Hippies from the hills, turbaned dreads, tattooed party boys, college kids, urban refugees, friends and families -- they all gathered by the Eel River once again on the first weekend in August for another round of Reggae. Aside from the split with the Mateel (which seldom came up in conversation), it was the same as it ever was. After a quarter century doing Reggae, the crew that runs the show is like a well-oiled machine and the event was fine-tuned to a point where entry and setting up camp was smooth and painless. The Dimmick Ranch site just keeps getting better; my space on Bubble Hill was just a short walk from a new espresso bar where I had my morning mocha. What more could one ask? How about music all day and into the night -- in fact, into the wee, wee hours of the morning?
Reggae music was central to the party, but it wasn't the only thing you heard. I dug Medicine Drum's rhythmic electro-trance grooves with hip hop vocal interludes from Wisdom and Dakini Star, although it seemed like music for after dark, not for a sunny Friday afternoon. Blue King Brown, led by guitar-slinging Aussie vocalist/lyricist Natalie Paapaa, mixed funky urban beats with just a hint of reggae on politically sharp songs reminiscent of Spearhead. And the organic liquid jazz of Lost Coast Marimbas was the perfect way to start off a Saturday filled with nothing but reggae and dancehall.
When it came time for reggae, the locals were my personal faves: The Lion Camp posse was in top form with Ishi Dube and Jah Sun each fronting his own band, sharing the stage with each other and bringing out their cohort for a moment in the sun. Tanya Stephens and Beres Hammond sang sweetly Friday night in back-to-back sets. Beres was in a band called Zap Pow in the ’70s, which did the title track on one of the first reggae albums I ever bought, a compilation called This is Reggae Music. Thirty-plus years later, he's still got it. Sly and Robbie were the ultimate reggae rhythm section, backing a dynamic set by Jr. Reid culminating with Duckie Simpson and Sunday's headliner Don Carlos joining in for a Black Uhuru reunion. I'm not really into the dancehall Rasta fundamentalism of Sizzla and his Bobodread brethren, but he and Turbulence looked sharp in their white suits and the Firehouse Crew smoked as they closed the show Saturday.
Biggest disappointment of the weekend: UB40's set on Friday. I've always appreciated the Brit pop twist the band puts on old reggae tunes and Motown classics, but with lead vocalist Ali Campbell and keyboardist Mickey Virtue both gone, it just wasn't the same band. They brought in Ali's brother Duncan to sing, but he hadn't learned the lyrics yet and had to resort to a teleprompter for songs everyone in the audience knew by heart. The result was UB20 karaoke, a pale imitation of the real thing.
There were many who stayed up until dawn Friday and Saturday partying to dancehall stars in the High Altitude Club, but both nights I'd had enough and returned to camp where a thick foam pad, a pair of earplugs and sleep awaited. Sunday I woke early and realized I'd had enough reggae altogether, so I skipped Jade Steel, Julian Marley and the rest and headed back to NoHum.
Driving home I listened to the only CD I bought over the weekend, and it wasn't reggae. Between sets, as stagehands worked behind him, I'd caught a few songs by Youssoupha Sidibe, a Senegalese kora player. The 21 strings of his African harp brought a sublime moment of calm to a hot, busy weekend, and Sacred Sound was the music that soothed me as I drove back into the cool fog.