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Reggae On The River

  • Written by  Ukiah Daily Journal
Reggae On The River

The first weekend in August means one thing to reggae fans from all throughout Northern California and beyond: Reggae! Next weekend is the 30th Annual Reggae On The River, being held once again at the original location at French's Camp in southern Humboldt County July 31 through Aug. 3.

Reggae On The River is such an iconic music festival that revelers simply refer to it as "Reggae." One is welcomed with repeated calls of "Happy Reggae" immediately upon entering the festival grounds and those well wishes continue constantly throughout the weekend from friends and strangers alike.

What was started in 1983 as a means to rebuild a burned down community center has become a family reunion of sorts, one that facilitates local non-profits including the Mateel Community Center in earning most if not all of their annual budgets.

One of the unique features of this volunteer run festival is that all of the food booths are run by non-profits. The right food and the right weather can produce earnings in the tens of thousands of dollars for these local non-profits, the benefits of which echo far and wide throughout our rural communities.

The Mateel Community Center has put together a stellar lineup to properly celebrate the 30th anniversary of Reggae On The River. This year's event features so many headliners and incredible backing acts that it becomes almost difficult to fathom all that talent on one single stage. Jimmy Cliff, Alpha Blondy & The Solar System, Gentleman & The Evolution, Iration, Israel Vibrations, Gyptian, Third World, Michael Rose, Sly & Robbie and the Taxi Gang, Etana, Fishbone, Bitty McClean, and Mutabaruka & Skool Band are all on the list, but these Reggae greats only represent less than half of the lineup.

There's so much music, in fact, that the event has been extended to four days for those who want to come early and revel in the vibes and culture for a whole extra day.

There are still a few of these four-day early arrival tickets available at $250 including camping, and as of press time there were also still three-day main event passes available for $190 at all of the usual local outlets in addition to www.reggaeontheriver.com

Conscious Singjay Winstrong, who hails from Suriname, is one of the several artists lined up to play on Thursday for the early arrivals. This will be the third official appearance at ROTR for Winstrong, who has just released his sophomore album "Love Is In The Air."

Winstrong, who has lived in the quiet undisturbed wilds of Mendocino and Sonoma counties for most of this decade, says the West is THE place to be for reggae fans.

"Reggae in California is bigger and more well-received (than anywhere else.) It seems for sure that the West Coast is the reggae mecca of the USA...all over the world, everyone talks about the West Coast and their passion for Reggae and World music."

Reggae On The River, in particular, is the longest held Reggae Festival in the world, and is known to all who are familiar with the genre.

The event itself went through some hard times this decade, the worst of which resulted in the festival splitting the communities in half as disagreements turned into lawsuits and the resulting divergence of festivals. The event itself was canceled for a year and then it was scaled down to a single- and then two-day festival with no camping available at Benbow Park, and then finally last year marked a return to the original site of French's Camp and a resuming of camping on-site.

There is something very special about the community that is formed when thousands gather in celebration of their favorite music and the ideals put forth in the culture of "One Love."

In the 30 years of this festival, many new families have been formed. In fact, it is quite common to meet kids, young and old, who have literally grown up in and around this festival.

In my own 20 years of enjoying this event, I have witnessed time and time again the miracle of transformation that happens when young people, who come for the party, end up receiving an education on community building, cross-cultural enlightenment, and a new reverence for the beauty and fragility of nature. As they say, "The music is the message and the message is the music."

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