One Love Cali Reggae Fest, The Observatory’s third annual celebration of soulful, island-inspired music of all stripes, returned to the Queen Mary last weekend featuring more than 50 acts over two days including an eclectic batch of headliners ranging from reggae rock to hip-hop. This year’s marquee talent included a Saturday night party with Rebelution and Atmosphere that spilled into Sunday’s show headlined by Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals and Nas.
After making it past the long VIP line, I arrived just in time to catch Fortunate Youth on the main stage on Saturday around 1:15 p.m. Their bombastic island-inspired vibes immediately got crowds to sway their hips and put their hands in the air. The crowd burst into screams when members of the group threw tons of glass pipes and packaged marijuana into the crowd and shouted, “One love” a defacto rallying cry for the stoned, bleary-eyed masses.
When lead singer, Dan Kelly, reminded everyone Bob Marley’s birthday (Feb. 6) had just passed by saying, “Happy Birthday Bob Marley,” the cheers of approval where loud enough to demonstrate the whole foundation of this fest’s unity.
“One Love is a community event spreading love and good vibes throughout the community,” said Scott Brown, a producer for internet radio station Big Reggae Mix. “Just hanging out with these amazing bands, a lot of them are from California, we play their music daily, and we absolutely love the vibe here.”
Brown’s fellow producer Mitch Santell concurred. “One Love Festival, for me, is sort of the ultimate event that you go to when you want to see every world class, top shelf reggae band and be right close up and really be with the group and the vibe,” Santell said.
Since the event was all about unity, togetherness, and spreading love, the all-ages event brought families from all over, including 12 year-old Devin Wood and his seven-year-old brother Julian who came with their father from LA just to see J Boog and Collie Buddz. “It’s kind of boring-ish,” Wood said ever so bluntly in the way only a 12 year old can. “I wanna come for the music, but [there’s] too many adult for all the stuff in between.”
However, his brother Julian felt quite the opposite, “I like these kind of people here and I really like to dance. I like to do a lot of spin around dances and I get to do a lot of that here.” Though I wouldn’t have thought to bring my 10-year-old son to this festival, after meeting the Wood brothers, I might reconsider next year.
The Flav stage, featuring a mix of acts both traditional and modern Cali-style reggae throughout the weekend, was positioned in part of the massive parking lot, meaning the music could be heard from the streets, and those waiting in line couldn’t help but dance while they waited, some headed straight over the bridge to catch, The Holdup, Jesse Royal and Tomorrow’s Bad Seeds or Long Beach Dub All Stars, Barrington Levy and Yellowman. This side stage never seemed to lack energy, gave more of a reggae vibe throughout the line-up, as more of the Sublime-esque reggae rock and hip-hop acts Atmosphere and Nas took over the main stage.
In the vendor village, I realized that hungry, high, buzzed and happy people will wait what seems like forever for Pink Taco and a cocktail. The area was loaded with all kinds of food, rolling papers, Rastafarian merchandise and other unique items for purchase and all of them full of people eyes closed swaying to the music.
But the stands didn’t have the souvenir I wanted, which was hand painted pictures of Iration, Matisyahu, Pepper and the majority of the main stage performers. Each one was done during their sets, it was so inspiring, how this artist was able to look at the bands on stage and make the painting come to life on the page, sadly, not for sale. So I raced backstage of each artist and took the photos myself.
It should be noted that over both days of the festival, I only witnessed one person leave on a stretcher and not a single fight or even a confrontation. Bands shared baseball bat sized blunts with the crowd, I fell in love with Common King’s lead singer, Junior, and all their music as they captured one of the biggest crowds on Sunday, as did mellow Santa Barbara-based reggae rockers Iration with their two-night performance. Rebelution’s fans stampeded across the festival grounds to catch them on stage as well. Someone from the audience threw a huge bag of bud on the stage for Nas. But the main highlight, at least for yours truly, was getting to personally meet Atmosphere and Ben Harper!
Though this was my first time catching One Love Cali Reggae Fest, I’m pretty sure I’ll never miss another one again.