On June 18, 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience played the Monterey Pop Festival and delivered one of the most iconic live performances in rock history.
That night, while covering Chip Taylor’s “Wild Thing,” Hendrix ripped through the Central Coast airwaves. In what could easily have been an out-of-body experience, he set his guitar on fire — literally and figuratively — then smashed it into the ground.
It’s that moment that the California Roots Festival derives its energy from, and even though the music might be different, the mission itself is not.
Simply put, it’s about celebrating the good things in life while enjoying good music, connecting with strangers, and coming together for something bigger than you. And considering the shades of similarity that exist between that era and now, it’s beautiful how little has changed at the core of the festival experience.
In its sixth year, Cali Roots has grown from one day to three, and its culture has expanded to a lineup that includes both Jamaican and American reggae, classic hip-hop, and jam bands to entice its diverse audience.
On a cloudy Saturday at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, thousands of people, both reggae music lovers and fans of each respective artist, assembled to bask in the vibes.
It was hard to tell where the overcast skies and the hazy crowd began, but in the thick fog made by both the burning buds and the low-hanging clouds above, the mission the festival founders sought out for was achieved.
The familiar hits of Collie Buddz reverberated through the bowl and the dense but comfortable crowd hung on every word and hook the man dressed in camouflage sang. Middle fingers painted the air as dedicated fans and first-time listeners connected on the concept of turning a blind eye to the haters.
The infectious atmosphere of Cali Roots is easy to get swept up in to the point the reggae lingo rests on the tip of your tongue and every sentence seems to end in a Jamaican accent.
In an environment like that, it’s easy for people to find common ground. Dancing next to strangers can easily turn into creating memories with new friends.
Chronixx and the musical prowess of his underappreciated ensemble was one of the sharpest sets of the day. The Jamaican reggae vibrations were satisfying, and the atmosphere was welcoming.
The smooth jams of Ethan Tucker Band filled the gap until Dirty Heads rocked the bowl with as much energy as any set on Saturday. Its brand of reggae fusion with alternative rock, electronic, and hip-hop influences translates well on stage. The most live moment of the set came at the end as the band walked off to the trap remix of “My Sweet Summer,” and dusted off any lingering cobwebs in the weed-soaked crowd while every hand bounced in approval.
Across the festival grounds Michael Franti & Spearhead unleashed its best additions to Cali Roots in one of the most hospitable environments he’ll get to play in on the festival circuit. Often, Franti is the token reggae-ish inclusion on festival lineups, but here, he was simply another strong act on the bill. Like he always does, the engaging front man wandered the crowd while he was playing, embraced fans from every walk of life, and hung from the tree that shaded the Cali Roots stage area while dozens of beach balls bounced through the beams of light at sunset.
The Roots stepped on stage, late, and closed Saturday night in front of an over-stoned and energetically-drained crowd. Of course there were enough diehard fans giving the sea of low-eyed faces something to build on, but Black Thought had to work much harder for the love than most artists did that day. Still, musically, The Roots were on point, and the band’s songs journeyed to weird, distant sonic destinations that flipped from jazz to funk with effortless tempo changes from Questlove on the drums. The group touched on every phase of their catalog, and were met with a second wind of swelling support by the end.
With Tribal Seeds, G-Love, Cypress Hill, and Slightly Stoopid on Sunday’s schedule, there was much more to be experienced.
Regardless, even if just for a day, that escape to the Monterey for Cali Roots Fest was enough to warm any soul and send it back into the world with plenty of good vibrations to share.
Check out some awesome videos from the whole festival: