Oroville Rock Reggae Jam-Fest
Blog by Gerry “Naturalman” Bigelow
One of the best Reggae festivals on the West Coast is held in the small town of Oroville, CA on the banks of the Feather River. The festival is organized by Reggae Artist, Ifa Journey, who is a Native of Jamaica, but now lives and runs a Jamaican restaurant in Oroville. Ifa Journey put together a line-up of World-Class Reggae artists, from Stephen Marley, Don Carlos and the Reggae Angels to Alika & Nuevo Alianza (Spanish Reggae).
We started our journey to California from Tacoma, WA at 7am. On our way to the highway to head south, I heard a loud pop under my car’s hood, then suddenly the hood itself flew open and I had to jam on my brakes. I pulled over the car and found out that the latch on my hood had broken in two. To our benefit, we were only a few blocks from home and returned to fix it and then we started out for a second time.
The second time was a charm and we drove for ten hours without incident. As we got to Redding, CA the temperature went from hot to ungodly, India summer weather hot. It was 93 degrees when we got to Oroville at 8pm. We sweated like pigs and put up camp quickly, then walked around to check out the scene. We didn’t walk more than ten feet when we realized that we were right at home in Oroville. The smell of jerked chicken hit my nose, intermixed with the sweet smell of ganja as we walked carefully through a large field set up for camping, right outside the music venue. Friday night was Deejay night and Zion Roots Sound was tearing up the turn-tables with the hottest Reggae dance tracks. My wife and I started dancing to the beat, even though we were exhausted from the long drive. The night was perfect, millions of stars were visible above us and the vibe was already irie. Later that night, as I was sitting outside the porta-potties waiting for my wife, some guy walks up to me and says, “Rastaman, you need a joint!” Then he handed me a fattie and disappeared into the night. Yep, we came to the right place. Irie, man.
The next morning we woke to find ourselves in a true Rasta camp. We got coffee and sat outside our tent greeting fellow concert goers as they walked past us. My wife handed out some SmokinJs rolling papers to a friendly Jamaican man passing by. He then thanked us, went over to his car, then returned and stuffed herb in our pipes and said, “Respect!” in a thick patois. The rest of the weekend was the same, we gave out rolling papers and free swag, then got ganja in return. I wish the real world worked that way.
On Saturday afternoon the temp hit 100 and the music started up. The festival was in full swing. The vendor booths were covered in red, gold and green and stocked with Rasta clothing and gifts. There were African crafts, Ital food, Rasta literature, a deejay booth spinning dancehall, hand-dipped bananas and ice cream. I stopped and chatted with the dreadlocked owner of a Rasta inspired clothing line called “Skills”. He turned out to be a former pro-soccer player from France, so we spoke a little French with each other and became friends. Walking up towards the stage, we passed through a covered area and beer garden. Numerous musicians and concert goers sat in that area, socializing and smoking herb. We walked down to the river access dock and cooled off while President Brown rocked the crowd. After our dip in the river, we sat under a shade tree and listened to Alika, Cali Reyes and a few other local California Reggae acts. They were all top-notch and offered the unique variety of musical styles and influences found in roots music.
Saturday night, as the relentless sun finally set, the mood got electric in anticipation of Capleton and Wyclef Jean’s performances. We found a spot half way to the stage and sat down. Capleton came in with a boom. He started shouting in his deep patois, “Are you ready for the FIYAH?” and the crowd went crazy. He appeared on stage dressed in a red turban, red and gold cape and red pants suit. He whipped the crowd into a frenzy with a number of his hits. He was really tearing it up when I noticed a stage hand pull his guitarist over and whisper in his ear. The guitarist frowned, walked over to Capleton and whispered in his ear. Capleton gave him a puzzled look and said in the microphone, “Why dem trying to steal my thunder?” then he started in on another song. Half way through, the show’s emcee started talking over the music and then they cut Capleton off. He stood there with his mic and asked if he could continue a cappella while they set up for Wyclef Jean. Then they cut his mic and started spinning deejay music. Capleton left the stage while numerous fans booed. The emcee tried to calm the crowd by explaining that Wyclef had a plane to catch and needed to get on. Suddenly there was a mass exodus away from the stage. The crowd continued to grumble until Wyclef came out.
Wyclef started with a Fugees classic, “Ready or Not”. The hip hop tune brought the mood up and everyone started singing along. And then it started, Wyclef’s notorious ego took over the show. Between songs he said, “I’m Wyclef Jean, if you don’t know who I am, “Google” me or ask Jay Z, he knows me! ..and everyone will tell you that Wyclef is the best!” It was the first of many famous name drops he did before and after every single song. Then he insulted the festival crowd by saying, “Y’all are lucky to be seeing me. I usually do shows ten times this size. Ifa Journey talked me into this. So I’m a do my thing, then catch a plane out of here to play for 30,000 tomorrow night.” People around us began to murmur about his ego as Wyclef ripped through a number of his pop hits and named dropped like a groupie. After an hour of playing, he started to do his hit with Shakira, “My Hips Don’t Lie” and half the crowd started to walk off, including us. The majority of the crowd was there for strictly Reggae Roots and the pop song was just too much. It was time to call it a night. We retired to our tent and dozed off while Wyclef continue to play pop music in the background. His head is so big, it’s surprising he didn’t float off stage and into the sky with the rest of the stars up there in outer space. I could hear him bragging about all the hits he had written for other artists, then someone in the camp turned on Reggae music and drowned him out. Praise Jah!
Sunday started out hotter than the day before. We woke at 7:30 am and it was already 85 degrees. We wanted to shower, but there were only two showers for over 200 campers, so a water spout became our back up. Over coffee that morning we got to know our new camp neighbors, who came in Saturday night. They were the road crew for Alika & Nuevo Alianza and Quinto Sol, two fine Spanish Reggae acts. We shared breakfast and herb with them and made fast friends. Big up to Al, Liz, Bubba, Sergio and crew for all the East L.A. love. We spent most of the afternoon hanging with them and talking Reggae until it got so hot in camp that we all went down to the river. Sunday had more concert goers because Stephen Marley was headlining. The river dock was full of concert attendees trying to cool off. We ran into Reggae legend, Don Carlos and his son and grandchildren, floating in a raft. The show was like that the whole weekend. It was full of families with children intermixing with musicians, vendors, Rasta Elders and a rainbow of concert goers from all ethnic backgrounds.
Sunday was pretty well attended and the crowd got in place early for Ifa Journey. He played a great set in the afternoon sun and the vibe got even higher for Don Carlos, formerly of Black Uhuru and the Wailing Souls. Don took the stage with his huge smile and a Silver Jacket and niced up the crowd for over an hour with his smooth Reggae hits. He got a huge ovation at the end of his set. We retired back to our camp site to cook dinner and relax until the Marley’s set that night. What an honor it was to see such a legend perform. My wife didn’t really know who he was, but became a big fan after his set was done.
Sunday night started with a big disappointment. I had scheduled and interview with Reggae artist, Luciano. I was really excited to see him in concert, he is one of my favorites. It was never announced that he wouldn’t play. Instead of his set, the deejay started spinning Luciano’s music on record. I tried to contact his manager, but I got no answer. Luciano’s absence is still a mystery. So we cleaned up and went back to the venue for the Marley’s set.
The night was very hot, but beautiful. A crescent moon rose over the river with two planets line-up near it. Hawks flew over head and children danced with glow necklaces on. The emcee started to get the crowd hyped for the Marley’s set by asking us to blaze up our herb while we waited for Stephen and his son, Jo Mersa Marley to play. Jo Mersa came on first. He’s a small, good-looking guy with blond dreads and bundle of that famous Marley energy. He ripped through a great set of new music and made a name for himself with the crowd. The Marley crown is in good hands for the future. Jo yielded the stage to his more famous father, Stephen, the second son of Bob Marley around 10 pm. The energy in the crowd was high. Stephen opened with his Dad’s funky tune, “Reggae on Broadway” The crowd started dancing immediately. After his first song, Stephen greeted the crowd with, “Greetings in the name of the Most High, Jah Rastafari!” Right in front of me, there were five little girls dancing with glow sticks in a circle. They all joined in chanting, “Jah Rastafari!” It was sheer magic. The crowd was dancing and praising Jah. Pure Rasta business. It made my heart so happy.
Stephen played a number of his hits and a few of his father’s. At one point in his set, he actually asked the crowd to give him some herb, because they had run out backstage. Immediately a jar was passed around and filled with beautiful green buds, then handed to Stephen onstage. He held it up and yelled out in his signature, “Yeahhh!” and then laughed. The highlight was him singing, “Three Little Birds” with the whole crowd. Stephen sounds so much like his father, it’s unreal. He ended the set with, “Could You Be Love”. It was a classic set and the crowd was very pleased. It was a fitting end to a brilliant weekend of sweet Reggae music, Caribbean food, Rasta vibes and Roots culture. We retired to our tent tired, but very irie.
Monday morning came quickly and we were seriously tired from the weekend. We were one of the few groups still camping, as most had left Sunday night. We packed up and cleaned up for our trip home. As I walked to the trashcan, a Rasta elder with grey dreadlocks flowing down his back passed me and said, “Respect and guidance to you Ras” We fist bumped and I returned the greeting. I knew immediately I wasn’t going to hear that greeting back home in Washington, so I reveled in it the rest of the day as we drove the ten hours back to Tacoma. I kept signing Stephen Marley’s “Rockstone” as we made our way home. We arrived in Tacoma, exhausted and smelly, but still feeling that Rasta vibe from our weekend experience.
I pray that the Oroville Rock Reggae JamFest continues on. It’s unique beautiful setting and authentic Rastafarian culture, food and vendors are the best I have ever encountered at a festival. Big up to Ifa Journey for what he has created. This Washington Rastaman and family were very impressed. Much love and respect to the man they call Ifa Journey. Jah Rastafari!