Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins, Photos by Gary  Joseph & Josué Rivas

The constellation of musical memories and positive vibes from the 2016 California Roots music festival in Monterey is as palpable and energizing now as the very day I first stepped onto the scene to welcome its reggae radiance into my world. The atmospheric euphoria from thousands of showgoers, electrifying performers and ubiquitous “one love” is incomparable to any festival I have witnessed in the past. The experience over the three days during the festive Memorial Day Weekend extravaganza will always be unforgettable.

Our journey began from Washington, DC with an early morning Thursday flight to San Francisco where we would pick up a 2016 Optima SX from our media friends at Kia. Of course music is one of the brand’s pillars so it made sense to add them to our entertaining formula. To get acclimated with some of the previously unfamiliar artists such as reggae, soulful singer/writer Kimie Miner and Lifted MASTERS, we played their latest tunes from the Kia’s Harman Kardon QLS premium sound system. Expressive tunes like Serious Business, Stop Now and New Age kept Gary and I animated during the 2-hour drive. Not to be outdone by the music scene, healthy eating is a key for us as well, especially on the road. So we stopped at LYFE Kitchen in Palo Alto and chowed down on the Ancient Grain Stir Fry. In addition, the culinary theme was replicated throughout Cali Roots from food vendors who cooked up fresh goodness and purity to nourish the crowds.


Lodging choices will be one of your main topics of consideration if you are driving from afar or flying in. Many people camp, some choose the motels and lodges near the Monterey Fairgrounds and others go with a host hotel like the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa where Gary and I stayed. It was perfect and provided the amenities active individuals need when traveling. Our 3-night stay included parking, breakfast and workout facilities. After settling in we took a quick nap and then popped up and proceeded to Planet Gemini for the opening Late Night Session to jam with a few bands such as Soul Majestic who prepared us for Friday’s all day set.

For each of the three festival days performances where held inside the fairgrounds on either the OG Stage, The Cali Roots Stage or in The Bowl which is where most of the electrification takes place. With a pretty impeccable schedule, thirteen acts and four DJs rocked the crowds on each day so your itinerary can be busy or you can take it easy with a few groups here and there. On Friday, day one, we made sure to catch J Boog, Barrington Levy and of course Slightly Stoopid, the Ocean Beach, California band led by co-founders and instrumentalists Kyle McDonald and Miles Doughty. They had The Bowl on fire Friday evening!

Cali Roots is special for more than just the music. The organizers are conscious, earth friendly thinkers and influenced us with healthy habits such as the water refill station, the Sip and Pose morning yoga segments and the Green Pedal Couriers’ bike valet service to encourage exercise, minimize traffic congestion and reduce the carbon footprint of attendees. As well, thoughtful vendors were omnipresent and ranged from visual artists selling paintings and artwork to reggae apparel and designers to healthy food stations with my favorite being Strictly Vegan Jamaican Cuisine.

As usual, and before we headed over to the Monterey Fairgrounds on Friday the team worked out with top effort. First was a 30-minute strength training session in the Hyatt Regency Monterey’s “Stay Fit” gym, then a 3-mile run around the 22-acre property and lastly finished up with sprints in the courtyard. Plus, we walked a mile to the concerts and back and traversed the grounds for hours. On Saturday morning I needed more Slightly Stoopid so I ran 8 coastal miles to the vibes of “2Am” on repeat. That left me feeling refreshed, energized and recharged for the roots rock performances by Tarrus Riley, Nattali Rize, Stephen Marley and Damian Marley. Nattali is rising and has toured alongside the likes of SOJA, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Katchafire, Third World, J Boog, Julian Marley and Chronixx. Her repatriating activism and mental slavery breaking significances by way of “Generations Will Rize” featuring my man Kabaka Pyramid are trending and perfect for any rebel soul raging against the system. “It’s about being part of a movement, shifting perception and helping to amplify pathways to higher consciousness. It’s also about chanting down outdated systems that keep us stuck in a paradigm of mental slavery and spiritual oppression, because they’re not going to chant down themselves,” stated Rize.


Tarrus Riley, who I had the pleasure of meeting during his debut at Jamaica’s Reggae Sumfest, performed on The Cali Roots Stage in the prime of the afternoon to a very eclectic crowd of reggae lovers. Riley’s energy — especially on the track “Powerful” — was customarily upbeat as he bounced around from the stage to the crowd holding hands with fans. He also brought out J Boog briefly erupting the crowd.

After Tarrus’ exit I had an interview with Kumar from Raging Fyah who just released their third studio album dubbed “Everlasting.” Still captivated by the enlightening lyrics of “Judgment Day,” the band members, who write the songs in unison based on equality, love, Jah and political positions, maintained equivalent and emotionally, similar lyrics as “Judgment Day.” They were excited to play on Sunday alongside a star-studded lineup including Stick Figure, Tribal Seeds, Rebelution, Gondwana, Protoje and many more. I immediately took to the music from the title track “Everlasting,” to “Ready For Love,” and “Live Your Life” featuring J Boog and Busy Signal.


Stephen “Ragga” Marley and Damian Marley kick started Saturday evening with orgasmic performances that of course featured some of their father’s music. Jr. Gong surprised us by letting Black-Am-I set the mood with his hit “In The Ghetto” before blessing us with his presence. Damian is paramount to the Marley Movement and its profound, global influence on the people because he knows how to bridge generational gaps with culture reggae, dancehall, Hip Hop and even a little pop. More importantly, he is the closest Marley to his dad who also releases vitality and verve through dancing, jumping and waving. Damian is simply magnetic.


Cali Roots is one for the ages and has left an everlasting impression on me. I’ve been looking for a reggae festival this special and now know what I will be doing annually on Memorial Day Weekend. Enjoy the photo gallery. One Love!

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