At last week’s meeting of the Garberville Rotary Club, Mateel Community Center General Manager Justin Crellin and former treasurer Katz Boose gave a history of Reggae on the River and the Mateel, along with an update on this year’s festival plans.
Newcomers to the area might be surprised to find that in Reggae’s second year, they called the event "Rockin’ Reggae," and that the Community Center has its roots in an old fireman’s building that was purchased as a public hall in 1978. Five years later in 1983, the old firehouse was burned down in an act of arson.
Over the next half decade, Reggae on the River became the primary fundraiser as the organization worked toward rebuilding.
"Because of it’s connection to the festival, over the years the Mateel became affectionately known as the house that reggae built," Crellin said.
"The event’s popularity caught on quickly, and before long it was drawing thousands of fans from around the globe and gaining a reputation as one of the world’s great celebrations of reggae music. While the festival’s musical lineup and unique communal experience was sustaining global reggae fans, the event itself was really sustaining the Mateel Community Center. Not only did the success of the event help to rebuild the community center, which opened its doors in Redway in 1988, but also sustained many diverse programs and services which the MCC offers," Crellin explained. "These services cover the spectrum of youth, art education, cultural and social service offerings. And of course, those funds have also helped to maintain a community gathering space which has been used for weddings and memorials, public meetings, and a whole variety of community events."
"Another notable change is the booking of conscious music. We’ve really made an effort to book strictly conscious acts. We really feel that the lineup dictates the audience that comes to this event. And as the numbers got larger in the past, it brought in an element that some folks didn’t really want to see here. And while I think festivals are always going to bring different, diverse people to our community, some of which may not be the average folks you’d want to see, I think booking conscious music will certainly help to bring the intended audience and attract more of a family friendly environment," Crellin said.
The subject of conscious music came up again later during a question and answer session when one Rotarian asked to have the genre defined.
"I think what we mean by that is artists that don’t necessarily bring a gangster element," Crellin replied. "Not to say anything about the music that was booked in the past, but there’s been a lot of talk lately in the reggae community. Particularly, there’s been a lot of concerns about what’s called ‘murder music’ which has particularly been directed towards homosexuals. So the Mateel has taken a stance to avoid booking artists like that, but in general steering clear of some of the more hip-hop and dancehall directions. Not to say that there’s not conscious music in those veins, but really trying to focus more on roots reggae, world music, and music with a message that we can get behind."
Camping accommodations were also a subject of interest. Rotarian Ernie Branscomb asked if ROTR 2013 plans to work with the Cook’s Valley Campground, owned by Piercy businessman Keith Bowman.
"There’s no plans this year to work with Cook’s Valley," Crellin said. "That’s not to say there isn’t an opportunity for that in the future as the event gets larger, but at the numbers we’re proposing we feel that the French’s Camp parcel has enough space."
Keeping festival camping contained within the venue site may also contribute to better conditions for the surrounding area during the event. Crellin also felt that holding ROTR at Benbow with offsite-camping in recent years has contributed to the problem of illegal camping in the surrounding areas. He felt that satellite camping at the Benbow venue had created a situation where some festival attendants didn’t want to take on an additional fee or travel from site to site.
"We’re hopeful with this move. We had quite a bit of problems with illegal camping in Benbow, because of the satellite camping situation. That’s an area that we hope will really improve this year," Crellin added.
There are also plans to coordinate a "town patrol" to watch for illegal encampments and other problems connected to the festival.
Katz Boose, former MCC treasurer and operations manager for ROTR, addressed some of the more recent updates for this year’s festival. Questions have been raised about the traffic mitigation plan, which prohibits pedestrian traffic from crossing Highway 101, as well as most left-hand turns to access local businesses. Tensions over this part of the plan have led the Bowman family, owners of the Grandfather Tree, the Patriot gas station and Cook’s Valley Campground, along with Captain Shon from Thunder Mountain Trading Company, to appeal the planning commission’s approval of the event’s conditional use permit.
"That’s a very unique area," Boose said. "Safety is not always there. And we have to ensure that our patrons, and the people who are traveling that corridor, are safe. So our traffic plan is the best that we can do. We may at some point allow that left-hand turn, but right now if you’re traveling south you won’t be able to turn left, you’ll be able to get to the Patriot station. If you’re coming up, you’ll be able to visit the other businesses there."
Boose has been working with those local businesses at the direction of Planning Commissioner Sue Masten, who had a provision added to the CUP requiring ROTR to continue working to address the concerns of neighbors and nearby businesses. "I’ve been working quite a bit with other local businesses, and one of the things we’d like to do is highlight them," Boose said.
"How can the Rotary get involved, and what can we do for you?" Boose asked the Garberville Rotary Club. "Can we advertise your business on our website? Can we let our patrons know when they take that shuttle to Garberville or Redway that there’s a unique little place that they ought to spend their money in?"
Transport plans also call for two shuttles running a route from Richardson Grove to the Patriot station and campground, then down to Cook’s Valley to turn around and enable festival goers to access both sides of Highway 101. This year’s festival plans also call for staggered arrivals and departures, regulated by selling a limited number of tickets for the first day.
Reggae on the River 2013 takes place Aug. 1-4 at the French’s Camp property in Piercy. Tickets go on sale Friday, Feb. 1.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY SUSAN GARDER
Acting Garberville Rotary President Brian Harper, with the Mateel Community Center’s Justin Crellin and Katz Boose.