With summertime come festivals aplenty in Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties—but what about the many just a short trip outside the immediate North Bay? Down south, there's Outside Lands, Treasure Island and First City, but if you're like us, you find yourself headed up 101 North at least once a year in an annual migration.
A cherished music tradition on the West Coast and believed to be the first major reggae festival in the United States, Reggae on the River has finally come home to French's Camp. After years of controversy between the Mateel Community Center and outside organizers, ROTR has reclaimed its spirit and venue for this 29th anniversary party.
Roots music is the foundation of the fest, and this year promises to mend old factions with positive vibes and incredible talent. Artists include Morgan Heritage, Julian Marley, Anthony B, J Boog, Les Nubians, Tarrus Riley and others. The roots-to-fruits philosophy also brings back the Meditations, who played the very first ROTR in 1984. According to festival organizers, this year's event will be scaled back to restore the family vibe. Once hosting close to 15,000 attendees, there are only 6,000 tickets available this year. (Aug. 1–4, French's Camp, Inyo. $190–$250. 707.923.3368. www.reggaeontheriver.com.)
What can we say about the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, except that it has consistently provided one of the most impressive lineups every year since 1994? This year's artists include Damian Marley, Ghetto Youths Crew, Alpha Blondy, Max Romeo, Sister Carol, Gappy Ranks, Protoje and plenty others. (Alongside Gaudi and Jah Shaka, Sonoma County's own Comanche High Power will hold it down in the late-night dancehall.)
What's special about Sierra Nevada is the sheer variety of world music. While headliners fill the Valley Stage, lesser-known bands from all over the globe play the Village Stage nestled in a shady grove of redwood trees. This is a family event, so kids are welcome everywhere, especially in the festival's wildly eccentric Children's Parade. If you are bringing kids, make sure you choose quiet camping, since all-night sound systems have become the norm. (June 21–23, Mendocino County Fairgrounds, 14480 Hwy. 128, Booneville. $60–$170. 916.777.5550. www.snwmf.com.)
The Enchanted Forest Festival is taking root as the premier electronic music festival on the North Coast. The "intentional tribal gathering" deep within the redwoods of Mendocino County—at a Boy Scout camp, no less—offers an auditory banquet including Love & Light, Phutureprimitive, Andreilien and some 30 other DJs. Lasers and visuals from world-class designers create an otherworldly ambiance, as do elaborate altars formed around the trees.
The festival's deepest ritual takes its cue from the oldest traditions of sacred music, a dance-till-dawn ceremony that's been played out by pagan cultures for thousands of years. For many in our era, bass and tribal rhythms along with the deep whomp of dubstep are considered the organic, transformative sounds of modern sacred music. The amalgam of beats is like unraveling layers of sacred symbolism. Add this to the visionary art of Derek Heinemann and other live painters, and you've got one trippy forest gala. Remember: this event is 100 percent alcohol-free. (June 28–30, Camp Masonite-Navarro, Highway 128, Navarro. $165. www.enchantedforestmendo.com.)
Hip-hop . . . in Ukiah? It's true. The Cali Grown Festival features Roach Gigz, Rappin' 4-Tay and Mac Mall with reggae and dub artists. (July 20, Redwood Empire Fairgrounds, Ukiah. $20–$25.) And for the long trekkers among us, High Sierra has Robert Plant, Primus, Thievery Corporation, Steel Pulse and many others. (July 4–7, Quincy. www.highsierramusic.com.)