Thursday, March 1, 2018

One Love Cali Fest 2018 Shows Ticket Holders No Love

Easy Star All Stars greeted by police and sniffing dogs. Photo from their Instagram post 2.12.18.

When the One Love Cali (Reggae?) Festival was announced so late in December, a lot of us weren't sure it was going to be on the agenda for February 2018. I was one. I tried to coordinate with my friend Tracey right away, but they sold out Saturday tickets and we couldn't buy a GA two day pass. Next was a roller coaster of silly announcements by organizers which eliminated her from booking her flight from Arizona. Shame on you organizers treating repeat patrons this way. Then I saw several artists disappear from the roster including: Chronixx from Jamaica. 

At a late date, I decided to go alone to this fest, knowing I'd see many friends inside. My intent was to do a review of the fest with hopes it was improved from 2017. The fest started in Santa Ana at the OC Observatory, which considers itself a power hip hop/ top 40 venue, but many don't agree. Especially since it's in um, Santa Ana. In essence I'll show you that this festival is nothing more to the organizers than a commercial for their venue, and that's the only explanation I could find for the lack of love shown to show-goers. First the band reviews, then the logistics reviews.


Steel Pulse
My third time seeing this powerhouse group live (previously in Tucson, Arizona and Portland, Oregon), their sound was just as precise and crisp as I remembered. This band are some of the "most high" in preaching the message of racial equality (Rock Against Racism) social justice, and world peace. A message we love to hear alongside their power ballad catchy tunes and riddims. You can feel every strum and keyboard stroke, every kettle drum and snare snap in your bones, every strum of guitar is intended to stir your soul and raise your awareness to higher heights.

The band played one of my favorites "Chant A Psalm A Day" (though I'm not religious) acoustic, powered through their hits leading to Rollerskater, a song a friend introduced me to over 20 years ago. I remember the minute I heard the story song first "life-life without music, I won't go - life without music, I won't go", and everyone sang wishing it wouldn't end. 

The UK-based band has just lost its drummer a couple months ago, Steve "Grizzly" Nesbit and keyboardist Selwyn Brown said a word for him in closing the show after an intimate encore. David Hinds the lead singer has been bringing good Jah vibes around the world as the singing front man and guitarist for decades. No sign of stopping, Steel Pulse is a headliner wherever they go.


Tomorrow's Bad Seeds
Settling in on the Flav Stage side, I met a couple people who recommended I see Tomorrow's Bad Seeds. I heard their set start and gravitated toward the stage. The three smokestacks on top the Queen Mary stood as a backdrop for this stage, with a black mesh to cut the glare. Very picturesque view by day.

"Bad Seed" is a mix of reggae rhythms and ideas, punk, rock, conscious music, and maybe some thrash tossed in. A band who's sound made my arm hair stand straight up from pure energy, I'm glad I checked them out. Love the message, and lead man Moises Juarez owned the stage, moving and covering every inch. The band were a tableau of rhythm all moving as one, extremely tight-knit with many ethnicities, and a hell of a lot of fucking style. One to watch, the band has a message. Do look them up.

J Boog
I scooch scooch scooched over to catch at least part of J. Boog. A towering force in So Cal reggae, J. Boog is a Compton native with Samoan lineage who is always giving thanks to us locals who support him. As a child he started with a Bob Marley songbook and never looked back. The singer is so smooth with a voice made of pure gold. No one would deny it. I saw live "Let Me Love You" (girl), with beautiful digital backdrop of his name in script, Compton Blvd. and Dale's Donuts as he sang. 

Josh Heinrichs & Skillin Jah
The boys are back. I first saw this band with the two main men fronting at Shoreline Jam. Abbot and Costelo of Reggae at times, you never know what they'll do next (and you have to follow their instagrams @joshheinrichs and @skillinjah420). These guys sing to the smokers and truly believe it's time to use the herb as the "healing of the nations" it was put on this earth to facilitate. Traditional reggae themes - very bluesy guitar, and a dancehall mic burn from Skillin Jah to raise your pulse. I learned that Ikanik Farms is sponsoring their current tour, so see them if they come to your town. Always a fun jam, thanks for the groove guys!

Ooklah the Moc
My surprise of the festival, I had a great time during this set. On the Flav stage, we had an eight member line-up with three singers, one woman, two guys. Jah messages, spiritual and nature ideas, deep tom tom drums, and on-point harmonic vocals kept me (and the entire audience) enraptured. I saw and heard Native American elements and movements too if I'm not mistaken. The band were delighted at our receptivity, and gave it right back, singer Kali Navales saying "we've gotta keep this going". They took that energy and made more. Elevating us on each song, with the height of recognition and joy being "Spliff Mood" (thank you Pandora!). Singers Micky Huihui, Kali Navales, and Pokii Seto each had lead songs and sang on every song creating a rainbow of sound. Fitting as they call themselves Hawaiian Reggae. This band is a gem in a dusty, male & pale dominant scene. The real deal.

The act is a young and energetic one, based in rock with reggae undertones. Like a high powered Blink 182, plus like Gwen Stefani pop style of reggae, Ballyhoo is super fun for the kids. I would say it's reggae's distant cousin. Impeccably together, the band had a ton of fans show up. They are soon to collaborate (or already did?) on a song with Erich Rachmany lead of Rebelution. I'd say they're definitely going places in California reggae.

Collie Buddz
Just wondering, does this guy ever have a bad set? His band was accompanied by OUTSTANDING female singer Kat Dahlia who carries "Save me from the Rain", and was one of the few female artists even present at the fest. He gave us everything we wanted, blasting through hit after hit like "Come Around", "Sensimilla" Collie Buddz is a straight pro hailing from Bermuda with a life in the states too. That island vibe is what we crave. But he is a master performer, and saw an opportunity. 

Collie Buddz brought up a stage member who was singing every word of his song "Haters". Now as you know that could go either way. But the bday boy did not let us down. I met him on Instagram and here's his friend's video of it. So many laughs. (See more Collie Buddz & Birthday Boy). I think this might have made him completely famous, or at least infamous. I ran into people talking about this later in the festival. Great times.

By the time I got to the One Love Stage, most formations had moved forward and closed. The most popular act hands down of the fest, Saturday single-tickets sold out immediately for them I'm sure. Rebelution has been leading and bringing acts with them for so long, they deserve all the props on that. Bringing lyrics with positivity, themes of nature, marijuana songs, uplifting hippie ideas that never die like One Love toward fellow man of all origins and colors, in essence Rebelution is still the baddest of the bad right now.

During their set we heard familiar greatness like "Safe & Sound", "So High", "De-stress" and others, as well as two new songs. Eric announced a new single this week, so get on that fans. Rebelution has schedule a festival with Stephen Marley in Jamaica. There is no stopping these ones. Thank you to all members of Rebelution for such great vibes (always with you) and great music to keep us inspired. Go buy all their albums if you haven't already, a new one is coming.


Easy Star All Stars
I barely made it after a day of exhausting show-going, to the after-party on the boat. But after listening to Dub Side of the Moon for well over two decades, I'll be damned if I'd miss my pre-paid chance at seeing the album performed live. The Easy Star All Stars (of Easy Star Records which is Rebelution's label and other greats) started with Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon' and made it reggae. Your mind will bend hearing the complexity, and you will love it. But to hear the very difficult musical and vocal parts played live: chills upon chills. The venue was horrible but that's for later. The band is sophisticated and nuanced, like scholars who recite classic scripts to keep them alive. The band can't get enough praise from me. Well done. The "lunatic is on the grass".

The Original Wailers, Flav Stage Sunday Feb. 12, 2018


Tribal Seeds
Tribal Seeds did crowd favorites and then my favorite their song "Vampire" as a famous fest finale (see YouTube Cali Roots video). The Green came on stage and relit the flame. Overall TS they had a great set with tons of fans showing for them on the main stage. Showing their digital animation video as a backdrop, I was reminded that Tribal Seeds has family and  an all ages following, and are doing their part to show a history that is non-christian, Rasta, and positive messages about how to survive society amidst Babylon.

The bringdown? A huge stage static noise blared out mid-song, mid-set, evoking an audible "uggg" from the entire 10-15 thousand people on hand. There had been sound issues at this stage all weekend, and with this being the worst that I know of. With these high ticket fees, you'd think the "main stage" would be top notch, it wasn't. It was treble heavy and echoing. 

The Original Wailers
The band played on stage B and (Flav Stage) and had a lively set ripping through Bob Marley hits such as "Stir It Up", "I Shot the Sheriff", and other new material. With one original Wailer, it's confusing who all the further line-up is. With tons of hits to draw from, the Original Wailers enjoyed an enthusiastic audience, and we heard juke box hits aired out in style. It creates a lot of imagination what hearing Bob Marley might have been like, back in the day.

Stick Figure
"Shelter" is the oldest song they played this set, a dog-friendly feel-good travelling song (where band leader Scott Woodruff shouts out and brings up Cocoa the Tour Dog", a lengthy track (one of my faves) off the Burial Ground album. "Sound of the Sea", ('I'm wishin' right now I was fishin') - an epic So Cal anthem who's lyrics were carved by the ocean was sung too and was fresh sound-wise. We also heard "Smokin' Love" (Set in Stone album) the finale' song featuring Iya Terra and to our surprise, Matisyahu came out for two verses. The song is such a classic, and the remixes on YouTube are worth a listen.

The conclusion of Smokin' Love had been reworked and sounded spectacular, with surprise rhythm breaks and live reverb touches. You could hear a pin drop as they broke it down. I noted the second keyboard was being played by Johnny Cosmic (those classic high "Stick" piano parts) played along side of the rhythm guitar backing up Scott Woodruff. Band original & Claw-master Kevin Bong aka K Bong held down harmonies and keyboard, Drummer Kevin Offitzer kept the heartbeat, and Bassist Tommy Suliman held down the electric bass (Stick Figure has an excellent bass-heavy presence, always fun to hear live, with tons of dubby echos throughout). We were treated to both "Easy Runway" and "Above the Storm" (the final stop of that tour) but the Set in Stone album's "Fire on the Horizon" started the very well-attended Sunday evening time set, which was magic.

Sammy Johnson
I caught this act passing through stage B area, and was surprised by Johnson's vocal power. He's from the other side of the world, and you can't judge a book by its cover, is very fitting. Take a listen to this jazzy mega talent.

Long Beach Dub Allstars
The band had a great set jamming to some of their old classics (the band are littered with Sublime alumni) and airing out classics too. Sound and lighting were perfect for their set (unlike stage A). The band is alive and well, doing great. Their finale was bringing up members of THE Wailing Souls to sing the cover of "War Deh Round A John Shop" which Sublime made famous with lyric and title change to "Down Here at the Pawn Shop". The audience called back as the Wailing Souls drifted in and out of their lyrics and Brads cover. What a moment in the LBC. Vibes were thick with memories of Brad and Lou Dog right there at that moment. Ask anyone. 

I never got to the late Sunday moment I tried to wait out (a whole nother hour and a half?!) I couldn't do it. Barrington Levy should never have been scheduled that late on Sunday. 

Then I had to leave due to exhaustion - Couldn't wait that hour to see Barrington Levy. OMG Why not earlier for this reggae legend? I also wanted to avoid the tremendous bottle neck I'd walked into last year. Some of us have claustrophobia, not a good ending to a fest. Had to avoid that. I rescued a girl caught on the rail last year, remember Tracey?

Will I Ever Attend Again?
Exhaustion and difficult entry really took a lot of energy due to the amount of misinformation. I didn't know parking was allowed Friday at the Boat. It took me about an hour to park in my sneak spot downtown Long Beach, take an Uber to the event, and walk in. Then, Easy Star All Stars had not yet started after my rush, so I had to to grab a drink on the deck ($20!). Problem was, the stage set up had no sight lines unless you were in the atrium (fits probably 200 people) the rest of us were fucked. Seeing half of the band and hearing half of the sound. I've been a producer, so these decisions confound me.

As I walked (the beginning of the 20 hours of undesirable walking throughout the weekend) from my Uber onto the Queen Mary, I was relieved that my ticket was waiting at Will Call without issue. 

Bands that are from Easy Star Records are professionals, many of the bands booked were with that label. The acts booked at One Love brought their A games, and connected to new and returning audiences. That's the good news. The bad news is I don't know if I can bring myself to ever endure the conditions for a third time. 

This was my second chance for One Love Cali Fest. I went in ready to forgive them for pretending to be sold-out, making my friend from Arizona cancel her flight and then later mysteriously having a weekend pass called a "Green Light" pass. (Assholes!) I went in thinking - "Maybe it's not just a commercial for their venue the "OC Observatory". Maybe the organizers just needed to figure it out planning wise to better it from last year. Nope. It was a total (as one guest I overhead said:) "Shit Show". 

If you are a 20 something male, you probably felt no discomfort for your festival. If you are an aging Reggae fan, female, such as myself, you noticed a ton of discomfort. Arriving Sat a.m. by Uber, to find complete road closure to all vehicles, only to find out a free shuttle for all ticket-holders (not just paid parkers) was half a block away? So I didn't have to hike with hundreds of others like two miles in to the fest grounds? 

I was goosed. I was fondled as I walked briskly forward to hear a band on stage A side (One Love Stage), in broad daylight. A full under-cupping grab of my right ass cheek. When I whipped around to face the jackass having done it, he smirked as I told him he was a vile human. No security in sight, very overcrowded conditions. I saw a woman have the exact same experience, and express her outrage to the man, the second day. Gross. No security was evident at all. And what about teens having this experience, since the show was all ages? Mortified. 

The port-o-potty experience is the second worst in my life, the first being last year. I say this having attended a ton of jazz, blues, swing, rockabilly, and reggae fests in my life. Dark - wet all over, are two things you do not want to face at an outdoor fest. Last year, there were no lights either. The temporary faucet sink things created mud which you had to step in to wash you hands. But I can't say this enough, worst outdoor bathroom experience I have ever had. I waited all day to pee because of it. 

I never want such disgusting memories associated with the artists and music I love ever again. Ever. That's what was bugging me, not placing trust in these idiotic organizers who grabbed a great name for a festival, not being confounded again, that they can't commit to reggae, not that they got KROQ (a pop and rock station) as a sponsor, forget all that. It was straight up gross. I - no reggae fan - deserves the way you treated us. 

Artists I Missed: Iya Terra, Matisyahu, Fortunate Youth, Jesse Royal, Hirie (11:50 am? She is an inaugural fest artist wtf?!) Matisyahu (again - he played both days) Arise Roots (missed like last year due to logistics), Natalie Rize, Landon McNamara, Through the Roots. I never even had a chance to see Through the Roots and Fortunate Youth with their RIDICULOUS time slots booked. You lost me completely this year One Love. It's not supposed to be a festival for rock or punk rock, since you put reggae in the name, but what I see is a race toward the Warped Tour. I for one, will not be in attendance next year.