One Love Cali Reggae Fest
When I moved here just over a year ago, I almost immediately heard rumors about how great the Observatory was and how OC didn't know how lucky it was to have such an excellent venue right here. I experienced it for myself just a few weeks later, and sure enough, everyone was right. The Observatory was a wonderful place to see both rock and rap shows (probably other genres too, but I wouldn't know).
In 2015, I went to (far too) many concerts at the Observatory, and they were all good experiences other than a few minor hiccups. Something's changed in 2016. Lines are impossibly long, shows are ridiculously oversold, and some of the newer staff members just don't seem to know what they're doing just yet. That was all on full display Saturday afternoon and evening for the inaugural One Love Cali Reggae Fest (and don't even consider parking at an Observatory festival).
Now, every band I saw on Saturday sounded just as good as advertised. Artists like Shwayze and KRS-One made it worth fans' time to come early in the day, and the afternoon was definitely the most pleasant time to be in the Observatory's parking lot. Current reggae icons like Rebelution, Iration, and Pepper each brought their own vibes to the evening portion of the show, as thousands of fans attempted to climb over each other to move just about anywhere in the venue.
By sundown, a line of well over 100 people was already waiting outside of the gate to get in while only a few overworked security guards patted down (and confiscated a joint, pipe, or baggie from) each attendee. Inside of the parking lot, the crowded situation was no better, as yet another mob formed outside of the front doors of the actual venue to see the local and smaller bands (Aloha Radio, New Kingston, etc.) playing on the indoor stages. Of course, this cluster (and the lines for the bathrooms and food vendors) eventually backed up until it ran into the thousands of fans gathered around to see groups like Stick Figure and Tribal Seeds, essentially creating a stoner mosh pit for anyone trying to go anywhere.
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It's obviously not the first time a festival has been ridiculously packed, but it seemed like the kind of situation that could easily send kids to the hospital with the right combination of heat and drugs. Considering how crowded and disorganized Beach Goth gets, it was actually surprising how much work the reggae festival was. Thankfully, it was a cool evening and weed isn't for overdosing, so I only saw a handful of people pass out and only heard of a couple possible seizures.
Aside from the insane crowd and general disorganization, the festival was a wonderful day and night of the best reggae-based music both in SoCal and in the country. Although few bands got as big an ovation as "Santeria" being played over the speakers between sets, most fans spent several hours there rather than showing up for one or two bands and then leaving. It's nearly impossible to compare one band against another, as Iration's island vibes and Pepper's drunken stage party (complete with an animated bass drumhead of the drummer and his dog) are opposite ends of the spectrum and equally awesome in their own ways. The biggest bonus was the lack of Slightly Stoopid meant the number of tank top-wearing bros was cut down by at least 40 percent.
Hopefully, the Observatory figures things out in time for next year's festival (or sooner). The venue is in no danger of losing money over its logistical grease fires, but they're certainly not doing themselves (and OC's concertgoers) any favors. Hell, the organization of the One Love Cali Reggae Fest was almost bad enough to overlook the dozens of white guys with dreadlocks. Almost.