(Review by Mike Attinello)
The great reggae escape from LA took place last weekend in Topanga Canyon and, to the delight of everyone, it couldn’t have been less of an LA experience. For those Angelinos used to freeway gridlock, $14 beers, VIP lines to access even more exclusive extra VIP sections, and beautiful views of the car in front of you, this was quite literally a breath of fresh air. After a short and scenic drive up to Topanga Canyon it truly felt like you weren’t in LA anymore. There was easy street parking, convenient access into and out of the festival, short lines for food, beer and restrooms, and exceedingly friendly staff to assist. Just like you hope from a reggae festival, it was a uniquely stress free festival experience.
Despite the relatively big name reggae acts, this was anything but an exclusive affair. In fact, it was actually much more of a family day at the park. Parents setting up picnics, kids running around, young and old people hula hooping, and a very open and welcoming community like crowd. To give it even more of the community feel there were numerous tents with people selling clothes, jewelry, and other wares as if it was the town market.
This quaint venue nestled in the hills never felt overwhelming and kept everyone within a short walk of the music and entertainment. There were two primary stages, the Mountain Stage (main stage) and the Hill Top stage. The set times were coordinated perfectly with the bands overlapping by 30 minutes, so there was always music to watch. Headliners Steel Pulse and Don Carlos both put on classic reggae shows, geared more towards the island grooves with chill and relaxing vibes. Don Carlos is the original singer of Black Uhuru which started in 1973, and at 64 years old he surprised many by how strong his voice still sounds and how well he moves around on stage. Third World, a Jamaican born reggae band formed in 1973, put on a spectacular set on the Main Stage highlighted by their classic single “96 Degree in the Shade” which had the entire crowd singing and dancing.
There were some fantastic LA reggae bands as well which skewed much younger, urban, and had a lot more energy and tempo. The Delirians, an east LA band who combine their unconventional ska sound with very chill, laid back, old school style reggae played an inspired set on the Hill Top Stage that won them over all kinds of new LA fans. Bodhi Rock introduced themselves to the LA reggae scene, also at the Hill Top Stage, with their faster paced, upbeat reggae sound mixed with a really fun hip hop energy.
LA is not known for its reggae music scene, but Reggae on the Mountain was organized exceedingly well as a music festival. For at least one weekend it put reggae music in the spotlight in the city of angels. We are excited to see how the festival grows and evolves in the years to come.