Reggae on the River 2014: 30 Years Strong! ~ Review & Photos

Friday Night at ROTR 2014

Friday Night In The Bowl At Reggae On The River 2014

Life… it’s full of stressful responsibilities. And now, more than ever, people are scrambling so hard to be that first person through the stoplight or to be the one grabbing that new iPhone, but we’re forgetting how to just be happy with what we already have and to appreciate others around us without asking for more. It’s like we’ve forgotten what family means and where home truly resides: The Heart.


MCC: Stand Firm

That’s why it’s so important for organizations like the Mateel Community Center and events like Reggae on the River to be able to continue to do what they do: Provide a time and a space for us all to come back home.

This year, Reggae on the River celebrated their 30th Anniversary at French’s Camp in Humboldt County, California. The four day event stretches along a beautiful length of the Eel River with a prime beach area at the south end of the site (known as South Beach.) For decades, Reggae on the River has provided a privileged education to the heartical masses by way of World Class Reggae Music and One Love Unity… and it just keeps getting better!

Courtney John Project - Thursday Night

Courtney John Project – Thursday Night

The 2014 lineup brought some serious musical entertainment with all kinds of Reggae from yesterday and today. I was impressed with Reggae on the River’s ability this year to showcase legendary Roots Reggae artists alongside newer acts that highlighted the many variances in Reggae Music including Electronica, Dub, Dancehall, World, Funk, and Rock. Respecting, promoting, and keeping the wisdom of the elders alive at the same time as letting the newer generations shine through and teach us what they’ve learned:

That’s One Love Unity… Seen?

I was excited to learn that media people could check in on Wednesday at Reggae this year, so my crew and I arrived as early as we could that afternoon. What a beautiful strange, crossing that bridge into French’s Camp, looking over and not seeing any tents or people where there would soon be thousands. We quickly spied a shady zone that looked like an oasis calling our names in the hot sun and set up our camp. Ended up over in the 4×4 section as you pull in to the left below the RV area, not fully realizing at the time how far we actually were from the Concert Bowl.

After we were settled in, we took a walk all the way to South Beach. I felt like I was walking directly through years and years of meaningful memories, stepping on sacred stones that have been touched by the hearts of thousands, and looking into waters that hold the secrets of Reggae.

Gaudi - Thursday Night

Gaudi – Thursday Night

If you didn’t buy the 4-day Ticket, you are really kicking yourself right now because Thursday night at Reggae was HUGE! So many groundbreaking musical experiences and it was only the beginning!! Gaudi officially melted my face off during his set which included a mesmerizing beatbox performance by Danny Ladwa.

You know those waves that you can feel run through your body when you hear a song you really love, see someone you’ve missed a long time, or experience a moment that touches your heart profoundly? Thursday night at Reggae was one of those moments for me. Wave after wave of utter amazement passed through my body and ended with Michael Rose and Gaudi hand in hand singing something that sounded like a dream I once had: Put Your Guns Down… Put Your Guns Down… Put Your Guns Down!!!

That’s what getting to Reggae on the River early is all about! Things happen at Reggae that are once in a lifetime kind of experiences. The longer you have at French’s Camp, the more of these experiences you get to have. The more of these experiences you get to have, the more you realize how lucky you really are to be alive.

ROTR 2014 Opening Ceremony

ROTR 2014 Opening Ceremony

Friday arrived. Gentleman & The Evolution was headlining the night over a bunch of acts I really wanted to see: Thicker Than Thieves, Majic, I-Kronik, Megah Banton, Fishbone, Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang, Bitty McLean, and Michael Rose. However, I had a problem: major blisters on my feet that were killing me from walking so far from my camp to the concert bowl the two days before. Regardless, I carried on with my mission of enjoying and capturing the vibes as best I could. I was just a little more limited physically, so I wasn’t able to make it to as many places as I usually do at a festival.

At Reggae on the River, one love unity is the vibe and I felt it everywhere! From the guy by himself needing a hand with a hundred pound cooler, to the hot, dusty kid needing a drink of water, to the blown over pop-up shade structure and tents, the good people of Reggae were on it! We all helped each other enjoy our time together as much as we could. In fact, the feeling of one love unity was so there this summer that years of civil war and unrest that divided a very loving community came full circle right before my very eyes as unity and love once again were more important than anything anyone ever did or anything anyone ever said… and that was the moment that the MCC brought Carol Bruno out on stage and introduced her to the Reggae massive.

Carol Bruno

Carol Bruno

Stand out performances for me on Friday included I-Kronik, Megah Banton, Fishbone, and Gentleman & the Evolution. Let me start by saying I-Kronik is super solid, giving out high vibes every time! Megah Banton’s contagious energy filled right into the groove, keepin’ I n I pon a irie dancehall tip. Fishbone’s performance was wickedly funky with ecstatic vocals and horns driving their unique musical beat. Gentleman & The Evolution? WOW!!! I’ve seen Gentleman perform one time before, and it was a lot of fun, so I knew he was going to kill it with irie vibes at ROTR 2014, but I didn’t know he and the Evolution were going to straight up run tings!! Did you see dem a gwan???

Gentleman - Friday Night

Gentleman – Friday Night

Gentleman took some time out for the people. He ventured out into the crowd, shaking hands as he gave and created smiles. He let fans sing verses into his microphone as he walked through the positive vibes, and when he came back he stood with the people at barrier in front of the stage, all the while music playing, smile on his face, as he kept on singing “Dem Gone… So far away… Dem Gone…”

The next morning, I heard a bunch of “Tales from the Dancehall” from my crew. My poor feet couldn’t take another trek that night, so I just headed back to camp after Gentleman’s act and crashed out. Which reminds me… that’s the other thing about Reggae: it never sleeps. There’s always something going on if you’re looking for action 24/7! And if you’re not? Bring some ear plugs!!

It was a HOT weekend, so staying hydrated and shaded made for an ongoing task. Saturday was there before I knew Friday was even over. Performances from John Trudell & Bad Dog, Indubious, Abya Yala, Marlon Asher, Etana, See-I, Third World, Iration, & Jimmy Cliff were on schedule for today and I was going to try and make it to all of them. My energy level was a bit low, but nuh matta! Irie times a gwan fi Saturday too dem!!

Indubious - Saturday

Indubious – Saturday

I made it to the bowl just as Indubious started. As the music hit my ears, my spirits were instantly refreshed! Evton B, Skip Wicked, and Matty T awed and amazed me… Indubitably!! Genre smashing, booty shaking, and smile making for sure, and it wasn’t just me: I overheard plenty people round di way saying “What a big sound! It’s just three of them? Wow!”

As the day flew by, I visited most of the vendor booths to spend my money and say hi to some of the fantastic artists and friends I’ve come to know over the years in the reggae industry. I love spending money supporting people who love what they do for a living and make a quality product. Their love always shines through whatever they do. Whether it’s art, products, service, or food, if someone really loves it, chances are that whatever they are doing is going to be really awesome. That being said, I frequented Spyro’s Gyros, Mystic Lion, Pure Anywear, Satori Movement, Fatbol, the Mateel Community Center booth, as well as a quite a few others. I also wanted to send a shout out to the solar cell phone charging guys that were out in the heat all day every day giving people a free place to charge their cell phones. BIG UP!!

Marlon Asher - Saturday

Marlon Asher – Saturday

With their vibrant stage presence, smooth melodies, and world reggae beats filling the air, Abya Yala made me smile from ear to ear. And if you didn’t already know, Marlon Asher truly is the Ganja Farmer! He absolutely commanded the stage with skilled charisma while being backed by tight beats, wicked bass, and fresh chunes. Marlon’s set made for one of my favorites of the day.

Etana is always a lot of fun to watch and dance to. Terrific voice with one of the best smiles I’ve seen inna minute too! See-I was all over the stage, bringing the energy level a bit higher with their unique blend of reggae inspired soul music.

Third World - Saturday Night

Third World – Saturday Night

Third World really touched my heart. I felt their vibe deep down… and they really miss their Bunny. We all do. What’s inspiring to me is: They kept pon di trod, they kept their heads and their chins up, and they gave us all something to believe and feel in our hearts once again. Love is real, I see Jah Glory in the morning sun, and it’s always 96 degrees in the shade. Real hot, oh yes, in the shay-e-ade…!

After I recovered from traveling on Third World’s epic journey to Addis, it was time for Iration and then Jimmy Cliff to close. Iration’s set was extra cool for the eyes as they brought out their own light set up in addition to the epic lighting Reggae already had. I hung out and enjoyed their jams in the pit for a bit, but then headed out to the sound board to capture those lights.

Jimmy Cliff - Saturday Night

Jimmy Cliff – Saturday Night

Jimmy Cliff has got to have some of the highest energy I have ever witnessed on stage from any of the many legends of reggae that I’ve had the pleasure of shooting over the years. The musicianship was outstanding, the vibrations were elating, and the little time I had in the photo pit was very exciting. Three songs, NO flash, and you’re OUT!!! Right Mitch?

The Dancehall on Saturday was promising to be of epic proportions with Rocker T lending his voice pon the mic in the late night hours. Before I gimped my way down to South Beach to try and catch some of his act, there was another thing me and my crew had to attend to: Tacos. And I’m not just talking any tacos, I’m talking the best tacos you could find anywhere in French’s Camp after the concert bowl closed. If you know, then you know! If you don’t, then stay out of my way cuz I was in line first!! Seen? BOOM!!!

By the time we made it down to the dancehall, I was too taco’d out. So I went back to my tent well before morning and slept as long as the sun would let me. Hot days, cool nights, tons of fun, lots of work, and epic tacos will do you in every time (just a warning.)

Meta & the Cornerstones - Sunday

Meta & the Cornerstones – Sunday

Then it’s Sunday. You wake up and realize: This is it. The last day. Make the best of what you got left. All Ways! And today was going to be freakin’ awesome: Ras Marcus Benjamin opening then Zili Misik, Meta & the Cornerstones, Mutabaruka & Skool Band, Jah9, Gyptian, Israel Vibration, and finally Alpha Blondy & The Solar System!!

The other thing about Sunday is that it’s always my slowest day getting down to the bowl, which means I missed the first two acts. But, I did make it in time for Meta & the Cornerstones which was amazing! Their upbeat original roots riddims entwined with sweet, penetrating vocals provided for serious edutainment and irie vibes.

As I had imagined, Mutabaruka & Skool Band’s poetry, prose, and music was stimulating, powerful, and hilarious. “Smiles for miles with many styles” is all I kept thinking as I watched their performance. There was this seriousness about it though, so I started taking notes in my mind to figure out the lessons.

Dub Cowboy - Sunday

Dub Cowboy – Sunday

Next up in between sets was my friend Dub Cowboy on the 1’s and 2’s. I’ve known this brother since high school. I brought him to his first Dead Show and he brought me to my first Reggae Festival. Dub Cowboy also hosts the Reggae Jamdown on KHSU every Friday, just like he has for years. It was an honor to hang with him for the weekend fa real. Big up Dub Cowboy each n every time!!!

Speaking of honor, I’ve waited a long time to witness Jah9’s works in the flesh and must say that her performance at Reggae greatly exceeded my expectations and gave my heart true hope for the future of conscious reggae music. With I-Kronik supplying skilled and powerful renditions of her Dub Reggae Soul Word Sound, Jah9 dazzled the Reggae massive with vivid musical landscapes of wisdom, love, and respect of Haile Salassie I Jah Ras Tafari. Give thanks Jah9. Real Talk. Heard, felt, seen: Big Respect Queen!!!

Jah9 - Sunday

Jah9 – Sunday

After Jah9’s set, I had to simmer down a bit and was really bummed I missed her at the merch booth. There was very little time left for me at French’s Camp and I had to make sure I was prepared for the rest of the night so I didn’t miss anything else. I refueled backstage on some delicious chicken and rice, downed serious amounts of water, and waited for Gyptian to take the stage.

The thing I noticed once Gyptian did take the stage was that it’s true: the ladies really like him. It was funny to me because from my vantage point in the photo pit at Reggae, I can look up and see the two backstage side stages that only special people, VIPs, staff, media, etc, get to access for a nice view of the main stage and as soon as Gyptian started to play, the left hand side was completely filled with nothing but women of all ages. I tried to take a shot of them all, but failed. Gyptian sure was fun to watch and has a smooth, unique vocal delivery. I enjoyed his set quite a bit, but I think the ladies probably enjoyed it much more!

Israel Vibration - Sunday Night

Israel Vibration – Sunday Night

Last time I saw Israel Vibration was back in ‘96 or ‘97 down in Ventura, CA. It was one of the best reggae shows I have ever been to. My bro T-Bone even got kicked out for smoking a joint! Seeing Izzy Vibes back on stage at French’s Camp was like Déjà vu. Livity in the hood, singing the same song, we so craven. Nuh mean? It was beautiful. Giving Thanks fi dat one erry day.

Alpha Blondy & The Solar System took the final moments of Reggae on the River 2014 to the highest heights of the weekend.

Alpha Blondy - Sunday Night

Alpha Blondy – Sunday Night

Opening with “Jerusalem” and making us feel his heartache for peace, Alpha Blondy spoke truth to the Reggae massive so we might all learn a lesson before it’s too late. Pay Attention, Peace Is The Only Way, We Are All One. The voice, the band, the man himself… Alpha Blondy gave us that last moment together under One Love Unity.

Then the lights came on, the show was over, and it was time once again to: Go to the Dancehall! The party never stops when you’re at Reggae!! Next year it will be 31 years in the making, and guess what?? Gwan be LARGE!!! Ya Heard???

Nuff Respect and Huge Thanks goes out to the Mateel Community Center and Reggae on the River for having Rogue Agent Photo out to reconnect with everything Reggae and capture the vibes as they appear to our eyes and ears. If you would like to view the entire Gallery of Images Rogue Agent Photo captured at ROTR 2014, please feel free to  enjoy them BELOW.

And remember, if you are looking for life experiences, good ones, look no further:

Reggae on the River 2015 soon come… Seen???

♥ BOOM ♥

Joe McLaren

Rogue Agent Photo


About Rogue Agent

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