The third annual, two-day California Roots Music & Arts Festival brings its biggest names yet to the Fairgrounds.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Three years ago, when the Weekly spoke with Jeff Monser prior to his inaugural California Roots Music & Arts Festival at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, he didn’t really know what to expect of his one-day happening. All he knew was if it did well, he’d make it an annual, multi-day gathering.
Last year, Monser expanded the event to two days and drew close to 10,000 people. This year, he hopes to attract an even larger crowd with a couple of the Sublime-loving, surf-roots-reggae scene’s biggest names.
In addition to selling more than 500,000 albums on its independent label, Hawaii natives Pepper (8:50pm Sunday, Main Stage), have had a number of tunes make it onto the Billboard charts. On hits like “Stormtrooper,” “Ashes” and “Your Face,” the trio – featuring Yesod Williams on drums, Bret Bollinger on bass and vocals and Kaleo Wassman on guitar and vocals – channels the catchy genre mash-up and hard partying dance grooves of Sublime while dousing the songs with island rhythms and polished harmonies. Wassman provides rare range for a rock vocalist: The frontman can move from sweet melodies to Bradley Nowell-like grunts that sound like they’re coming from a soul singer.
After nearly 15 years, the outfit is a fixture at large-scale festivals including Vans Warped Tour, Lollapalooza and the West Beach Music Festival. But over the past year, Pepper has slowed down its touring a bit to spend more time in the studio – they haven’t released an album since the 2010 EP Stitches and haven’t dropped a full length since Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations back in 2008.
“We’re super-psyched to be back in the studio again because we’ve pretty much been touring non-stop,” Williams says. “[The new album] still has our sound but it’s progressed and it’s better.”
Williams adds that they’re taking more time than they have traditionally – and are delving deeper into the recording process than ever. In addition to endlessly polishing their new songs, they’ve been handling the mixing process with the care of carrying a 2,000-year-old vase.
“We’re putting more into this than we’ve ever put into any of our albums,” he says. “It’s been very enlightening.”
Pepper enjoys the creative freedom of being on its own label. In 2003, they left Atlantic for LAW Records, which was originally launched in the early ’80s by Williams’ father, who fronted a Motley Crue-esque band called The Law.
“There were a lot more opinions [with Atlantic],” Williams says. “There’s always people wanting bands to go poppier so they can make more money.”
SOJA (8:55pm Saturday, Main Stage), is another huge reason this year’s California Roots will be its biggest and baddest edition yet. The Washington, D.C. new roots/reggae outfit – who has shared stages with everyone from the Dave Matthews Band to Matisyahu – has gained a Grateful Dead-like following through its Herculean endurance as a touring band: Not too long ago, they played a stretch of 360 gigs in 18 months. No matter how grueling the schedule is, the seven-piece band never seems to tire of performing around the world.
“We believe in what we’re doing and the audience gives us the energy to do it every night,” says lead singer/guitarist Jacob Hemphill.
Currently, SOJA is touring behind its fourth and most recent album Strength to Survive, which was released on Dave Matthews’ ATO label.
Hemphill has always written songs about the stuff he cares about most and the central theme of Strength to Survive – inspired by Bob Marley’s Survival – follows that trend: the hope for the world to live together as one family.
“The basic idea of the album is it doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong and who wins wars,” Hemphill says. “The only war that matters is how fast we destroy the Earth and we’ve got that thing ramped up to full speed right now.”
The potent opening track, “Mentality,” sets the tone for the rest of the album with a ripping, horn-laden intro that falls back as a smooth reggae rhythm wafts into the scene. Lyrically, the mindfulness theme is established early on: “Nobody realizes how much we can take/ Let’s save the future of the world for our sake.”
Hemphill elaborates. “Life is about questions and the journey of life is trying to figure stuff out,” he says.
Additional acts run deep, with 25 all told, including Salinas’ Wasted Noise (4:20pm Sunday, Turf Club), Santa Cruz party rockers The Expendables (7:25pm Sunday, Main Stage), Compton-born Samoan J Boog (7:30pm Saturday, Main Stage) and sexy Hawaiian singer-songwriter Anuhea (6:15pm Saturday, Second Stage).
There will also be a host of after parties keeping Jah music going into the wee hours in the Fairgrounds’ King City Room and Turf Club and the nearby Planet Gemini.
Monser, meanwhile, is starting to feel like he’s doing something right.
“The way we’ve organically grown a solid family-like team over the past years,” he says, “the festival is only becoming more established and more reputable as the years go.”
CALIFORNIA ROOTS MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL happens 11am-10pm Saturday and Sunday, May 26-27, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairgrounds Road, Monterey. $47.25/one day; $72.25/two days; $152.25/VIP. www.cal-roots.com, pepperlive.com, sojamusic.com.