By Crystal Larsen
If there's one genre of music that brings together people from all walks of life, it's reggae. In search of freedom, peace and good vibes, on June 30 dozens of music fans spent the day nestled among the Santa Monica Mountains in the woodsy community of Topanga Canyon, Calif., for the third annual Reggae 'Pon The Mountain. Developed by lovers of festivals, music and nature, the event serves as a fundraiser for the Topanga Community Club and this year featured renowned reggae artists such as four-time GRAMMY nominee Don Carlos and Daniel Bambaata Marley, the grandson of the late reggae legend Bob Marley.
As attendees entered the festival grounds, there seemed to be an unspoken rule that any negative thoughts were to be left at the entry gates. Positive thoughts and good vibes were echoed loudly as each performer graced the intimate stage, which was decorated with colorful, flowing fabric banners and stood nestled underneath an area shaded by trees.
One of the first performers of the day was reggae roots artist Roberto Gell, whose energetic performance was complemented by the ethereal sound of violinist Linling Hsu. Gell performed several original songs, including "Hard Time" from his 2011 album Work Hard, as well as a cover of GRAMMY winner Peter Tosh's "Stepping Razor." Up next were Reggae 'Pon The Mountain veterans Bodhi Rock, who brought the soulful vocals and sassy stage presence of frontwoman Arianah Harville and a full horn section front and center. Performing a number of songs from their self-titled EP, including the appropriate "Cali Life," the band also put a reggae-tinged spin on Aretha Franklin's 1971 Top 10 hit "Rock Steady."
California-native roots reggae rockers Arise Roots, who kicked off their performance with a driving surf-inspired jam session before lead vocalist Karim Bailey took the stage for a dance-worthy combination of reggae and rap. The words to the band's "United We Stand" track were right in line with the festival's theme of preserving music and community: "United we stand/Divided we fall."
By this time the festival was swimming with free spirits. There were latter day hippies who danced around the grass dressed in braids, flowery garments and head wraps; current jam-band fanatics who took every occurrence of an electric guitar solo to headbang their way across the crowd; and a younger generation of music fans, who were likely brought by their parents but joined in the experience all the same.
Given this was a reggae festival, I fully expected to see many attendees donning Bob Marley T-shirts — and they were. The masses of music fans and musicians alike Marley has inspired have certainly not disappeared, evidenced by the performance by Daniel Bambaata Marley, son of GRAMMY winner Ziggy Marley. With a life that has centered around music from the time he was a toddler, Daniel Marley was a natural onstage. Entertaining the crowd with his passion and vigor for reggae, as well as his knack for putting a contemporary spin on the genre, Marley was completely engaging. I fully expected to hear a cover of the Bob Marley summer favorite, "Could You Be Loved," or maybe "Buffalo Soldier," but Marley's set was full of original material, proving he's forged his own identity despite his legendary lineage.
The day came to a close with a performance by Los Angeles-based eight-piece Latin reggae group Quinto Sol and a capping set from Jamaican reggae star Carlos.
As festivalgoers made their way out of the Santa Monica Mountains that evening, there was likely one message (written on the T-shirts of many festivalgoers) that attendees embraced this day: "Don't worry, be happy."