Article By Hal Wendlinger
Photos © David Wendlinger
If California Roots Music & Arts Festival (Cali Roots) isn’t on the list of festivals you attend annually, I strongly suggest you change that in 2016. This year’s festival was held on the weekend of May 22-24th at the legendary Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California. What started as a one day event just a few short years ago has blossomed into one of the better three day music festivals around. In addition to the music, the festival has several areas dedicated to vendors, a non profit exclusive area and food stands for every taste. The sprawling venue, famous for its hosting of the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, presented the concert-goers with three stages full of nonstop music running starting at 11am and running until 11pm each day.
The stage with the largest audience capacity referred to as “The Bowl” held the majority of the festivals headlining acts. The second of which, appropriately referred to as the “Cali Roots” stage played host to several larger name artists throughout the weekend. “The Original” stage which played host to the grand majority of the lesser known acts, is the smallest, yet most historic of all the stages. “The Bowl” is the exact same stage that the legendary Jimi Hendrix performed on during his infamous set at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. At the conclusion of his set, Hendrix placed his guitar on the stage, doused the guitar in lighter fluid and then set it ablaze, the stage still has the burn marks to prove it!
The festival kicked off Friday morning with the very talented Leilani Wolfgramm filling the air with her powerful voice as the audience drifted toward the “Cali Roots stage” to kick off the musical performances for the weekend.Following Wolfgramm’s set, Australian band, Blue King Brown, tore through a powerful and energetic set with lead singer Nattali Rize commanding the audience’s attention with her thoughtful lyricism. “The Bowl” played host to several wonderful artist collaborations throughout the weekend. The first of which occurred during Trevor Hall’s set when Nahko Bear, the lead singer of Nahko and Medicine for the People joined Hall on stage for a wonderful collaboration that left the crowd begging for more. Fortunately for the crowd, they got just that during the next set in the form of Trevor Hall returning the favor by joining Nahko and Medicine for the People on stage to add to what was already a deeply powerful performance. As the sun faded from the sky, the legendary Steel Pulse took the “Cali Roots” stage for an exciting and hit filled performance, one of which only a band of their stature could so perfectly execute. Night one of the show came to a close with the grammy-nominated Soja delivering an exhilarating performance to the capacity crowd at “The Bowl.”
Saturdays show got off to quick start with Collie Buddz giving the crowd who filled “The Bowl,” an electric performance that had the audience singing along to nearly every track.Immediately following Collie’s set, there was a mass pilgrimage to the “Cali Roots” stage to get as close to the front as possible to catch Chronixx’s upcoming set. The charismatic Chronixx stirred the crowd into a frenzy of movement as he worked through his tracks, seamlessly combining entertainment and his positive message. Chronixx once again proved why he is at the forefront of the Reggae Revival in the music world. During the Ethan Tucker Band’s performance on “The Original” stage, the crowd, who had gathered to see the up and coming band, were treated to the biggest surprise of the weekend when Michael Franti came on stage to join the band. During Michael Franti and Spearhead’s performance later that evening at the “Cali Roots” stage, Tucker, following the tradition started on Friday, returned the favor to Franti by joining the band on stage. Michael Franti delivered a vintage performance, spreading positivity, kindness and love to all. Franti jumped the security barrier to join the crowd during his set, even performing from a tree that he climbed in the middle of the audience, as always, it was a memorable performance for all who witnessed. The night ended with The Roots performing to an overflowing crowd at “The Bowl.” Considered by many to be Hip-Hop’s greatest band, The Roots gave the crowd an energetic show which left the audience begging for more, long past the stage lights coming on.
With their Island rhythm and gentle harmony, Common Kings made the “Cali Roots” stage the place to be early Sunday afternoon, the audience was captivated by their sound the throughout the entirety of their set. From what it looked like, with the exception of Iration’s performance later in the evening at the “Cali Roots” stage, a large portion of the crowd camped out at “The Bowl” for the evenings upcoming performances.The first of which came in the form of the extremely popular Tribal Seeds, from the bands first song, the crowd was up dancing and singing along. Several fans that I spoke with called Tribal Seeds’ performance the best of the weekend with many stating that their crowd involvement was unmatched. The next performers on the stage were California’s own Cypress Hill. The West Coast hip-hop group wowed the crowd with their vintage sound of which their fans have come to love and expect over the years. The final performance of the festival took place as the overflowing Bowl played host to the incredibly popular Slightly Stoopid. The band played for over 90 minutes, quenching the audiences thirst for each and every hit song they have ever produced. Truly going back to the roots of reggae music, the crowd erupted when the legendary Don Carlos joined Slightly Stoopid on the stage to perform their song “Wiseman.”
Despite clouds in the sky and colder temperatures the entirety of the weekend, the musical acts provided enough warmth to all who attended the festival. It will truly be exciting to see what artists “Cali Roots” brings to the festival in 2016. For those of you not wanting to wait until next May for the “Cali Roots” experience, “The Carolina Sessions” will be held October 3rd in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina featuring 311, Soja and Steel Pulse.