Reggae On The River
Written by Scott Brown
When I first met my buddy Dave Datallo, I had no idea that he even liked reggae. We would barbecue and swap stories about the Navy (Dave was also a Radioman, like me – except he was stationed onboard a ship, and I was on a pair of submarines).
One day he broke out a DVD to show me, and it was the 20th anniversary of the Reggae on the River festival, held in Humboldt County every summer. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; the music was incredible, and the quality of the video was amazing. The opening song was “96 Degrees in the Shade” by Third World, with a gorgeous full moon in the background and a huge crowd swaying to the music and signing along.
This was my introduction to Michael Franti and Spearhead, Anthony B, the GYC (Ghetto Youth Crew, with Damian and Stephen Marley), Beres Hammond, Toots and the Maytals, Israel Vibration and many more. I loved the lineup, which even included a couple of world music acts that blew me away. We watched that video maybe a dozen times over the next few weeks, and I went online to buy my own copy.
One day, in the early spring of 2006, Dave and I started talking about maybe making the trip up north to attend the festival. We teamed up and convinced Dave’s wife (Carrie) that we should go, and she agreed (Carrie actually attended Humboldt University, and knew the area quite well. Her mom lived in Fort Bragg, not too far from the festival site). With tickets in hand, we rented an RV. Dave’s friend Jon joined us (from Long Beach), and the four of us hit the road. Over the next week and a half, we had the experience of a lifetime, which strengthened our friendship and made me fall in love even more with reggae. We hauled our thirty foot RV up a tiny, winding driveway to the Maple Creek Winery, and the owners couldn’t believe that Dave actually drove that beast to the parking lot without incident.
When we finally arrived at the festival, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were tens of thousands of music lovers there, and the musical acts were simulcast over a low wattage FM station (which came in handy at times, when we were partied out). I soaked up the new music like a sponge, and I saw SOJA for the first time. They’re an amazing American reggae band, out of Washington, DC. We saw Barrington Levy (the Jamaican Canary) live, and we saw a group called Heavyweight Dub Champion, who took the stage while beautiful, scantily clad women twirled batons and spears that were on fire. I’ve never quite seen anything like that since. Ziggy and Stephen Marley closed out the festival that Sunday, and we slowly headed back to San Diego.
Just two years later, I went back to Reggae on the River with my girlfriend (at the time), Christa – and we had an incredible time. I can’t wait to go again, and I would HIGHLY recommend you place this festival on your bucket list. Buy the DVD, and watch it a few times – and I guarantee that you’ll be hooked as well. I really want to try that spinning, flaming spear trick – but my landlord doesn’t want me to burn the apartment down.
Scott Brown has a real passion for reggae music.