Fans waiting for the first band to go on stage. Photo by Leysha Caraballo
Fans waiting for the first band to go on stage. Photo by Leysha Caraballo

This past Saturday, hundreds of people from around the country made their way to the California Roots Carolina Sessions Festival in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A festival that showcased some of the best acts in reggae music today, Cali Roots was the place to be for reggae lovers. Promising acts included Stick Figure, SOJA, and 311. Some of the more up and coming bands, like Passafire and Sun Dried Vibes, gave the audience new music to jam to.

The first band of the day that really caught my attention was Passafire. Although they fell into the typical category that is rock-reggae fusion, the addition of strong bass and melodica – a small keyboard with a mouthpiece attached to blow into – separated them from the rest.  Songs from their older albums, “Start from Scratch” and “Submersible”, got the crowd moving just as much as their recent release, “Feel It”. Ted Bowne’s unique, full voice, mixed in with the music created a harmonious sound, a sound to look forward to in upcoming albums.

Passafire performing on the Endless Summer stage. Photo by Leysha Caraballo
Passafire performing on the Carolina stage. Photo by Leysha Caraballo

As the day went on, New Kingston, The Movement, and Stick Figure took on the two stages at the festival. Stick Figure, a band based in Southern California, brought along many of their fans. You could easily spot them by their signature  “Stick Figure” logo on hats, t-shirts, and even leggings. The best part of their show was an appearance by their band dog, Cocoa, a beautiful Australian Shepard.  She walked across the stage and wasn’t fazed by the loud music or huge crowd. At one point, lead singer Scott Woodruff picked her up and the crowd went insane.

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Southern California based Stick Figure with their dog. Photo by Leysha Caraballo.

The night came to an end with the two headliners, SOJA and 311. Both groups gave the show of a lifetime. SOJA’s performance was incredible – with a drum sequence reminiscent of Brazilian Carnival, infused jazzy elements with Rafael Rodriguez on the trumpet and Hellman Escorcia on the sax, and deep lyrical raps by lead singer Jacob Hemphill. It was a complete production that did not skip a single beat. Although the temperatures dropped quickly as they played, the audience was not deterred and kept the spirits high.

Jacob Hemphill of SOJA. Photo by Leysha Caraballo
Jacob Hemphill of SOJA. Photo by Leysha Caraballo

After some time for set up, 311 took on the stage to close up the festival. “Beautiful Disaster” started their set – which turned out to be quite flawless. Nick Hexum’s voice was just as smooth and velvety as on their records. S.A Martinez, 311s rapper, was so impeccable and on point that it seemed as though he’d have to be lip-syncing – he was not. Tim Mahoney on guitar did not disappoint as he played each song with skill and mastery. The band played some fan favorites, like “All Mixed Up” and of course, “Amber”. This band has paved the way for so many others by introducing a mix of rap, rock, and reggae. Their heavy guitar rifts combined with the well-known reggae bass chords create a blend that continually surprises me.

Nick Hexum, vocalist and guitarist for 311. Photo by Leysha Caraballo.
Nick Hexum, vocalist and guitarist for 311. Photo by Leysha Caraballo.

Throughout the set, the band played songs from their 13 albums. They will be celebrating 26 years together this summer. After screaming out encore for about a minute, 311 reappeared onto the stage to finish the night off with “Creatures (For a While)”, one of my personal favorites. They didn’t neglect their older music, some of the originals, and the audience was thankful for that. Their energy on stage was contagious, and in 50-degree weather, the audience pushed through and allowed the music to move them.

I had been very excited for this festival all year. I was lucky enough to attend it in April since it got moved from October due to bad weather. I was not disappointed in the slighted by any of the acts. I came in knowing about half the bands, but after listening to the ones I hadn’t heard before, I was pleasantly surprised. The central message of Cali Roots Carolina Sessions was to relax, enjoy life, and obviously, bring good vibes.

Doug "SA" Martinez. Photo by Benjamin Robson.
Doug “SA” Martinez. Photo by Benjamin Robson.

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