The last twinkling glow of a California sunset rested lazily in our rearview mirror as the car charged up the steep mountain slope. City lights dwindled in the background, and the terrain’s edges sharpened like daggers around us.
A sudden flash of inspiration in the night, that feeling came– that sense of freedom that we strive all our lives to achieve, and when it comes, all we can do is grasp it, bask in its glory, and let our gratitude shine that we were fortunate enough to feel it, even if only for the last few seconds of a fading sunset… we were a band on the road.
8 hours, 2 gas stops, several poor photographs and a continental breakfast later and our journey came to an end. We saw the banner for Mammoth Reggae Festival soaring proudly behind the stage, marking what was most likely the highest altitude reggae gathering in the state that weekend.
Have you ever found yourself on a journey somewhere– anywhere– and just felt like the whole world was at your fingertips? There’s something so special in that feeling, something ancient and wonderful, like life itself was lying dormant in you and decided to wake up. It’s the same feeling I had when I left my small town in New Hampshire to venture west year’s ago, the limitless possibilities of the road present in every bit of sparkling concrete ahead.
Mammoth is quite a serene place to be…
The whole town of Mammoth Lakes is situated around 8,000 or more feet above sea level. The crisp, cool air is as refreshing as a jug of water to someone stuck in the middle of the desert, but at the same time, it’s so thin that your lungs are forced to grasp desperately at the chance to get more of it, each breath a struggle in its own right. But this town is something truly special; it’s not so much a town that borders nature, but that was built into nature, and embodies nature’s glow throughout.
Bikers, lovers, travelers, hikers and families walked around wide-eyed, interested in every sight and sound the small mountain town had to offer. Amazed faces lit the already sun-soaked stage as they walked by, in happy anticipation of the live music that would ring down the cobblestone streets and echo off the enormous buildings surrounding us.
The stage itself was built smack into the side of the majestic village square, a permanent stone fixture beckoning curious minds in. The area boiled over with excitement as celebratory drinks were topped off and smiles and laughter permeated this bright retreat from the daily grind. This is where people go to escape– the combination of musicians and talents and songs instantly found its way into the hearts of the audience, and everyone who needed a break from the normal let themselves spin freely in the warm wind.
The stage, the show, the vibes…
This excitement found its way through every cell in my body as the young, wonderfully friendly and always smiling MC “Daleyard” from KMMT radio announced it was time for the music to begin. [KMMT is the local radio station in Mammoth, and their relaxed vibes permeate the town constantly. Like it was straight out of a movie, if you can picture in your head the perfect little radio station for a small mountain town filled with boarders, burners and people escaping reality for a second, this station lives and breathes the alternative mountain life, and they had been spinning all our bands’ songs the past month or so to promote the festival… talk about awesome people…} When myself and the rest of The StirCrazies jumped onstage to perform for the crowd, we found our freedom.
If I could explain the feeling to you of stepping onto any stage, it would be that of being a part of something… of playing an active role in life and letting everyone know that this is you– this is the energy you bring to your job of playing music and entertaining, not as an onlooker or innocent bystander, but as a creator and a trendsetter– this is life. Whether the audience be an arena with hundreds of thousands, or a tiny bar with 2 people, you put every ounce of energy that you have into it– it’s your job to.
We had the pleasure of opening the festival, and the rest of the day was filled with the unique reggae-influenced sounds of P-Nuckle, Jet West, Arden Park Roots and Common Sense. Sound and stage crews are always going to be hit or miss at shows, and Sierra Audio didn’t miss a beat here. They were there to truly help, with smiles on their faces and the passion to make the music sound and look as good as it possibly could… when the night washed over the town, you should have seen the amazing glow of the stage lights stretching out into the cool mountain air!
And man, it’s unreal… every single band there, although of the reggae influence, has their completely own take on the music. Really, if you listen, all are very different sounds and styles. One of the best things about music is that you can be influenced by someone, you can derive your sound from them, but when you play that same chord progression or song with your hands, and your voice, the uniqueness of you finds its way out.
The energy radiating from the small town of Mammoth both days of the festival was that of all the energy in nature. You could feel its vibrant pulse in your heartbeat. On this warm and sunny summer weekend in August, we were there to add the color of sound to people’s days, to bring the gift of music and the soundtrack of memories that would live on in minds forever.
After Common Sense finished the crowd with the substantial energy of genres colliding on night 1 of this 2-day festival, the most resilient of the partiers headed out for harder drinks and the bar life. The bright-eyed and talented young local Tatiana Susoeff helped bring together 3 nights of insanely rowdy after-parties to make sure if you wanted to keep going, you could. As for me, my eyes were wired shut the moment I collapsed onto my comfortable bed, letting my thoughts subside to a 12-hour deep state of uninterrupted sleep.
Mammoth Reggae Festival — Day 2
The familiar scent of craft beer from the Mammoth Brewing Company, and barbeque from the Smokeyard was present as soon as we found our way to the village square the next morning, and the vibes of the music just as strong.
DJ Unite and DJ GreenT stood off to the side of the main stage under a canopy tent brimming with equipment and band merch. Their laughter and good vibes could be felt across the whole town, and these guys were impossible to miss against the crowd of curious onlookers surrounding; DJ Unite’s massive flowing dreadlocks and prominent figure stood towering over his gear like a friendly reggae bodyguard, and DJ GreenT’s ear-to-ear smile as he roamed the village square with the blond hair of a San Diego raised beach kid were enough to fully convey to the town that there was a reggae festival here, and there was fun to be had.
Just Chill, Black Salt Tone, Arise Roots, 80 Proof and Pato Banton provided the soundscape on day 2 of the Mammoth Reggae Festival. Whether or not you’ve heard of all the bands, every one of them has made a good splash on the reggae-rock scene, and much more importantly than that, they each embody their own unique, fun, lucid and sometimes even spiritual representation of what music is to them.
As the night came upon us, and Pato Banton closed the festival with his usual high-octane reggae-infused set for the packed Mammoth Village Square, the energy was contagious–he held the mic up for children to sing, danced wildly, and let his genuinely infectious smile shine brightly into the crowd.
“Damn” I thought… “He could have held that crowd until dawn…”
But like all concerts must, it eventually came time to end– the night grew, the music ended, and people slowly dispersed in different directions. Some found faith at the festival, some found love, some a relaxing break from the grind, but everyone found the innate ability to reflect their inner happiness to the world through big, beautiful smiles. From the smallest child to the oldest grandmas and grandpas, the urge to smile at the wonderful events that had taken place was irresistible. And I’ll tell you what… our smiles were just as wide on stage as the smiles of the little kids and their parents that so enthusiastically spun around in front of us in the audience– we were all just along for the ride.
As the village square grew quiet, the Mammoth Reggae Festival banner stood majestic in the night, its fibers holding the magic and memories of the weekend passed, and patiently awaiting their rise to the stage the following summer.
The Fifth Annual Mammoth Reggae Festival was a gathering of perfect bands, perfect times and perfect vibes, and we’ll all look fondly upon the event as a weekend in the clouds, as a weekend away from normal, and as a weekend of friends and smiles that we’ll never forget.
Thank You Mammoth Reggae Festival.
Brendan F Clemente
Hill Kid Blogger