If the many off-kilter stereotypes of the reggae community get in the way of understanding its purest form, Rootfire At The Park down in Florida this past weekend represented the absolute ideal. The music and lifestyle festival, which was held all day on Saturday the 22nd in sunny Cocoa Beach, boasted not only an incredible lineup of reggae & roots acts, but also, more importantly, a unanimously positive energy: an atmosphere of intimacy, camaraderie, and acceptance.
For anyone unfamiliar with the genre, there are a few key details to take note of before delving into a festival recap. First, reggae and roots music have both stayed the same and evolved considerably over the last two decades; while the spirit of the genre and its accompanying lifestyle have for the most part survived the years since Bob Marley became a global figure in the late 1970s, the scene has relocated. The United States is now the source of the world’s most popular modern reggae music, and the scene – stretching from New York to California to Florida to Hawaii – is flourishing. This isn’t to say that Jamaica and the greater Caribbean have been definitively silenced, but the majority of the genre’s output is now firmly in the hands of the American offspring of reggae’s forefathers.
Ultimately, Rootfire is the champion of these many diverse artists. Over the last six years, the company – which regularly hosts music premieres, organizes shows and festivals, and features guest writing and photography – has grown into the voice of the progressive reggae community. Earlier this year, Rootfire even launched its own record label, the not-for-profit Rootfire Cooperative. So far, it’s been three for three in outstanding projects by releasing The Movement’s comeback album Golden, HIRIE’s debut Wandering Soul, and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad’s Make It Better.
Rootfire At The Park (as a follow-up to last year’s Rootfire At The Beach in Avila Beach, CA) symbolized the culmination of several months’ worth of effort on the part of the company’s founder (one incredibly passionate Seth Herman) and collaborators. Drifting through Cocoa Riverfront Park, it was clear that everything, from the scenic waterfront location, to the massive range of local vendors, to the impressive lineup of bands, had been chosen for a reason. The integral presence of every last sound engineer and band manager and security guard and food-truck cook was somehow deeply felt, as if each, realizing they played a crucial role in something momentous, had willingly extended a piece of him or herself for the sake of the endeavor. Meticulous planning, dedication to the initial goal of connecting the people in the modern reggae movement . . . to see it all come to fruition in one glorious, sun-filled day was a blessing in and of itself. Here’s to many more.
Below are some of the sights and sounds of the festival.
Kicking off the festival weekend is a harmony-filled acoustic set by the Rochester, NY-based group Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad, hosted jointly by SugarShack Sessions, Standard Collective, and Rootfire itself. The setting is an intimate one, equal parts art gallery, surf-inspired clothing boutique, and concert venue, and SugarShack’s crack team of photographers, videographers, and recordists manage to capture it all.
SugarShack’s Jameson Yingling, beer-filled coffee mug in hand, asking Panda the tough questions in a candid post-set interview.
Brand new Rootfire merch courtesy of Standard Collective’s Anthony Soland. Note the RF x Adidas soccer jersey far right.
Kevin Kinsella, one of the most prolific and revered figures of the modern reggae movement. As a founding member of both John Brown’s Body and 10 ft. Ganja Plant, this man has been putting out incredible music for well-over twenty years.
Believe it or not, Kevin had met the fellow playing the djembe (Brian Nelson aka ‘Red Ninja’) only the previous night at the Giant Panda acoustic set.
Lance O kept the grooves going between sets by holding down emcee duties from within a wooden shack his buddy Mark Longenecker had built to debut at the festival. Props to this man for spinning this surprisingly awesome reggae cover of Adele’s ‘Hello’.
Two things to take away from this picture. First, dreadlocks are omnipresent. And second, Rootfire’s vendor coordinator Brianna Petrocci did a top notch job in finding vendors. One example is Froby’s steampunk-inspired liquid nitrogen ice cream truck, above parked in a prime location on the waterfront.
Lest we forget that this is purposefully a music and lifestyle festival, yoga sessions run all morning on the green near the Bowl Stage. Other activities included tie-dye, volleyball, and of course, soccer.
Melbourne, Florida’s own Part One Tribe crushing an early afternoon set on the Riverview Stage.
As far as I’m concerned, this photo embodies the spirit of the entire festival. Jay Schmidt, having taken the first bite of a rejuvenating, locally-sourced acai bowl, spent the whole day supporting other bands and giving off general good vibes before playing a massive, sunset-backed set of his own with The Movement as they closed down the Riverview Stage. Extra points for the Grateful Dead shirt and that giant, infectious grin.
Beebs has pipes, and here’s your proof.
Dustin Thomas, formerly of Nahko & Medicine for the People, needed two mics for his solo acoustic set because his beat-boxing was so intense.
No exaggeration, this man cooked peanut-butter noodle stir fry for hordes of hungry festival-goers for literally ten hours straight without rest. Truly an unsung hero. He also deserves some kind of medal for the number of pins on his hat.
Tony Gallicchio, James Searl, and Dan Keller of Giant Panda inaugurating the Bowl Stage with an electric set. Cheers to Tony for going without sunglasses – that man’s facial expressions while playing keys are a joy to behold.
Bowl Stage building a buzz.
Sights like this were not uncommon at the park. Moments before this photo was taken, this girl, totally balanced, had her arms stretched out in a Warrior III pose; the look on her face suggested she was about to lift off and go airborne at any second.
San Jose’s The Holdup delivered some of the smoothest sounding pop tracks of the entire event, keeping the Riverview Stage’s crowd happy as the sun began to dip behind them.
Collie Buddz rocking a full crowd at the Bowl Stage. The tough expression on his face belies an astonishing humility; later that evening, Collie hosted a two hour meet and greet after literally running across the festival to join The Movement for their final song.
Another photo that could probably sum up the entire festival – Collie reaching over the crowd to high-five a beaming toddler.
By this point, Cocoa Riverfront Park is packed.
Meanwhile, over on the Riverview Stage, The Movement is in the midst of a soundcheck. Above are extremely rare photos of Gary Jackson (drums) and Jay Schmidt (bass) looking relatively calm in the minutes leading up to their set.
Throughout the whole set, the crowd is going wild for The Movement. These guys have been flying under the radar as one of the most creative and inspired groups in modern reggae for well over a decade now, and it shows in the dedication of their fanbase; from the front row to the very back, people are singing along to every single word.
Minutes after his own set ends on the Bowl Stage, Collie somehow makes it all the way across the festival to join The Movement for ‘Habit 2016‘, a collaborative track from their most recent album Golden. Needless to say, it’s an absolute jam.
That’s all for us, folks. As usual, Jay’s all smiles.
Micah Brown of the headliner Iration. Sometime toward the end of their set these guys threw in a cover of ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ and the crowd absolutely lost it. Also of note: at least one couple got engaged during ‘Falling‘.
This last one courtesy of Ashley Kidwell Photography. She had the courage/foresight to venture into the crowd during the closing set, and the result is this categorically rad photo. All in all, praise to Rootfire for an unbelievable day. Neither words nor pictures even scratch the surface in recalling the kind of unanimously good vibes this festival produced, but needless to say, we’re counting down the days until the next one.