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California Roots Music and Arts Festival 2015

California Roots Music and Arts Festival 2015

California Roots Music and Arts Festival 2015

By on - Photos by Lee Abel - Comment

The festival took place in May with Steel Pulse, Chronixx, Don Carlos, Cypress Hill, SOJA and many more.

“Our set is 45 minutes of power, rage and passion" - Josh Waters Rudge, vocals/guitar from The Skints

    Here are a few things cool things about California Roots Music & Arts Festival:
    There’s no such thing as too much jewelry or the wrong hairstyle.
    You are free to wear your identity or creed on a T-shirt, i.e. “Haole,” or “Blind 2 U Haters.”
    “Green, “ “recycle” “organic” and “sustainable” are hot words.
    Jimi Hendrix is a god.

Cali Roots 2015

Over the last six years, producers Jeff Monser and Dan Sheehan have worked hard to make the California Roots Music and Art Festival, affectionately known as Cali Roots, the coolest and most diverse music event in the state.

The California Roots concept started out as a clothing brand and expanded into one of the country’s fastest growing festivals dedicated to roots music and culture. There have been many debates on what constitutes California roots culture. In this writer’s opinion, the concept of roots music is broad enough to include progressive hip hop, indie rock, Jamaican foundation reggae, regatta de Blanc, California reggae and Pacific island music. Cali Roots culture embraces a variety of lifestyles—everything from ganja culture to surf culture to yoga and social media.

The 6th Annual California Roots Music & Arts Festival was held at the historic Monterey Fairgrounds during Memorial Day weekend, May 22-25. More than 40 acts played on three stages: The Bowl, the Cali Roots stage and the Original stage and after parties.

Since its inception, Cali Roots has drawn thousands of music lovers to the historic venue where Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar on stage during the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. This year’s event featured hip hop royalty such as the Roots and Cypress Hill, foundation reggae artists such as Steel Pulse, alternative rock pioneers such as Fishbone and Michael Franti and Spearhead and wildly popular neo-reggae acts such as Chronixx, New Kingston, SOJA, Tribal Seeds and Slightly Stoopid.

Steel PulseSteel Pulse, the Grammy winning roots rockers from Birmingham, England, were one of the most beloved acts at Cali Roots. As an homage, keyboardist/producer E.N Young performed in a Steel Pulse t-shirt during Tribal Seeds’ performance on Sunday. The Skints, Easy Star Records’ London based reggae band rooted in foundation reggae, dub and lover’s rock, referred to the Pulse as their “Brummie fathers.”

Steel Pulse co-founder/lead singer/rhythm guitarist/principal songwriter proved to be one of the most photographed and painted artists at the festival. After their set, wheelchair bound artist Kirk O’Hara, who paints holding the brush in his mouth, presented the singer with a copy of his now famous painting of Hinds and his mystic dreads. Incidentally, integrated art is encouraged at Cali Roots, with visual artists such as O’Hara painting on stage during live performances.

During their headlining set at the Cali Roots Stage on Friday night, Steel Pulse performed popular protest songs including “Rally Round (The Flag),” “Ku Klux Klan,” “Soldiers,” “Not King James Version,” “Drug Squad” a “Steppin’ Out” and “Chant a Psalm a Day.” Conscious reggae artist Prezident Brown joined the band on the track “Black and Proud (Say it Loud)” from Steel Pulse’s 1997 album, “Vex.” In fine Steel Pulse tradition, they sang out on the recent wave of police killings of black youth across the country, via new tracks such as “Put Your Hoodies On (4 Trayvon Martin)” and “Hands Up (I Can’t Breathe”).

“It’s the standard joke on the Internet right now,” said Hinds. “Have you heard about this kid, Freddie Gray, no the other one, no the other one? There are so many youths who have lost their lives out of foolishness. What America has to realize now is that the whole world is looking at this, and the whole world is baffled, because the United States in the number one county in the world in terms of the power that it has. When you are going out there and trying to make changes regarding negativities in the world and you’ve got problems in your own backyard, people will say, well hey…America needs to get back that respect that it’s slowly losing because of not being able to control the racism that’s here.”

Steel Pulse

The band is gearing up for the release of their new film “Steel Pulse: The Definitive Documentary” as well as their first studio album in 10 years.

“We started out using music as a vehicle to air our views, and now, it’s known as protest music,” said Hinds. “I was doing my research on protest songs that have been done over the years. Names like Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, and Joan Baez and obviously Bob Dylan came to me.”

One of the festivals most anticipated acts, Chronixx and the Zincfence Redemption band, hit the Cali Roots stage around 4:30 afternoon on Saturday. Jamar McNaughton, Jr., 22, has been hailed as one of the leaders of Jamaica’s “reggae revival” movement. Incidentally, the Zincfence Redemption Band features young Stephen Coore, son of Cat Coore Third World’s co-founder/cellist/guitarist.

As Michael Franti and other music industry professional watched the show from the wings, the soulful tenor delivered popular tracks including “Alpha & Omega,” “Here Comes Trouble” and “Smile Jamaica.”

Singing with his eyes closed and with joy in his step, Chronixx reminds one of a young Donald “Tabby” Shaw of the Mighty Diamonds. Chronixx’ anthem “They Don’t Know” speaks of an artist smiling through the struggle and the pain while living life in the spotlight.

“They see the dancing/dem see the performance/Nuff people see me life and want one/But dem don’t know seh more a time it look diamond/And dem nuh se she me a belly me a crawl ‘pon/They see me smile, but they don’t know what I feel inside.”

At the 2015 Grammy Awards Ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, platinum selling reggae/dancehall artist Sean Paul cited Chronixx as one of the artists to watch out for. 

“It would be an honor to win a Grammy, but before we can think of winning awards, and all of these things, we have to think about making the music and making the musical environment a better place so that more people can be a part of it,” said Chronixx, in an interview backstage. “It’s really about music and sharing and spreading love. I mean, if I spread love to five million people, it’s better than winning five Grammys. In reality, we always try to make music that’s meaningful, because, in my opinion, that is what music really is. Yeah. It’s always a joy, performing in California, you know, it’s a nice place, the people dem nice and for some reason, the vibration is higher. It’s always a nice feeling to be on this land, give thanks.”


E.N Young, who grew up in Chula Vista, CA, was probably one Cali Root’s hardest working artists. Young opened the festival on Friday, playing drums for Leilani Wolfgramm. As a member of Tribal Seeds, Young helped pack the Bowl on Sunday afternoon, later performing a solo set featuring his blend of foundation reggae and roots music on the original stage.

“This Cali Roots fest is amazing; it’s a blessing to be here,” said Young, who produce artists out of his studio, Imperial Sound, in Imperial Beach, CA. “My lyrics are conscious; I try to spread a message of peace, unity and love,” said Young. “I see a lot of that at the Cali Roots festival; everyone is here for a purpose; everyone wants to be here enjoying the vibes.”

Saturday on the Cali Roots stage, Florida-based band Beebs and Her Money Makers delivered their signature brand of dance party music—a mélange of George Clinton inspired funk, Motown soul and classic ska. According to lead singer Michelle Beebs, the group’s name is a double entendre. Beebs is also the cousin of someone famous; hint--he is a Canadian teen idol turned superstar who has developed a bad boy image in the media lately. His last name rhymes with “weaver.”

“I didn’t want to roll off of his name of his fame; I wanted to do my own thing,” said the energetic, dusky voiced singer, who also plays a mean kazoo. “Our band has been together for almost five years—not breaking up is a feat—that’s longer than any boyfriend I’ve had has lasted. We made our most recent album with a band called Reel Big Fish—they produced our album and we toured a bunch with them. “

“It means a lot to me to be here at the Cali Roots festival, because the lineup is incredible,” said Beebs. “The Roots are one of my favorite bands of all times. I just watched Dilated Peoples, who were amazing. I’m really excited to see the Skints; I’ve never seen them before and they seem like a really fun band. My good friends, Fishbone, are playing and I’m excited to see them rock out. The times that we’ve played festivals with them, we’ve had conflicting schedules. I love this festival because no sets really overlap, so you’re able to check out everyone’s set and that’s really cool. That doesn’t happen often.”

The Cali Roots festival also served up an array of what is known in California as “street food”. Dr. Dread’s jerk potato chips and peanuts were a popular snack as Ziggy Marley Organics flavored hemp seeds. Prezident Brown was seen dining at Leonie McDonald’s Strictly Vegan kitchen. Some of the most unusual foods spotted at the festival were potato chips on a stick, bacon lemonade and a curiosity called shark on a stick.

When Jared Watson of the Huntington Beach, CA surf band Dirty Heads heard about the oddity, he was surprised to say the least.

“Right now, I’m brutally against having shark on a stick at a festival like this; it’s like having fuckin’ dolphin on a stick,” said Watson. “We are not doing the ocean any good right now; we are over fishing as it is. There’s a superstition among all of my Hawaiian buddies—don’t eat shark because they will come and eat you.”

Shark on a stick aside, Watson said that he was delighted to be back at the Cali Roots festival.

“Cali Roots has a special place in my heart, because Dirty Heads played the first festival, said Watson. “I don’t know how many people there were—a couple thousand maybe. To watch it grow into something this massive is really special for us.”

Trevor HallYoung troubadour and acoustic guitarist Trevor Hall had the honor of opening the Cali Roots festival on Friday afternoon in the Bowl, with original songs such as “Unity” and “My Beating Heart.” One of the festival’s highlights was his collaboration with Nahko Bear of Nahko and Medicine for the People on the reggae/hip hop “Obsidian.” Symbolically, Nahko Bear blessed the Cali Roots festival with his Native American chant.

“I saw Nahko play in L.A., and I was so affected by his performance that I came home and wrote “Obsidian” about him.”

Hall, a Hilton Head, South Carolina native, toured with Ziggy Marley several years ago. Hall was also inspired by the Afrocentric, island culture of South Carolina’s Gullah people.

“Protest music is truth music,” said Hall. “The people know the truth, and we can (sense) it if something doesn’t feel right. Luckily, we have artists and musicians who can be the voice of the people and inspire the people and keep the train moving towards righteousness. It is really cool to be in a place like Cali Roots that is super positive. We all want the same thing. We all want good, clean living and righteousness. When you have a lot of acts like this in one place, there is very powerful energy.”

On Sunday evening, B-Real and platinum selling California hip hop artists Cypress Hill literally smoked out the bowl with new music and famous tracks such as “Insane in the Brain” and “I Could Just Kill a Man.”

Cypress Hill

“It feels great to be invited to something like this, you know, we try to make music that lends itself to any kind of musical culture, and to be invited to something like Cali Roots means that we did our job,” said B-Real, aka Louis Freese. “It’s good to be here; it’s a good vibe and a good crowd.”

Since the band’s inception, the members of Cypress Hill have been strong proponents of legalization.

“We have 17-18 states that have medicinal marijuana legislation in place,” said B-Real. “We have five states where it is now legal and more are teetering either on the brink of medicinal or legalization these days. I think that a lot of information has gotten out there; a lot of the knowledge had been spread in all of the aspects that can help our economy and can help people medically. I think people are more receptive to it than they were 25 years ago. I think that we are seeing more progression in other countries, who are considering legalization and some have even applied legalization to their countries because they know that it has caused economic growth. I think it’s stepping into a positive direction every day, every year.”

Coasting on the biggest contact high ever, I floated from Cypress Hill’s set to the Original stage, where vocalist/saxman Angelo Moore and Fishbone were encouraging stage diving in the crowd. Then, out of nowhere, ouch! I got smacked in the face by the tiniest football ever; as the shadowy figure of a blond toddler zoomed by. Did I care? Hell no.

Cali Roots is more than an annual festival. There are ongoing shows throughout the year at venues across the country.


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