Photos of the Cali Roots Music Festival taken by Ural Garrett for Okayplayer.
Good vibes, Cali weed, and beautiful weather collided with Queens emcee Nas on day two of the California Roots Music & Arts Festival. The cherubic emcee is now as deeply entrenched in the business world—Mass Appeal, Queensbridge Venture Partners, LLC, co-owner of the restaurant Sweet Chick—as he is with hip-hop.
But we’ll get to him later.
Day Two had all the roots rock reggae you could down in a single sitting, with urban reggae band Tribal Theory implementing their signature mix of Pacific Island culture, ska, and reggae. And Iration coming through with roots reggae cooked so thorough it came with callaloo. But, really, it demanded further investigation, after this sub-culture we stumbled upon blew our minds on day one.
We began with asking everyone we could: “How did you get here, musically?” And answer after answer came back Sublime. The Long Beach, California band is still immensely popular themselves, selling hundreds of thousands of units on their albums yearly to this day. Their blend of ska, reggae, surf, rock, and hip-hop has found its footing at places like the Cali Roots festival, bringing a distinctly Californian take on themes of unity, protecting the environment, loving each other, and distilling their pain into a healing elixir. At times, it can feel transcendent. That the festival is consistently put on near the anniversary of frontman Bradley Nowell’s death by heroin overdose is telling.
The trio took the world by storm with their 1992 debut 40 Oz. to Freedom, combining wavy surf music with reggae, punk, rock, and hip hop to create a sound that was both an extension of bands like Fishbone and Half Pint and a sound so new it gave birth to an entirely new scene. Here’s what Gwen Stefani told the Los Angeles Times after Newell’s death in 1996, “His voice [was] like candy to your ears.”
With Sublime being part of the evolutionary tree that makes up the festival, the other sections of the forest include the chanting, roots reggae of the Bob Marley strain and hip-hop. And it was definitely on display last night when Nas—a little late, as rappers tend to be—came out to rock the crowd with a trip down memory lane. He began with Illmatic before jaunting through It Was Written, Nastrudamus, Stillmatic, and some key Nas pop moments: “Oochie Wally” and “You Owe Me,” featuring Ginuwine. The crowd lit up the Bowl stage, tossing beach balls to and fro as Nas did his thing, snaking around the stage.
These bands, and co-producer Dan Sheehan’s vision of inclusion and combination have created a unique music festival. The people here are true believers, coming from near and far to get a load of their favorite fusion bands in real time. It is, rather romantically, devoid of the swag and pretense of festivals like Coachella, which has become an event suffused with advertisers, agents, and their entourages. With people here for the music to be heard + experienced, instead of just being there to see each other, a well thought out festival grounds with pathways that don’t succumb to traffic jams, and copious amounts of Mary Jane — Cali Roots is a festival that will grow in lockstep with the bands they send up the charts.