“We have been gathering here at this sweet little festival for 17 years now to hear remarkable music from remarkable artists who sync us with each other and the world” – so starts the intro to Sierra Nevada World Music Festival (SNWMF) 2010 Program Guide. And it’s true. Even without major headline acts, Sierra Nevada World Music Festival 2010 treated us to variety of roots-based music from Jamaica and beyond.

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival is a staple in the California reggae tradition, and rightly so. Though the festival has gone through several changes over the years, including moving the grounds to various California locations including Marysville, Angels Camp, and currently the Boonville Fairgrounds, SNWMF still retains the passion, family friendly environment, and easy vibes that make it such an enjoyable festival to attend. With two stages and constant action between them, there is always something to get your feet moving.

Photo Gallery by Lee Abel:

Now, to the music:

The festival began with a bang on Friday afternoon featuring standout performances by local celeb Ishi Dube (no relation to Lucky Dube except in spirit), and the The Skatalites. Celebrating their 46th anniversary as a band, original members Lester Sterling and Lloyd Knibb, along with a younger generation of musicians, delighted the crowd, going through their repetoire of ska, rock steady and reggae.

Meanwhile, Playing for Change blew the audience away on the Valley Stage with their engaging performance which took turns spotlighting its diverse band members and eclectic sound. Go and see them anytime you get the chance! Baaba Maal, the Senegalese superstar, closed the show. His band danced, sang, drummed, and did not disappoint their fans who pushed to the front of the stage to bask in the African vibes. For all the late nighters, the acclaimed selector Rodigan delivered a solid dancehall set late into the night, amping the crowd for two more days of dancing and tunes.

Saturday saw several highlights on the Village Stage, including the roots conscious Messenjah Selah, and Senegalese artist, Youssoupha Sidibe, who raised the vibes with his sweet, spiritual kora playing. Finally, Rootz Underground brought us back to roots reggae in a mesmerizing, tight groove that seemed to carry us straight into the dance hall and Stone Love’s infectious groove.

On the Valley Stage, Big Youth, Ken Boothe, Gregory Isaacs, and Don Carlos all proved to the youthful crowd that they were originators and keepers of the reggae flame. Many were intrigued by relative newcomer, Sicilian born Alborosie, as he walked onstage, long reddish locks swaying. His unique look, style, and sound have gained him increasing popularity and he will no doubt continue to grow in fame over the next few years. All in all, his show was solid and brought a great energy to the crowd.

Sunday arrived too soon for many, but we were honored to have the opportunity to see Lloyd Brown, one of England’s top reggae singers, and he definitely did not disappoint. Dubtonic Kru rocked the Valley stage before Rootz Underground began their second performance of the festival, this time during the day. Though it lacked the night intimate vibe of Saturday’s show, Rootz never fails to put on an excellent show. Lead singer Stevie G, armed with humor, passion, and the charismatic energy to get any audience on its feet, is one of the more talented figures in reggae today, but the entire band is incredibly talented and a delight to watch.

Marcia Griffiths strutted and slid (the Electric Slide that is) while belting out her hits and remembering Brother Bob. By the time Barrington Levy arrived, the crowd was ready to dance and sing along. Since the 80’s, Barrington has been at the forefront of reggae’s transition into dancehall. No one wanted him to leave the stage, but eventually all good things must come to an end.

Though the festival did not sell out (there were some issues with ticket sales) this year, I hope people continue to attend and spread the word about this lovely festival. Fewer ticket sales could perhaps be attributed to our floundering economy and a weaker overall lineup than in years past, but this setback should only give more incentive to fostering improvement in order to keep Sierra Nevada going strong. Let’s make sure it prospers for years to come!