Saturday, August 4, 2007

Reggae Rising, Day 1- Fun And Games At Piercy

Here are the chronicles of two Festival Preview representatives on the first night of the Reggae Rising Festival:

After meandering along CA highway 101, described by the festival website as, “Five to six hours of spectacular scenery”, we pulled into the entrance-way to the festival, a long snaking road of yellow caution tape, only to be denied entry by security.

“Come back at 8:00 a.m. for your passes. Will call is closed for the night,” said the bearded gatekeeper.

Well, of course that wasn’t the end of the proceedings that night. Heavyweight Dub Champion was set to go on in an hour, and we learned that there were shuttles that took people past the guards and into the festival grounds itself.

After finding a place to park in nearby Benbow, we waited on a lonely dirt road for a shuttle to take us to the promised land. We met a couple of cordial drunks who were helping themselves to vodka straight out of a half-gallon bottle. They had been coming to the festival for 12 years and knew the Dimmick family (the folks that help make the festival possible by leasing their land to the festival each summer). A long, drawn-out legal battle between the organizers of Reggae Rising (People Productions LLC) and Mateel Community Center (who started the original festival at Dimmick Ranch years ago, previously called Reggae on the River) threatened to stop the festival from happening this year. After Tom Dimmick decided to allow People Production to run this year’s festival, it was necessary to move the festival grounds a couple thousand yards up the hill from the spot where the Reggae On The River used to be.

After a short ride on the shuttle, which eerily played a soundtrack of demonic punk music and oldies (no trace of reggae, ska, or dub on the bus’s playlist), we stepped off and heard the festival MC’s big, booming pronouncement of Heavyweight Dub Champion’s arrival. Knowing it was crunch time, we quickly made our way down a short dirt road to the concert area. Along the way, we saw an untold number of freaks and longhairs (the titles are quite apropos in this case) who very looked carefree and happy, with that great stoned look on the faces suggesting they had no job and didn’t care, or that they had pulled a no-show today and were prepared to quit on Monday.

At the gate to the concert area, we were met with more resistance from the staff. “I can radio in and ask [the folks at the press tent] for a pass, but I can tell you right now that they aren’t going to give it to you,” said the guard.

After no less than six more conversations with gatekeepers and confused volunteers, we finally made it inside-- we slipped in without any identification or pass whatsoever, not even a wristband.

The struggle we had endured was well worth it, however, Heavyweight Dub Champion’s mix of straight hip-hop sampling and percussion and the endless building echoes that give Dub its appeal made for quite a soundtrack to the chilly mountain night. These guys got their wings in the mountains of Colorado, but they are adept at taking their urbanized industrial soundscapes and making it fit any environment.

Dub pioneers Mikey Dread, and Augustus Pablo would be taken aback if they were at the festival today and listening to HDC’s take on their already haunting, ethereal derivative of reggae. The volume is louder, the tempo is faster, and the melody is more chromatic than ever. The MC’ing was more prevalent than times past as well. The vocals did not just consist of little phrases thrown behind the rhythm here and there, as in the classic dub style of old. Vocals took center-stage as MC’s A.P.O.S.T.L.E. and Stereo-Lion railed against the Bush administration and mainstream rap. It’s quite ironic however, that A.P.O.S.T.L.E. dedicated a minute-long rant to the monotony and commodification of rap, telling fans to, “Kill the DJ! Burn the radio! Throw a brick through the window of the corporation!” as he lists Top 40 stars NWA, 2Paq, and LL Cool J as influences on his MySpace page.

On a later number, the stutter-step rhythm of HDC’s beats was accentuated with a lengthy and intensive strobe light blast across the canyon. Pyrotechnics were also a feature in numerous songs, with a scantily clad, hula-hooping woman prancing across the stage with up to six torches at once.

While the performance was a bit over the top and not in line with the sound of traditional dub, the show kept the crowd standing and cheering for two hours. It provided entertainment that one can only achieve after driving into the heart of Northern California and throwing oneself into a thriving Reggae atmosphere. Leaving the bustling crowd, the two FP representatives couldn’t help but feel satisfied with the first night of Reggae Rising.

-- Ross Moody and Zach Rehm

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