California Roots Music & Arts Festival is More Than a Festival, It's a Movement

Article by: Laura Mason|@masonlazarus

Thu April 05, 2018 | 13:00 PM

Back in 2010, California Roots Music & Arts Festival was created as a backyard party with incredible music and good friends. The one-day event was headed by SoCal reggae bands Tribal Seeds and Dirty Heads, and about 1,000 people attended. "Immediately our founder Jeff Monser knew we were creating something special," Talent Buyer and Co-Producer Dan Sheehan tells us. That intuition proved correct. Nine years later, Cali Roots has ballooned into the biggest reggae festival in the United States, with more than 12,000 passionate music fans streaming through its gates over the course of its now packed three-day Memorial Day Weekend schedule.

These days, the festival takes place at the storied Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California. It's the same hallowed grounds where the Monterey Pop Festival exploded as an iconic countercultural event in 1967, where Jimi Hendrix first lit his guitar on fire, where Otis Redding introduced Motown to a captivated, white audience, where Janis Joplin redefined what it meant to be a powerful woman, and where The Grateful Dead jammed out for thirty minutes over their set limit in protest. Just a few steps onto the festival grounds, attendees are greeted by the famous Monterey County Fairground sign, which inevitably leads to selfies and plenty of picture-taking to document the historical immensity of their surroundings.

Cali Roots Music And Arts Festival Josue Rivas Stage Audience.Jpg 3

Photo by: Josue Rivas

"The festival grounds hold so much history, you can feel the energy as your make your way through the gates," says Sheehan. "This, after all, was the birthplace of the modern music festival."

And the music is what they come for. Over the course of its nine years, Cali Roots has built an impressive reputation for securing legacy acts and rising stars in an array of genres running the gamut of reggae and roots, hip-hop, rock, and folk. When asked about musical highlights from years past, Sheehan says, "Having Nas last year...put the festival in a different scope in the hip-hop world. Two years ago when we had Damian Marley and Stephen [Marley] on stage singing a Bob Marley song also set the festival apart from others."

Cali Roots Festival 2017 Alex Geller Crowd Shot (1)

Photo by: Alex Geller

Just as Monterey Pop crystallized the countercultural movement of the 1960s, Cali Roots has added momentum to the global reggae and roots music movement by creating a space where fans and artists alike can connect with one another. Indeed, Cali Roots has come a long way from hanging mostly regional bands on the marquee. In the past five years alone, lineups have boasted such international names as Steel Pulse, Michael Franti & Spearhead, 311, Slightly Stoopid, Atmosphere, Rebelution, Thievery Corporation, The Roots, SOJA, Ziggy Marley, Iration, and Matisyahu. Organizers' keen eye for beloved, more under-the-radar talent stands out as well; the festival has consistently booked acts like Mike Love, Ooklah the Moc, John Brown's Body, Seedless, Pepper, and Tyrone's Jacket, Chronixx, The Skints – and that only scratches the surface. It's this dedication to mining the globe for soulful and electrifying live acts that has garnered Cali Roots its dedicated fan base.

"The festival itself had a pretty stellar lineup of not only established artists but many talented people on the rise," says Mary Polizzotti, a Cali Roots attendee and reggae superfan. "I discovered a few new groups here I had never heard of and loved."

The biggest thing Sheehan says he wants attendees to feel when they walk away from the festival grounds after a weekend immersed in its unique atmosphere is "a love for live music. The entire experience at California Roots is centered around the love for live music. [Our] fans are able to find a new appreciation and a deeper connection to artists old and new."

California Roots Festival 2014 Alex Geller    08

Photo by: Alex Geller

"What they do a good job of, after the fact, is keep the momentum going around reggae music," continues Polizzotti. "Their email marketing promotes California reggae shows and artists throughout the year. As a reggae lover, I really need to dig and search to find these shows, because it's not mainstream music. For example, they recommended the Lake Tahoe Reggae Festival, The Emerald Cup, and more. I had never heard of these."

By engaging with fans year-round, Cali Roots has built an ardent fan base and a tight-knit community of reggae and roots music lovers whose excitement around live shows crescendoes at the festival itself. "Our fan base is very loyal and have been a big part of the growth of the festival," concurs Sheehan. "They have created this incredible, organic love for the music, the festival and the brand. It’s more than just a music festival. Fans are actively involved and engaging year-round."

Cali Roots Festival 2018 Marissa Elder Fans Friends

Photo by: Marissa Elder

We also want fans to take home a better understanding of taking care of Mother Earth," continues Sheehan. "That is why we have put a lot of thought into our greening initiatives." This is something we've written about before; while plenty of festivals take the path of least resistance and bury half-hearted pleas to carpool to their grounds or for attendees to "pack it in and pack it out," Cali Roots has a real record of habitat restoration and conservation. 

In 2017, the fest partnered with the Redwood Forest Foundation to create the Redwood Pass (a special ticket that adds upgrades to the Cali Roots experience and sees two redwoods planted for each pass), and facilitated the planting of 800 new redwood seedlings in Point Arena, California. In 2018, Cali Roots will more than double that number by planting over 1800 trees. A new greening initiative being introduced this year is the complete ban of plastic straws from bars, back of house operations, and all vendors, echoing a trend that's currently sweeping cities across the nation. For those who just can't sip a drink without one, compostable straws are available, thanks to Cali Roots' partnership with The Last Plastic Straw which strives to educate the public about and eliminate the use of single-use plastic. Cali Roots has made the pledge to become a “Plastic Straw-Free Business Leader,” a goal not often prioritized in the festival world.

Cali Roots Festival 2017 Jeff Becker 1

Planting redwood seedlings. Photo by: Jeff Becker

By continuing to build its awe-inspiring list of greening initiatives and accomplishments, Cali Roots has put itself in a true position of power in the movement to green festivals all over the world.

For example, to reach important goals of waste diversion, offsetting carbon emissions, and the reduction of water bottle usage, Cali Roots has fostered partnerships with venerable organizations fighting the good fight, like The Offset Project, REVERB, Earthwell, TripZero, Passion Purveyors, and Ricky Rides, all of whom are committed to the education of attendees so good habits can be practiced far beyond the festival gates. With TripZero, Co2 emissions in 2015 were offset by an astounding 1,410,957 pounds in 2016. According to Cali Roots's website, that’s equivalent to taking 213 regular cars off the road for an entire year. In 2017, it was a whopping 2,652,599 pounds. The Offset Project helped Cali Roots divert 6,120 pounds of food waste in 2016, and 7,800 pounds in 2017 by working with vendors to purchase only compostable food ware, helping separate all compostable materials in the back of the house, and donating leftover food to the Monterey County Food Bank.

Cali Roots Festival 2018 Greening Infographic

This top-to-bottom approach to eco-consciousness means ticketholders are festivaling with a purpose, whether they're actively helping to pick up trash or simply wandering the grounds in search of an ice cold beverage and a bite to eat. When hips aren't swaying and heads aren't bobbing, festival-goers can get into all kinds of activities. If you're a morning person, you can refresh with a yoga session, so that your senses are primed for the 12 solid hours of music that lay ahead. Each area of the festival has been strategically laid out to provide the best possible experience, from incredible food, the best vendors, interactive booths and immersive live art.

Cali Roots Music And Arts Festival Ben Griewing Painting

Photo by: Ben Griewing

With a positively star-studded 2018 lineup on the horizon (featuring headliners Iration, Rebelution, Slightly Stoopid, 311, Steel Pulse, Ozomatli, E-40, Tash Sultana, Anuhea, and many more) Cali Roots and its organizers have a bright future to look forward to – one that will herald the festival's milestone 10th anniversary next year.

"For any festival to hit the 10th year is always a feat," says Sheehan. "The California Roots movement is ever evolving. [We have a] tight-knit community of fans who share common passions and look to us as a bastion for positive change. "

By championing the realms of reggae and roots music as well as the noble cause of festival greening for nearly a decade, Cali Roots has become more than just a festival – it's morphed into a movement, a lifestyle that people can aspire to any time of day, week, month, or year. And that, we believe, will keep it around for at least 10 years more.

California Roots Music & Arts Festival takes place May 25-27, 2018, over Memorial Day Weekend. This article was produced in collaboration between Everfest's editors and California Roots Music & Arts Festival.

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