Reggae on the River turns 33

The 33rd annual Reggae on the River on Aug. 3 through 6 at French’s Camp features more than 30 musical acts including Slightly Stoopid, Assassin and Sly & Robbie with Marcia Griffiths.
The 33rd annual Reggae on the River on Aug. 3 through 6 at French’s Camp features more than 30 musical acts including Slightly Stoopid, Assassin and Sly & Robbie with Marcia Griffiths. Times-Standard file photo

Happy Reggae, Southern Humboldt!

Reggae on the River, know colloquially just as Reggae, turns 33 this coming weekend as people prepare to flock to French’s Camp for four days of irie vibes and celebrating reggae culture. This year, the festival will bring more than 30 musical acts and 60 vendors to the campground near Cooks Valley at the border of Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

“It’s inseparably tied to our community,” Mateel Community Center general manager Justin Crellin said about the event and Southern Humboldt. “On top of that it’s a great party!”

The event is put on annually by the Mateel. In years past 5,500 people have attended Reggae as well as 2,500 volunteers, vendors and artists, he said.

“It’s our biggest fundraiser for the Mateel Community Center and one of the largest in events in Humboldt County, definitely in Southern Humboldt,” Crellin said.

“The 2017 Reggae on the River artist lineup draws from the wellspring of reggae’s greatest songwriters, singers and musicians from around the globe offering something for every Reggae lover. Artists that have shaped the music since its origins in Jamaica, those that make rare U.S. appearances, groups that are part of the expansive global family of reggae and world musicians are all part of this year’s roster,” a Mateel Community Center news release states.

Crellin said he is excited for the great line up the Mateel staff were able to attract this year.

“One of the things we really strive for is diversity. So we try to represent where reggae culture is,” Crellin said.

This year, event organizers have covered the diverse sub-genres of reggae by having reggae influenced by electronic music on Thursday night, dancehall on Friday, California roots on Saturday and traditional roots reggae on Sunday, he said.

“We were really excited to look at each night and communicate that diversity of style in the reggae genre,” he said.

The event has roots in 1984 when the Mateel was located in Garberville but burned down, Crellin said. Mateel staff and volunteers decided to put on a reggae festival to fund a new community center and the French’s Camp property owner offered his land for use.

“I believe French’s Camp is part of the mystique of Reggae on the River,” Crellin said of the campground that can’t be accessed year round and doesn’t host any other music festivals.

He said the year after the first Reggae on the River brought in rock and roll music also but the third year it was decided it would be a strictly reggae festival.

“It just took off,” Crellin said. “I believe it was the first reggae festival in the U.S. and is the longest running in the U.S.”

The Southern Humboldt Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the event, the chamber’s past interim executive director Kelli Parker said.

“I used to serve in the dread-med, the medical tent, years ago,” she said.

Parker said Reggae took off fast and has continued to grow through the generations.

“I think it resonated with so many families here,” she said about why its popularity has continued to grow.

Crellin said Reggae is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Mateel, even calling it the community center’s “lifeblood,” but it also serves a greater cause. In 2015 the Mateel Community Center created Tools For Change to collect and distribute new and used tools to rural villages of Burkina Faso in West Africa, he said.

“It’s our third year of partnering with them,” Crellin said.

This year if Reggae attendees bring tools they will be collected and sent to the village of Zao in Burkina Faso.

More information can be found and tickets can be purchased at

Hunter Cresswell can be reached at 707-441-0506.