Reggae on the Mountain: L.A.’s Premier Reggae Festival

August 11, 2016 - By Justin Biel

Topanga’s homegrown music festival, “Reggae on the Mountain,” took place the weekend of July 23 and 24, at the Topanga Community Club grounds. 

Founded in 2009, this year’s seventh annual festival brought together a world-class collection of local and international talent, vendors and sponsors, making the event an engaging and beautifully diverse experience for what is always an eclectic gathering of music fans. 

The two-day event provided music and entertainment set within the picturesque, artistic haven of Topanga Canyon. 

The sizeable crowd, consisting of many local Topanga residents, also attracted large attendance numbers from the greater Los Angeles area and beyond. Growing in size and enticing better talent each year, the 2016 festival brought together a diverse, all-ages audience.

Attendees arrived early clad in festival attire, carrying tents, chairs, blankets and coolers. Most took position in front of the main Mountain Stage. Surrounded by multiple rows of retail vendors, the available space filled in quickly on both days.

Saturday began clear and sunny with parking spanning a mile in each direction and unusually large crowds walking up and down the hot canyon road before arriving at the festival. The hike up the driveway was well worth the effort, with early performances by Adam Jacob, Pachamama, Marcus I, The Steady 45s, SYNRGY and The Delirians kicking off the day’s lineup. 

By early afternoon, the crowd had grown with many people showing up despite the sweltering mid-day heat. The audience enjoyed acts leading up to the day’s headliners under a yellow sky and blood red sun, as the smoke from the Sand fire reached out toward the Pacific. 

But within the smoky haze, the music never stopped. 

Saturday afternoon brought sets from Bodhi Rock, Raiz Music and finally, the iconic, Jamaican-born reggae greats, Third World and Don Carlos.

Starting with a strong set from Los Angeles-based Bodhi Rock, who gave an energetic performance backed with powerful lead vocals by Arianah Harville, on the Hilltop Stage (inside the Community House), the music was excellent . 

The Mountain Stage really heated up when the reggae greats, Third World and Don Carlos broght decades of reggae experience and style. 

During the Third World set, it was a pleasure to watch the two band founders, Stephen “Cat” Coore on guitar and Richard Daley on bass, still playing together after all these years. An important part of modern reggae history, Third World, who travelled extensively with The Wailers prior to Marley’s death, gave a stellar set. 

As Don Carlos took the stage wearing a silver suit with dreadlocks swinging in the evening sun, Saturday’s crowd enjoyed one last international reggae great before packing it in for the day. 

The festival picked up the following day where it left off, but with Sunday crowds noticeably larger in anticipation of the headliner, Steel Pulse. 

Another packed day of music would come first, however, this time under a perfectly blue Topanga sky, with morning and mid-day sets by J Dubs, Ital Vibes, Spliff Vision, Prime Livity, Quinto Sol & Friends, Iya Terra, Keznamdi and Soulutionaries.

A key performance came from Iya Terra, who gave a love-centered, soulful set on the Hill Top stage to a packed, dancing crowd. Sending the Los Angeles-based musicians away with a standing ovation, the energy at the festival was high leading up to the last few acts. 

Keznamdi, the product of a full-fledged reggae family upbringing, brought his own unique style, performing to the packed Mountain Stage in a melodic, reefer-centric set. 

As Steel Pulse arrived on stage, the Sunday show had completely sold out.

Now one of the world’s most famous and politically active reggae groups, Steel Pulse has fought its way into popular American culture, playing most major Reggae festivals throughout the U. S. Their presence at “Reggae on the Mountain” was a gift to local reggae music fans and spoke volumes to the festival’s growing ability to bring in world-class artists. 

Observing the onstage interaction between the group’s three longest-running members, David Hinds, Selwyn Brown and Sidney Mills, alongside the musically tight performance, the crowd was left entranced. Makiesha McTaggert put her stamp on the performance with strong backing vocals and the performance award for style falls to Amlak Tafari, the bassist providing smooth moves and heavy crowd engagement. 

Sounding as tight as ever, Steel Pulse played the hits, including “Ku Klux Klan,” “Taxi Driver,” “Bodyguard,” “Your House,” and “Roller Skates.” 

In a genuinely considerate move, Steel Pulse paused during the performance of “Your House,” allowing a reggae fan in attendance to take the stage. Dropping down onto one knee, the man proposed to his girlfriend in front of the sold-out crowd. 

Although leading to a short song break in the midst of a crowd favorite, the gesture seemed well received, especially by the woman onstage. To everyone’s joy, and relief, she said “yes.”

With an overwhelming message of love, respect and unity, the festival producers from Label27 have created the premier Reggae Festival in Los Angeles. They should be proud, as should the Topanga locals who can now call this festival their own. 

Reggae on the Mountain is a fundraiser for the Topanga Community Club, a 501c3 nonprofit organization. To learn more about TCC or donate please visit: http://topangacommunityclub.com/.

Festival Sponsors included: Sierra Nevada, Rasta Bus, Marley Beverage Co., Vitamin Water, Burn TV, Coast to Coast Collective, Surf Roots, Eventbrite, LA Weekly, KCRW, Guayaki Yerba Mate, Solar City, Teeki, TCC and Label27.

For more information about Reggae on the Mountain or Label27 productions visit: http://www.reggaeonthemountain.com.