Reggae On The River 2015
07/10/2015 by Justine Amadori Ketola
The grandmama and grandaddy of US outdoor reggae festivals situated in Humboldt County, California produced by the Mateel Community Center is now in its 31st year. Amongst giant redwoods in NorCal in prime weed growing country a multi-generational community has become inextricably linked to this event, simply called, “Reggae” by many. They even call it out like a holiday in those parts, wishing each other, “Happy Reggae” throughout the sacred hours and days.
With it’s power evolved an organic, local reggae colony that lives there year round, helping build the vibes again every year. It’s fair to say that it developed the fertile soil for all of the other American West Coast reggae festivals and a subsequent reggae subgenre to sprout and flourish.
At its heart it is primarily a fundraiser, its the longest running reggae festival in the United States, it actually began as an event designed to raise funds when the original Mateel Community Center was burned down by an arsonist. The Mateel conducts programming year round providing activities in the parks, youth oriented events, social services and music events for the rural residents of Humboldt County.
The set up is serene at French’s Camp, in Piercy, California nestled in a river bend of the Eel river, surrounded by ancient forest. The river is not as welcoming as it once was, due to severe drought in the area, but the bowl and trees create a sense of coolness. The festival spotlights non-profit organizations which the Mateel Community Center represents, so all of the food booths are managed by local non-profits as they have been from the beginning. In addition 2.5% of the festival’s net proceeds are given out to community causes. This year the festival offers an “Ambassador Pass” for the first time, with 10% of the raw ticket price going directly to support groups worldwide an in particular to this year’s Jamaica-based recipients, the Alpha Boys School, and the Little Raggamuffins Summer Camp.
The festival has taken steps to identify groups that are doing work in places around the world that are doing humanitarian work as well. This year the festival has partnered with Tools For Change who will be gathering new or used tools to ship to a village in Burkina Faso. So bring your tools to donate!
As for the energy that people encounter at “Reggae”, festival talent buyer and Mateel Community Center general manager, Justin Crellin notes, “It’s an opportunity for people to share local culture and global culture while soaking up the reggae vibes. Something that sets us apart from other festivals and makes it a meaningful experience and people come from all over the world to share and experience what we are doing here. I think the non-profit aspect of it is the core of what we’re all about. In our program guide we are featuring different causes that are close to our artists hearts, we can use ROTR as a vehicle to make positive changes round the world.”
The festival maintains the type of lineup that echoes that of Jamaica’s legendary Reggae Sunsplash - Jamaican roots reggae artists who rule the charts and hearts Tarrus Riley and Protoje as well as Cham, and Ce'Cile from the dancehall side, share the stage with reggae artists from around the world including New Zealand’s Katchafire, Alerta Kamarada from Columbia, Virgin Islands’ Inner Visions, Bermuda’s Collie Buddz, Zvuloon Dub System from Israel and Alborosie originally from Italy. To round out the lineup, vintage artists like The Congos represent vintage roots reggae harmony singers.
Humboldt County and Reggae On The River is Marley territory with the entire Marley brother crew making their way on numerous occasions over the years. This year Stephen Marley is on the trod with his own Ghetto Youths International squad that has toured several miles already, they represent four artists on the lineup, Steve’s son the pop-tinged Ragga Jr. Jo Mersa, Christopher Ellis, son of golden voiced icon - Alton, Wayne Marshall with his own bag a dancehall tunes and the next generation conscious chanter Black Am I.
Regional American groups are opening up the festivities on the weekend as the campers roll in on Thursday, a special early bird parking party kicks off that will include King Jammy’s at the controls with some deep sound system crates or hard drives to mix, as well as up live sets from up and coming Cali style artists Fortunate Youth and Hirie.
OFFICIAL ROTR 2015 PROGRAM GUIDE