Armant dove into the audience for a crowd surfing sesh. Their hyper-energetic set, with full horn section, included tons of the classics ranging from funky soul tunes like “Everyday Sunshine” to ska punk songs like “Date Rape,” that made cover bands like Sublime famous. Fishbone has been making music for over 30 years, and they are still coming out with awesome new works like “Whippersnapper” off their latest EP Intrinsically Intertwined (Controlled Substance Sound Labs/Zojak Worldwide, 2014).



No doubt Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare are the modern masters of reggae production, having worked with everyone from Peter Tosh to Madonna. Alongside their latest 2014 dub album releases, Sly & Robbie continue to cultivate the careers of music’s hidden gems. British lover’s rock troubadour, Bitty McLean is no exception. Their combined performance on Friday night was outstanding. McLean is naturally sensual in his delivery, and while American’s may not know all of his hits, people fell in love his fantastic cover of David Gates 1970 classic “Make It With You.” The vibe was so captivating, even Robbie got down with the high notes.

Sly & Robbie


GentlemanGerman sensation Gentleman, does not have to try hard to make the ladies swoon. His cool delivery and gentle voice make you want to turn the lights low right from the start. And on this occasion, even before his band The Evolution got to the more famous slow jams, Gentleman took hold of one of his backup singers, introducing her as his wife and cradling her pregnant belly with such heartical embrace that a collective “Aaaawwwwe” arose from the crowd. It was such a beautiful gesture, people where rubbing dusty tears from the faces.


One of the most fun and random things about showing up at show is when the artist tells you he/she is making a music video. It is even better when you are at a huge festival on the river and everyone is punch drunk on love and sunshine. Half way through Marlon Asher’s set, he announced he was filming for the music video “Psalm 35,” likely off his forth-coming album Illusions (Don Corleon Records, 2014). Backed by a last-minute ad hoc band from Oakland, including the rocking Colorado-based female bassist Gracie Bassie, Asher was on point and impassioned, blessing up the Almighty and giving thanks for the good vibes.

Marlon Asher


When Abya Yala sat down in the press tent after their early afternoon performance, no one was quiet ready for the manifesto that would come from these South American artists. The 12-piece Chilean “mistic roots” band derived their name from the indigenous words “land of vital blood”. The phrase represents the whole of the American continents before the landing of Columbus. It was fitting then, to hear lead singer Nicolas Libertad harnessing ancestral knowledge of the importance of “power plants” and their use in creative enlightenment. Libertad told the press: “Plants of power are the cornerstone to understanding the cosmos and our mission here on Earth.”

Abya Yala


It has become our Reggae tradition to catch at least one act from the hill behind the concert bowl. From these heights you can see the entire venue, lined with the forest and the river below. The sound is fantastic and with no one around, the moment is undisturbed. So when Washington D.C.-based brothers Rootz and Zeebo, a.k.a. See-I, took the stage, we were half-expecting to zone out on the hip hop breakdowns and world beats made famous from their days with D.C.’s phenomenal electro-dub collective Thievery Corporation. But when they came at us with deep-seated roots riddims and melodies, like “Real Steel”, we were blown away. For their first appearance on the West Coast without Thievery, See-I delivered supremely.



Cat CooreWhen Third World’s Cat Coore sat down with an electronic cello, for a moment the world stopped moving. His three minute solo was hypnotic, like a performance from Carnegie Hall in New York City. The mixture of sounds was sheer brilliance: dub melodies blending into classical chamber music, then into a huge Broadway ending. Yup, Cat Coore pretty much stole the show.


But before Cat Coore laid down his guitar to pick up the cello, Third World’s original bassist Richard Daley introduced the song “96 Degrees.” “The man had rolled with us all for over 40 years,” explained Daley on stage, “singing this song that we are going to play next. His name was Bunny Rugs and I know he is in our hearts and watching over us this evening. We have nothing but pure love for him, so let us share this. We love you all and we love Bunny Rugs.” It was a moving experience to hear thousands of people sing all of the lyrics, all at once.

Third World


Jimmy CliffThere are few artists in this world who can take a legendary song and effectively make it better. When Jimmy Cliff covered the 1970 folk song “Wild World” by Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) on Saturday night, he was not only paying homage to another brilliant musician, he was demonstrating the universality of good music.

Cliff has covered the song since 1971, essentially sharing a simple, romantic folk song with millions of people who may never have known the humble genius of Cat Stevens.

Jimmy Cliff’s upliftful reggae version however, is nothing less than extraordinary.


After the last drum beat drops and the stage lights start to dim, the biggest decision is how long you are going to chill at your camp before heading out to the dancehalls. This year a mega stage was set up at the farthest end of the river, hosting West Coast soundsystems and guest lyricists in what became a full-on dancehall club scene, four nights in a row. A lot of partying twenty-year-olds spent time at this end, sucking on glow sticks and trading illicit party favors. But on the other side of the mile-long camp, a group of Burning Man veterans called the Cloud9 Posse had raised a beautiful circus tent featuring Bay Area conscious hip hop and spoken word artists like Wisdom and Aima the Dreamer. Secluded dance spaces, Asian-inspired mood lighting, and down-tempo EDM DJs inspired mystical community energy long into the night.



When Jamaica’s most famous dub poet walked on stage, the crowd seemed mesmerized by the electricity of his stature and the brilliancy of his African robes. Under the shade of Ras Abba Zero’s colorful umbrella, Mutabaruka spoke to his fixated audience with poignant urgency, weaving in reflections on our damaged society with songs like “Junk Food” and “The Monkey Speaks His Mind.” As Muta began to wind down the set, he pulled out a poem he had once written for a friend, the late great Lucky Dube. His homage to the iconic artist, whose spirit was a part of Reggae On The River for decades, was met by Roger Steffens who came on stage to whisper in Muta’s ear, just as he finished his verse. Suddenly, Mutabaruka leaned back and gazed at the sky, opening his arms to the heavens. He turned to the microphone, and through what must have been tears, he proclaimed that this very day was Lucky Dube’s 50th birthday.



The Warriess Priestess brought a bounty of conscious poetry to the Reggae party, announcing several songs as “public service announcements”, and using her platform to share an enlightened and cultured worldview. Having just flown in from Europe nine hours before, Jah9’s delivery was passionate and fierce. The young yogi-activist and Rastafari disciple shared manifestos of livity and gratitude along with some playful banter, revealing at one point: “Don’t think I don’t know of Humboldt County, and being from Jamaica, I approve!” The crowd burst into applause for acknowledging the area’s herbal acclaim.



Given that California is suffering from one of the worst droughts in decades, it was not surprising the river was low enough to walk across. And because the water was barely flowing and it had been blazing hot for weeks, toxic levels of blue-green algae was leaving clothes stained and little kids itching. But most folks could not care less, spending the hottest hours of the day floating around in inner tubes sipping on cocktails and cans of beer. The river tradition lived on this year, albeit with a film of oily sunscreen on the surface, and a community grateful for the moments that brought them back to nature.


The great horticulturist Luther Burbank once wrote, “Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul”. Burbank lived 100 years ago in Santa Rosa, California, a few hours south of Garberville where Reggae On The River has been held for 30 years. His love for nature was supreme. And amid the beauty and bounty of Northern California, the people of Humboldt County love to spread the love.

Israel Vibrations


Alpha BlondyThere are few words to describe the mystical spaciousness created when Alpha Blondy began to sing “Dji” acapella.

Thousands of people looked up to the stage as he stood alone at the microphone, swathed in shades of indigo light as if the Moon herself were cradling his invocation. It was a cosmic moment and an incredible end to 30 years of a righteous party.


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