On the first weekend in August for the past 22 years in Southern Humboldt County, the Mateel Community Center has staged the finest reggae festival and people-watching site on the planet.
As a seasoned concert-goer, the first thing I noticed about Reggae on the River was the insanely diverse group of 20,000 folks in attendance. All ages and races are represented, which is a welcome change from the usual cast of 20-something wookies, frat boys, and trustafarians I see everywhere else. The entire vibe of the weekend reflects this variety – everyone has a perma-grin on, random cheers roll throughout the festival grounds along the Eel River, and many a passing stranger shouts “Happy Reggae!” in sheer jubilation.
The bulk of this joy comes straight from the music itself. On Friday, the laid-back, peaceful crowd enjoyed a myriad of tunes, from the tripped-out dancehall grooves of Junior “One Blood” Reid, the funky hip-hop stylings of Lyrics Born, to the eclectic electronic dance beats of Transglobal Underground.
Saturday showcased several fusion acts like Rupee – a pioneer of high-energy party music out of the Caribbean called “soca” (soul + calypso), Tony Rebel – one of the first to unite roots and dancehall reggae, and two of Bob Marley’s sons: Stephen and Damain – who jammed on their own material in addition to some of their father’s classics.
Sunday also featured a fresh and dynamic mix of performers with Daara J – African hip-hop over traditional Senegalese music, Ozomatli – who never fail to deliver an up-beat show, and the explosive Anthony B. – Rastafarian hardcore dancehall.
Whatever energy I danced my way out of during the hot days, the river replenished with a dip in the upper swimming-hole surrounded by redwoods dotting the hills. After all, what would Reggae be without the River. When the festival moves up-stream next year for the first time in its history, the aura will follow, but I’m pushing for “hooreggae!” as the exuberant slogan to welcome the new era.