My brother, Paul, and I were going to head out from Venice to the I.E. to cover the Festival for Juice Magazine, so that meant that we would pretty much for sure not make it for the first bands, because L.A. traffic just doesn't allow that. We stopped to eat at Mitla Café in San Bernardino to fuel up before the long day, and because I'd just seen it on Ugly Delicious and learned that Taco Bell began by copying Mitla, who are celebrating their 80th Anniversary there on historic Route 66. It was a delicious and delightful way to begin our S.B. adventure, and also THANK GOD - as the food lines at Kaya Fest were ridic. Apologies to Day One openers Ahuhea, Indubious, and Roots Of Creation who we rolled up in the middle of. I'm sure you were great, there was just no way. Also, 12 hours is a hella long concert, so I'd be surprised if much of anyone was there by the doors opening at noon. And kudos if you were!
The rasta vibrations were felt the minute you walked up, with Roots Of Creation providing the beats as we checked in and went to find the Media tent and get the lay of the land. There was a rasta bus called the "Irie Bird" parked back there and inside the kind people from Greenwood Farmz were supplying everyone with the kaya that we were celebrating - legally now! They also had coffee, tea, water, lollipops, and shade, so it was an excellent place to take a load of here and there during the days. Thanks to the Irie Family!
Native Wayne took the stage to introduce Jamaican legend, Marcia Griffiths, who made me say "Wow" when she took the stage, so regal and elegant was she in her cape and headdress. It was super hot, super sunny, and the audience was probably the most colorful one I've ever seen. Rastafari colors of red, green, and yellow were the order of the day, but any color was good, as long as there was a lot of it. There were a lot of women in awesome turbans and a whole lot of dreadlocks, on men, women, and children alike. JAH! Rastafari.
"Sweet Bitter Love" was awesome, and also when we realized that we'd probably need ear plugs in the pit. The bass was so heavy that I could feel it in my heart, and I heard mention of someone nearly losing their bowels from the bass, so it was no joke (though other factors may also have contributed). We were in the presence of Reggae Royalty - and would be all weekend. "I Shall Sing" made everyone shout afterwards, when Griffiths yelled, "Is everyone feeling Irie?!" I mean, how could you not be? Griffiths ended her set with "Buffalo Soldier" and had everyone singing along, of course.
Between the heat and the tons of weed and the long lines at the food and bar booths (and the even looooonger lines at the bathrooms), it was an endurance festival, for sure. Paul got an acai bowl to give him back life, and that allowed him to get in the photo pit to shoot Common Kings, who took the stage to the Game Of Thrones theme. I'm not sure why. I didn't yet know the Common Kings, but the ladies did, as there were several high-pitched shrieks when the singer came out with his very coiffed facial hair and green satin Bob Marley jacket. It was harder rock reggae, with shreddy guitar solos and all. "Lost In Paradise" seems to be their big hit, though "24/7" got all the ladies worked up with its "You taste so good to me, I know you love it when I go harder", causing some blushes down front. They got the crowd dancing, and the guitarist even took his licks out into the crowd while the singer shouted, "Love! Love! Love!" It was just that kind of a day.
We took the long lull (between every band, both days) between bands to walk the grounds and see what we could see. We found Paul a sweatband to keep it from dripping in his eyes while he shot, and cooled off over by the fountains at the entrance. There were merch tents, food areas, a dancehall, a yoga area, and plenty of grassy situations for people to relax (or collapse) on as you did some fantastic people watching.
"The bad boys of reggae music" were up next, and that meant Inner Circle. The band (formed in 1968) opened with "One Draw" and its "I wanna get high ... so high" opening got the yells from the crowd, who were mostly all doing exactly that. It was so refreshing to have it out in the open, de-stigmatized and fully enjoyed. Passing a joint from stranger to stranger at a reggae show in the sunshine is one of the best things ever - it breaks down all barriers in the pursuit to actual One Love. At least that's what it felt like just then. The party anthem of the weekend (and that's saying a LOT) might have been Inner Circle's "Young, Wild & Free", with everyone singing along the "So what we get drunk? So what we smoke weed? We're just having fun, we don't care who sees!" chorus, and truly feeling the sung sentiment all the way. What a blast. "Sweet Jamaica is calling you!" yelled the singer to close their short set, and he was right. I cannot WAIT to return to sweet, wonderful Jamaica.
We cruised around for a bit, and marveled at how cool and also how hard it must have been to have kids with you at this festival. They were running all over, playing by the fountains, around an inflatable Lion of Judah, on the dance floor, rocking out up on someone's shoulders, eating ice cream, having fun. One woman I met wanted this to be her child's first concert (how cool! The Marleys playing Bob's Kaya 40th Anniversary as your first concert ever?! Awesome.), and when I saw her in the daytime it was all happy and good. I saw her waiting out the long wait for the Marleys after midnight, and it was not looking as fun. The Kaya Festival definitely has some logistics to work out ... endless lines for food and drink, even longer bathroom lines, and way, waaaaaay behind schedule. People get sitters and have to work and all of that, and when artists make them wait for literally hours at an already 12 hour show - it gets to be a bit much. (More on that for Day Two.) For most of both days we were starving, thirsty, and had to go to the bathroom, but the good vibes made it all somehow ok.
Action Bronson was next, and my least favorite set of the weekend. He came on saying, "I need you all to put your middle fingers in the air!" He opened with his "Chairman's Intent", rapping, "You don't even know me!" He was right, and I'm fine with that. He reminded me of a white DJ Khaled, and that guy gets on my nerves too. "Terry", and "Actin' Crazy" were pretty bumping and I got it, and I found out Bronson has a food/travel show called Fuck, That's Delicious - and he skates, so that's cool. He ended with "Baby Blue", yelling, "Why you gotta act like a bitch when I'm with you?" and turned me off again. I'm not down with the "bitch" talk. Ever. Lowlight.
Now the sun was setting, and the pink full moon was rising - perfect! The planners did get that right, a full moon over the Marleys! That also meant it got chilly, and we were high-fiving ourselves that we'd chosen to lug around our jackets all day. It got SO cold, which made the extra-long delays even more irksome. The bathroom lines were so super extra long (even in VIP - not good) that it caused me to miss most all of Yandel, who sounded very Latino. He had dancers shaking it, some catchy jams, but I assure everyone that I never, ever, EVER need someone ever to yell "Make some noise!" again. It's SO played out, and I bet we heard it 10,000 times this weekend. Paul turned to me and said, "Is this Reggae? Ton?" Haaa. Yes, I think it is.
We left the venue at this point to walk to try and find some food. There was a taco place nearby with ONE lady working with like her two remaining ingredients. No go. Back to the venue, stomachs growling, as by now most of the food booths had shut down because they'd run out of ingredients and they still had the next day to deal with. We got back in time for "The Mighty Toots and the Mighty Maytals!" and all was forgotten.
"Beautiful people, it's good to be here!" shouted the wonderful and legendary Toots Hibbert, clad in all rasta colors. "Pressure Drop" kicked things off and got everyone dancing again, and then he strapped on a guitar for the classic, "Never Grow Old". It was as awesome as to be expected, as was "Funky Kingston". Hibbert was buff and spry and rocking, and you'd NEVER guess the dude was 75! The set felt a little short (perhaps because they were so far behind), but we got "Monkey Man" and an extended jam to end their time. Long live Toots and The Maytals!
The entire venue was PACKED (I overheard someone say the venue was 6,000 capacity, but they'd let in 13,000, explaining the lines and the being way underprepared), and they were all there to see the Marley brothers. It felt exciting in there, and as if everyone had collectively found their second wind. I ran into an entire crew from Venice, and Block got everyone together for a photo by the Kaya album cover. It's always fun to run into Venice when you're out of town, and that it was for THIS, made it even better. The hype man hyped everyone up, and the whole crowd was singing along to recorded Marley tunes. Skip Marley (son of Cedella Marley/Katie Perry collaborator) came out and got everyone hyped up for the Marleys with his tune, "Calm Down". He is clearly carrying on the family tradition, and both looks and sounds the part, especially when he shouted, "One Love! One life to live!"
Jo Mersa Marley (son of Stephen) gave us "Burn It Down", and he brought out his "little brother" Johan, for some more reassurance that the Marley name is in good hands. Arms and flags were waving in the audience as Jo Mersa yelled, "Say 'Love' if you're with me!" "LOVE!!!!!" Yes. We were in the right place exactly in the world that we needed to be in right then.
By the time the sons of Bob Marley took the stage, it was ON. Ziggy, Stephen, Junior Gong (Damian), Kymani, and Julian Marley took the stage together as every lighter in there (yes, lighters, not phones) was way up under the pink moon to welcome this legendary and historic family. It was awesome.
"Do you love Bob Marley?!" was the question, and thunderous shouts were the answer in the affirmative. How cool for his kids that they live their lives knowing how beloved their father was - by everyone in the world. They do him justice, and carry on his legacy with love. And every Bob Marley song still has significance today. A lady near me said, "It's weird how his lyrics are still so true now." And they are. They played "Crazy Baldhead", changing the lyrics to "Chase those crazy Marleys out of town!" The entire crowd sang along for every song, because we all know all of those true lyrics for a lifetime. It felt very special. And it was.
"Kaya" was the first track played, appropriately, and the crowd really did go wild. I got emotional, like choked up and teary eyed, totally out of the blue. I think it was that it just felt so good to have so many people feeling the same vibes, originally put out there 40 years ago. All the Marleys are wonderful, but when Damian takes over, it's a whole different thing. He gets the crowd riled all the way up, and the energy is instantly jacked up a whole bunch of notches. He spat out some riffs on "Kaya" and immediately updated the tune for the right now. He said, "We are the Marley brothers!" and we all just felt grateful to be there.
"Rastaman Vibrations" brought the positivity, and Ziggy went solo on an acoustic guitar. "So Much Trouble In The World" was next, and found the brothers alternating verses, as they did on most of the tunes. It wasn't all about Kaya either, as we got deeper Marley tracks like "The Heathen" and Damian Marley's "More Justice" hyped up the crowd anew.
"Misty Morning" had Stephen taking lead, and Damian dancing around the entire time. "Is This Love?" featured Julian Marley on lead vocals, and he fired it up with extra enthusiasm. Kaya has so many classic Marley tunes on it, it's almost a greatest hits album. A must own. "Rebel Music" and "Top Rankin'" were off other albums, so you got something from everything. "They don't want us to unite" is a verse, and also, too bad for "They". We were a super united group in this space and time, and something the whole world would do well to emulate.
"We and Dem" led into "Get Up, Stand Up", and as late as it now was, it really did feel like it could go all night and no one would care (aside from aching feet and backs, starvation and full bladders). "Satisfy My Soul" kept the grooving going. Julian Marley took over for a tune of his I didn't know, and it was then that I noticed that there were about as many people on the stage as in the audience. The crowd had doubled from just Marley friends and family, I'm pretty sure. And they were all having a blast.
Kymani Marley's "All We Need Is Love" was great, as was Ziggy Marley's new title track from his new album (Rebellion Rises - Out May 18). There are many new Marley albums, and Damian next played his "Medication" off of his excellent recent release, Stony Hill. He also explained that "Kaya" means "Cannabis" - we got it. After that party jam, Ziggy said, "We'd like to welcome our friend, he was raging against machines, and now he's a prophet of rage!" - and with that, Tom Morello took the stage to join the brothers for "Exodus".
The brothers all lined up bouncing in excitement, as they knew Morello was about to blow some already very blown minds. When it came time for Morello's solo, he went nuts. Metal arpeggios to the constant "Exodus" backbeat might have been incongruous, but it worked, and definitely got the people all amped up. When he went for the solo with his teeth, he revealed that the back of his guitar had a "Fuck Trump" sign on it, and that got huge cheers all the way to the back row. Damian and Morello jogged in place together all the way to the last note, yelling, "We love you!" at the end. It was SO good.
We got one more, the timeless, "Could You Be Loved?", and it was so happy and festive in there, you just wanted to bottle it. The Marley brothers took a group bow, with their flag-bearer waving the Jamaican flag behind them, waving as they left an entire event venue exhausted and totally spent, but happy and IRIE.
We limped back to the car, and after a long while of looking for a room in the fully sold out town, we headed back to Venice to sleep a couple hours, bathe, and head back out to San Bernardino to do it all again. JAH! Rastafari.
*All photos by Paul Gronner Photography
**Reprinted from Juice Magazine