One Love Cali Reggae Fest 2018 in Long Beach was quite a jaunt from Los Angeles, but it was a great way to kick off my 2018 music festival season. It will be hard to find a more diverse crowd than what this festival had, a nice mix of people of all ethnicities, not the 80% white crowd you typically find at a music festival.
This was admittedly my first reggae festival, and I somehow underestimated how positive of a crowd it would be. There wasn’t the same kind of pushing and shoving to get closer to the front that you experience at other festivals.
I was in a rush and thus showed up to the festival with weed and no papers, and one of the people next to me solved my problem for me. Even when the line to get into the festival the first day was abhorrently long, none of the people around me complained in the same manner as they may have elsewhere. Again, probably 85 percent or so of the people at this festival were stoned (me included), so maybe that’s the answer to some of the world’s biggest problems.
This was a festival that was so loose, during multiple performances there were dogs running around on stage, chilling. Even Nas was taken back by it during his headline set Sunday, calling a dog that wandered out there the chillest dog ever.
Nas and Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals were the two main acts that drew me to One Love Cali Reggae Fest 2018, and both delivered masterful performances. Nas perfomed all the hits from Illmatic, and the positive-tuned tracks like “The World Is Yours”, “If I Ruled The World”, and “I Can” fit the festival’s vibe to perfection. In a hip-hop era oversaturated by rappers who mumble and rap three words per verse and let the track do all the work, seeing Nas rap every bar without problem was a breath of fresh air.
Ben Harper is an artist with as diverse a catalog as any living musician. For One Love Cali Reggae Fest 2018, Harper and The Innocent Criminals catered their set to the festival’s crowd. This meant they went heavy on their more reggae-sounding stuff, as well as their biggest protest songs. They favored songs from their 2016 record Call It What It Is, the band’s first work together in eight years.
It wasn’t quite the same as seeing this band at their best — guitarist Michael Ward has been replaced and keyboardist Jason Yates wasn’t there for some reason. But Harper still had bass player Juan Nelson, the backbone of the band. And Harper’s charisma (and looks these days) is on par with that of The Rock, and he really hit you right in the heart. Also, pot smoke was never billowed at a higher rate than when Harper played “Burn One Down” early in his set. They closed with “With My Own Two Hands”, which they nearly ran out of time to play. It was a perfect way to punctuate the band’s reggae fest set.
Iration played sets both days, and if you came to both days of the festival, you saw the same exact set — although they were great. “Time Bomb” was a highlight, as was the way they closed each night — with a cover of Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”.
Pepper was early on Saturday and seemed to be the band a lot of people were filing in to see as the line stretched pretty deep 15 minutes before they went on. The Kona dub rockers delivered their usual energetic set, with “Ashes” being the standout track for me personally. The guys are also hilarious, at one point asking girls to get on their boyfriends’ shoulders. “It’s like a poonanny neck pillow,” one of them said.
Rebelution played a fun set Saturday night, but I ended up drifting over to the smaller stage and being wowed by the more jam-heavy Twiddle. Their keyboardist was absolute fire and each member took turns delivering high-octane solos. It’s no surprise that this band has a show at Red Rocks this May with Stick Figure, who joined them on stage for the encore.
Minneapolis rap duo Atmosphere took the stage prior to Rebelution’s headline set on the main stage and had the crowd up front rapping along to nearly every word. During one kind of dark track, Slug stopped the track and recognized this fest wasn’t the place for a “bad vibe song” and changed it to a much happier song. It seemed that many of the non-reggae artists recognized what kind of fest they were playing and adjusted.
I’m not fully in tune with what’s happening in the reggae scene, but are there zero female reggae performers? That’s the vibe I caught at One Love Cali Fest, which outside of Sunday early-day act Nattali Rize, there were no female-led performers. With hip-hop acts like Nas and Atmosphere atop the bill, there was also room to put some female MCs on the bill if there isn’t a deep roster of female talent in the reggae space to draw from. Shit, even some stoner R&B acts like Kelela would have fit perfectly on this bill.
Queen Mary Park was a beautiful place to catch a festival and I was thankful in mid February that the weather held up, given it was raining in Los Angeles just one day later. It was a bitch getting in and out of the park the first day, but they seemed to adjust things for Sunday, which was a much smoother process. Long Beach is where reggae and dub rock and hip-hop can thrive, so hopefully One Love Cali Reggae Fest continues to fill that slot for years to come.
Photos by Jacqui Gaball