Date: Saturday, October 26th. 2013
Line Up: SOJA, Dirty Heads, Tribal Seeds, Passafire, Ballyhoo!, Fortunate Youth, Mike Pinto, Natty Vibes, The Movement, Nahko & Medicine For The People, Fear Nuttin Band & Signal Fire
Venue: Battleship Park. Wilmington, NC
The last weekend of October also marked the first ever Cali Roots Festival on the east coast, which took place in Wilmington, North Carolina. Located right next to Battleship North Carolina, on the water of Cape Fear, there are outstanding views and while the field was condensed, it didn’t feel packed in too much at all.
The festival featured twelve different artists on two different stages, over looking downtown Wilmington. Coming from Philadelphia, PA, this was a trip that took us eight hours down, and eight hours back, totaling sixteen hours in the car for twelve hours of music & the festival was worth every second.
We arrived at Battleship Park around 9 AM on Saturday, early enough to get set up and see all the different vendors pull in and get settled. There were merchandise tents for all of the bands as well as food trucks, beer tents, a hookah tent, Haven Art Studio, NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), Earth Traveller Apparel, Rootfire booth selling vinyl & merch, Urban Hippie Massages, Klean Kanteen with free water, and Althea’s Attic, a local head shop featuring glass and pipes.
One of the first artists I was able to see as I was meandering around, was Fortunate Youth, who were featured as the first act on the main stage. With 2 stages, bands would perform on one stage as another band would finish their set on the other. And in true Cali-Roots form, there was live art being painted on stage during most of the sets throughout the festival.
Fortunate Youth had just got in from Washington D.C. the night before & were really hyped about the festival. “The weather makes it feel like California today,” joked Jered Draskovich (keys/bass). “Today is a great day for music and we’re just happy to be on the bill”.
Right at 11:20am, fans were finally let into the show and just in time for local Wilmington act, Signal Fire. They were able to put on a great performance on Stage 2 to kick off music for the day. Fans started coming through the doors as Signal Fire’s set continued and this worked out perfectly as the main entrance was close to Stage 2 where the band was performing.
As Signal Fire finished up, I got myself in the pit for Fortunate Youth who took the stage with Dan Kelly letting the crowd know it was a great day for blazing up and enjoying yourself. They played about a forty minute set and brought out former lead singer Ryan Gonzales aka Gonzo for a few tracks. Gonzo is now the front man for Beyond I Sight & newest member to Tribal Seeds. Following a great performance on Stage 1 by FY, Stage 2 was now active for a live set by Natty Vibes.
Apparently the night before the festival, bassist Jehua, from Natty Vibes, had to be rushed to the emergency room. I believe everything turned out okay for him, but luckily bassist Mark Carson from Philly’s own Three Legged Fox was at the show getting ready for his tour with Fear Nuttin Band. In a bit of a switch up, Mark ended up getting on stage with Natty Vibes, and with their extremely talented horn section, they put on an amazing show. It was my first time seeing the Hawaii natives live, and I was impressed, as was the couple hundred people behind me chanting for an encore after their set.
Right before the end of Natty’s set, I was able to catch up with a few fans, including Kaitlin, from Boston. She told me she was unable to go out to Cali last year & was pleased to hear Cali Roots was coming to North Carolina. “I’m so excited for everyone but I gotta say I’m definitely the most excited for Passafire”.
Recent additions to the Easy Star Records family, Passafire came on around 1:30pm and fans were in for a treat as they brought the house down, featuring a few songs from their newest upcoming album Vines. Their vibe was amazing and with a jam/rock performance, there were more than a few fans, including Philadelphia native Tom Stella, that would agree they were one of the best of the day – “I had never seen them live and didn’t know what to expect, but I was blown away.”
Keeping up with the pace of the day, Mike Pinto was ready to go on at 2:30pm. Mike shared, “…there’s a connection between me and the people that enjoy my music and I think we’re on the same level.” That sentiment rings true and how can it not? Especially when one of the highlights from Mike’s performance was bringing up Chill and Chain, the sax and keys from Natty Vibes, to perform “When I’m With You”. “They can sing their ass off,” Mike notes, “We did the whole summer tour with them and we always played that song with them, so it made sense to bring them up.”
Being backstage, I was able to experience the camaraderie & respect that the artists show one another and it was incredible. Pinto said “I’m just happy to be here, in the company of good musicians,” and I don’t think he was the only one. One of my favorite moments of the whole show was seeing Jacob Hemphill of SOJA and Jared Watson of Dirty Heads, embrace each other in a hug and handshake that showed a true friendship between two of the biggest artists in the reggae-rock community. To them it’s not a competition; it’s a passion for music and a respect level for each others music.
As 3:30pm hit, Ballyhoo! took to Stage 1 for an intense set. I have seen them before at the Hard Rock Café in Philadelphia for a close interaction show, but I wasn’t sure what to expect in a festival setting. They were incredible – Blasting some of their signature punk/reggae style anthems & the crowd by now was almost at full capacity, full of energy. From looking out over the barrier-pit in the front; people were as far back as I could see, allowing Ballyhoo! to rock out to an hour long set.
Up next was Fear Nuttin Band, a six piece group that originally blends Reggae & Hard-Rock. As I looked around, I noticed other musicians coming over to watch their set, including a bunch of the Fortunate Youth guys, some of The Movement & a few members of SOJA. Rafa and Hellman, the horn section from SOJA, joined FNB and as they continued to jam I noticed Bobby Lee of SOJA jump on stage to trade vocals with FNB’s Prowla and Roosta for the song “Enemy”; being one of the top performances of the day.
Wilmington native and music fan, Maria told me this would be her 18th time seeing SOJA and her 10th time seeing Tribal Seeds. She said “…even though I’ve been a fan since I started blazing, this is the show I have been most excited about. Having a festival on the east coast is amazing and I have friends flying in from all over, so I’m really stoked”.
I hit the pit for the 5:15pm Tribal Seeds set. During their set, I started talking with Sammy and Alayna, who were long time fans of reggae and were the most pumped for Tribal Seeds. “They just always bring it, and in our opinion them and SOJA have the best shows.” Tribal Seeds jammed out on the Main Stage up until 6:15pm & as they finished up, the sun began to set.
Nahko, Medicine for the People were fortunate enough to have Jacob Hemphill of SOJA introduce them to the stage for their performance. They played a more global and tribal type of music, something quite rootsy and almost “earth-based”. Nevertheless, they played a great set & left with more fans then they came here with.
Following their set, I headed back to the main stage to finish up one of my favorite moments of the day in sharing a few minutes with lead singer Jared “Dirty J” Watson from the Dirty Heads just before their set. With the release of Home/Phantoms of Summer, I expected to hear a few songs off the release, but for my own curiosity, why they wanted to do an acoustic album? “We wanted to do something different. We started as an acoustic band and wanted to get back to our roots.” When I asked Jared about Cali Roots coming to the east coast he said, “I think its genius!”
The Dirty Heads came on stage around 7:30pm and played an unbelievable set including crowd favorites “Dance All Night” and “Lay Me Down”. They featured a few songs off their new album, including two of my favorite new songs “Sloth’s Revenge” and “Garland”. They had fans on edge, relishing in one of the best performances of the entire day.
Following the Dirty Heads, I made my way over to stage 2 for The Movement’s performance. The horn section from Natty Vibes was called up, along with trumpet player Rafa from SOJA who is featured on The Movement’s newest album Side By Side. The performance was amazing & the re-surging group performed new material from Side by Side & shouted big ups to everyone of the bands that were featured in the day’s festivities, including a shout out to their good friends in SOJA who were quickly approaching their day’s encore performance.
SOJA came on as the final act of the day, almost 11 full hours from when the gates were opened. They rocked out to an hour and twenty minute set that many fans at the Carolina Sessions had waited all day to see. They shut the place down and featured Gary Dread from The Movement on percussion. SOJA showed up and were one of the biggest fan favorites, and played a performance no short of their headlining title.
Cali Roots has become, in itself, a movement that began 3,000 miles away in Monterey, California and has now conquered the east coast via the shores of Wilmington, North Carolina. Fans flew out & drove in from all over the world, to be a part of the momentum that continues to build with the Cali Roots festival. This isn’t East vs West as bands from both coasts, and in between, came together for the love of the music, art & movement. Fans were embraced by the artists as much as the artists were embraced by the fans. It’s a loving community that unconditionally supports one another.
I would like to thank everyone involved – fans, artists, security, staff, management, press, and especially the good people behind Cali-Roots, namely Dan Sheehan & Jeff Monser. I can’t wait to run into you all again next year at Cali Roots 2014 in May.
Cali-Roots Carolina Links:
Cali Roots Carolina Website
Cali Roots Carolina Facebook
Article By: Andrew McClatchy
Photos By: Bill Colbridge
More Photos From The Fest: