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Welcome to Calaveras County – The sign says it all. After a nearly three hour drive through the scenic goldrush country route from San Francisco to Calaveras County, I knew that the Reggae in the Hills experience was close by. The summer Reggae festival season kicked off a bit earlier for me than usual as I headed to the West Coast to experience the 3rd Annual Reggae in the Hills. Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains, this young and expanding three day camping festival at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds featured an eclectic mixture of top Caribbean Reggae, Cali Roots Rock Reggae and Hawaiian Reggae acts.
Reggae in the Hills Line-up
Over the course of 3 days, over 24 Reggae bands were featured on one of the two live band stages. A third stage located within the main campground area featured additional late night performances, which were hosted by Stay Positive Sound on Friday and Mystic Roots on Saturday. Gates opened at noon on Friday allowing early guests to set up their campsite in time for the 3:00pm kickoff of live music.
The headliners for the opening evening included the Californian Roots Reggae Band, Fortunate Youth, back by popular demand for their 3rd year in a row. New to the line-up this year was headliner Collie Buddz from the Isle of Bermuda promoting his recent hit single “Light it Up”. Collie Buddz started off his set with his popular song “I feel so good” , which summed up the opening night experience for the crowd at Reggae in the Hills. He continued that feel good vibe with a string of well known hits from his extensive song catalog including his mega hits “Come Around” and “Blind to You”.
Reggae in the Hills at the Calaveras County Campground
A man made creek winds it way through perfectly shaded stage front areas
A father and son stroll through the garden mister, a place to cool off mid-day.
View of the Main Stage
Fortunate Youth and Collie Buddz headline opening night.
Dan Kelly of Fortunate Youth
Day 2 of Reggae in the Hills
Marlon Asher ” The Ganja Farmer”
Saturday was the longest day of the festival, jam packed with live music throughout the day. Live music started early at 11:00am and went straight through until after midnight. Bands performed on both the main stage and on the nearby side stage to keep band change time to a minimum.
King Schascha a native of Trinidad and Tobago kicked off the day with a set on the main stage. Marlon Asher also hailing from Trinidad and Tobago performed for the 2nd year in a row spicing up the mid-afternoon with an enjoyable set including his well known Ganja anthem “The Ganja Farmer”.
Junior Toots another fan favorite band returned to Reggae in the Hills for his 2nd time and had a great set on the side stage. Other popular acts from past years were also present for the 2014 edition of Reggae in the Hills, including Hawaiian and Cali Reggae bands such as Natty Vibes, Mystic Roots, Arden Park Roots.
Luciano on tour with the Cali based Jamaican Reggae band IKronik started with an opening set by IKronik. Luciano then raised the conscious Reggae vibes to yet another level, delivering a spiritual performance for his many fans. Fans rushed to greet Luciano after his performance where he took time to have a meet and greet for autographs and photo opportunities.
Making their debut performance at Reggae in the Hills, the highly anticipated performance of Tribal Seeds did not disappoint the crowd with their high energy set. Tribal Seeds, based out of San Diego made their appearance at Reggae in the Hills prior to commencing their tour in support of their 4th album “Representing”, released in May. Best known for fusing Rock with Roots Reggae, their latest release debuted at number one on both the Billboard Reggae and iTunes Charts.
For a late evening set, there was no better choice than to have veteran performer Junior Reid close out a stellar day of music with the next generation of his One Blood family on hand consisting of Andrew Blood, Wada Blood and Young JR “Ju Ju Blood”. Junior Reid’s set included many of his popular songs and a preview of material from his upcoming album. The climax of his set occurred when he performed his anthem song “One Blood” with its powerful message of love and unity in both English and Spanish. As a final part of his set, the entire One Blood Family joined on stage to end the evening on a dancehall vibe.
Lead Singer Steven Rene Jacobo of Tribal Seeds
Young J.R. JuJu Reid
E.N. Young of Tribal Seeds
One Blood Family
Kava Jah of Ikronik
The beautiful weather continued for day three with daytime temps in the 80s. The mood on Sunday was that of relaxed energy as the festival was winding down. Sunday afternoon performances by Hawaiian Reggae acts Mike Love and Natty Vibes had fans of all ages waving their red, gold, and green Hawaiian Flags in the air. Prezident Brown, a Jamaican artist who has a popular presence on the West Coat festival scene closed out the festival and had the audience dancing to his infectious beats and positive lyrics. During one section of a song where Prezident Brown sings to the audience “Do You Love Me?”, he received a resounding response of “yes” from the audience leaving no doubt that we will see Prezident Brown again soon.
Mike Love performs an acoustic set
Fans enjoying Natty Vibes
Fans enjoying the afternoon set
Reggae in the Hills provided something for everyone. Plenty of live music with a wide array of food and merchandise vendors throughout the fairgrounds. It also featured an indoor skateboard park with a skating contest, art displays including several live art locations near the stage, daily yoga, a disc golf tournament, and late night after parties. All of which was offered at a very reasonable price and contained within an intimate setting that allowed attendees to interact with the musicians in a peaceful environment.
From a media and photography perspective, it was a pleasure to be an official media sponsor. I have to give props to the organizers of the festival. A designated media building was professionally organized with a schedule of interview & press conference times with band members . Appropriate photography and videography credentials were given to take performance shots. This allowed the various media houses present to provide fans with quality Reggae in the Hills coverage.
Overall, the Reggae in the Hills team thought of everything to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone and certainly the warm hospitality of the entire team and all festival attendees made this East Coast native feel right at home in Northern California. I’m already looking forward to plan for next year’s Reggae in the Hills experience. Maybe one day soon I will also consider camping!
How to get there: Angels Camp, CA is just a few hours drive from the airports located in San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento. I chose to fly to San Fransisco and visit some friends before commencing the 3 hour drive through the scenic rolling hills along route 4 in Goldrush country. Make sure you have a full gas tank as there are long stretches of road along the way between towns.
Where to stay:Reggae in the Hills is a full camping festival with RV and Tent facilities. The weekend pass included camping at a very affordable price especially when booking at earlybird rates (85 in advance) and 120 at the gate. If you are like me and are not so much into camping there are several small reasonably priced hotels in Angels Camp to choose from that are only a couple miles away. It is best to reserve early to guarantee a place to stay.
Recommended Hotel: The Travel Lodge just a couple miles away in downtown Angels Camp met my needs perfectly with friendly staff, and clean and spacious rooms complete with wi-fi access and a free hot breakfast.
What to Bring / Wear: Expect desert weather conditions. In mid-June the highs during the day can range from the mid 80s to low 100s and it can plummet to the 50s at night. If you are camping be sure to come prepared with all your camping gear and warm clothing for the cool desert nights. Bring lots of sunscreen, shades, a hat, water, smart phone (my AT&T service worked great), and cash for the food and merchandise vendors. There are banks and businesses in town that take credit / debit cards.
Area Activities: Stay for a few more days and take full advantage of the sights of the surrounding areas and enjoy nature in Gold Country at its best. For more info, check the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce.
Press Play to view the full slide show of Reggae in the Hills Photos