Sierra Nevada World Music Festival turns 11 years old in 2004, and it’s grown into an event of epic proportions. Organizer Warren Smith of Epiphany Artists –using his 35 years of experience in the industry and an encyclopedic knowledge of music–has always managed to book acts with wide-ranging styles from around the world into a cohesive event, while his wife Gretchen and her crew have organized a festival that maintains a peaceful, family-friendly atmosphere.

Sierra became my favorite festival back when it was known as “Marysville,” where it was staged for many years. Having survived its transition to a new location in Angels Camp, California in 2001, the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival now reigns as the must-attend, season-opening, three-day festival of the summer reggae season. The festival philosophy is dedicated to nurturing a world family, peacefully united in celebration of the universal spirit of “conscious” music, which transcends the divisions of race and culture.

Staged at the Frogtown Fairgrounds in Calaveras County, California, the hard-working crew — including over 500 volunteers — ushers in up to 10,000 ticket holders during the Summer Solstice weekend of June 18th to 20th.

With a huge Main Stage hosting the best known artistes, a smaller Village Stage for more intimate performances, a daytime Kids’ Activity Camp, and a late night Dancehall, the festival offers a vast range of entertainment.

The lineup for 2004 includes a stunning selection of the top-name roots reggae artistes of all time including Burning Spear, Beres Hammond, Marcia Griffiths, Israel Vibration, Maxi Priest and others, plus an impressive roster of classic roots performers that Smith has signed: Alton Ellis, Linval Thompson, Don Carlos, The Mighty Diamonds, Ras Michael, Clinton Fearon, and Fully Fullwood’s Peter Tosh Celebration. Saturday’s headliners Michael Franti & Spearhead are uncategorizably wonderful (hip-hop? poetry? dub? rock? soul?) and their stunning intensity is not to be missed.

Brand new talent highlights every Sierra Nevada festival. The reggae band Midnite from St. Croix received its first large-scale North American showcase here in 2003 and returns this year, along with more modern-roots reggae artists from St. Croix: Sabbatical Ahdah, Ikahba, and roots empress Dezarie. Other up-and-coming artistes include modern-roots balladeer Abdel Wright from Jamaica, Rocker-T (Brooklyn sing-jay artist), songwriter Elijah Emanuel & The Revelations, Poetz4Peace (from the island of Cyprus), and Dubwize (and eight-piece roots rock reggae band from California).

GentlemanThe German dancehall sensation, Gentleman, is not to be missed either. His explosive performances have appeased many sold out stadiums in Europe. And he comes with a positive message–he objects to the glorification of violence and much of the sexism in the music–his music is about seeking God. Since he first learned English in Jamaica, his patois is very good!

From the world beat view, 2004 offers a tasty treat of international fare. The lineup is a veritable United Nations of performers: Femi Kuti (Nigerian big-band afrobeat), Fermin Muguruza Abdel Wright(Basque artiste combining ska, dancehall and latin rock with explosive, political vocals), El Gran Silencio (Monterrey, Mexico’s Latin-alternative band), Gentleman (Germany’s ambassador of reggae), Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra (New York-based band playing highlife, jazz, funk, and African rhythms with political lyrics in English, Yoruba and Spanish), Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (Japanese big-band ska), Hamsa Lila (acoustic trance music and dance inspired by North and West Africa, the Americas, India and the Caribbean), Pepper (Hawaiian “Kona-dub-rock”), O-Maya (Berkeley, California-based Latin cumbia/hip-hop), Abdel Wright (…).

DJs are a key element in today’s musical scene and the festival features some of the best from around the world. Stone Love out of Jamaica has ruled the dancehall for decades, New York-based Tony Screw and his sound system Downbeat the Ruler is world-renowned, and Jah Warrior Shelter Hi-Fi is one the best DJs crews in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Warren Smith’s passion is for the old-school reggae greats and his constant search for the newest sounds styles from around the globe are reflected in the performers he chooses.

The many activities for children — as well as a focus on safety and harmony — adds to the peaceful community feel of Sierra Nevada.

With less than a month to go before the gates open, the vendor spots have sold out, RV hookups have sold out and tickets are moving quickly. Check out their website for all the information you need as well as detailed bios of the performers.