Reggae on The River (ROTR) is one of America's largest and most popular reggae festivals. One reason for its notoriety amongst reggae and music fans is that it's California to the core. Set amongst the redwoods in lush Humboldt County, nature, music and communal relaxation remind festival goers why the vibes in Northern California are so exceptional. ROTR is celebrating 32 years of providing the West coast with reggae-dancehall gold. This year is no different with a lineup that includes Sizzla, Kranium, the original Soul Syndicate (featuring Mad Professor with Big Youth, U-Roy, Randy Valentine, Marty Dread and Earl Zero), Protoje, No-Maddz, Keznamdi, Jah9, Jesse Royal, Keida, Gappy Ranks and more.
The organizers of the festival begin their work far in advance, making sure all the elements merge together seamlessly. That includes coordinating venue logistics, managing artist riders, vendors, marketing and ticket sales, security, lodging and so much more.
The job isn't for everyone, but one person that takes this job "head on" is ROTR General Manager, Justin Crellin, who has worked with the festival for over five years. KingstonToLA recently caught up with Crellin to see how he keeps guests coming back year after year.
KNG2LA: Reggae on The River is one of California's longest running reggae festivals. Tell us how it ended up at the Mateel Community Center?
Justin Crellin: ROTR is produced by and a fundraiser for the non-profit Mateel Community Center, though the event actually takes place on a private piece of land called French's Camp in Southern Humboldt County. The first ROTR event took place in 1984 and it was started as a fundraiser to rebuild the community center in its current Redway location after our original Fireman's Hall building was burned down by an arsonist.
KNG2LA: Tell us a little about your role as General Manager and why you enjoy promoting ROTR.
JC: I am GM of both the Mateel Community Center and ROTR, and I oversee staff and operations for both. I am also the liaison to our Board of Directors. In this role, I also handle artist bookings and work with our talent committee in making our festival selections. I enjoy producing ROTR for a number of reasons. First, it is a family/community endeavor and it feels good to be a part of something much bigger than yourself, especially knowing that this event not only supports our community center, but so many other local and global causes as well. It's also inspiring to be a part of something with such deep roots and so meaningful to a global culture and through this, I'm excited to have helped in initiating things like our Ambassador Program (which donated nearly $15,000 to Alpha Boys Institute and Lil Raggamuffins Summer Camp, two Jamaican non-profits with missions that align with ours) and Tools For Change, which collected a 40 ft. shipping container worth of tools that went to rural villages in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Of course, the music is part of the joy as well and it is an honor to work with such talented and creative people.
KNG2LA: I understand there were some challenges a few years ago with switching venues. From your perspective, how has the festival bounced back since then?
JC: Fans are happy that we are back at our original French's Camp location. Of course, we are too, though it is a challenging venue to produce a show since we basically turn a piece of raw, rural land that is inaccessible most of the year into a public-ready concert venue in about six weeks. The magic and beauty of this location are undeniable though and this makes for a unique patron experience that I think has been part of ROTR's staying power.
KNG2LA: Indeed. Would you say the atmosphere is the number one draw for guests?
JC: Obviously the artist line up is the draw for most, but I think once they get here, it is the community that is created and the natural environment which allows them to soak up the vibes that keep them coming back again and again.
KNG2LA: What can we look forward to from ROTR in the next few years?
JC: More evolution, more initiatives to further our global connections, more venue improvements, more music, more love...
As with most endeavors, love is what keeps it going. Reggae on the River is a joy to behold and truthfully, every West coast kid that is into music has a story or adventure surrounding the special weekend. We recommend all nearby music lovers make the trek to the Humboldt County air to get your adventure on at ROTR 2016.
Learn more about the festival in this 2014 documentary below, including past live performances. It's not too late to get tickets to ROTR 2016 taking place August 4-7.
Photos courtesy of Parker Bartlett - All Rights Reserved