Earthdance Northern California, Solano County Fairgrounds, Vallejo, CA – 9/23-25
Ghostland Observatory- photo by Kelsey Winterkorn
Earthdance is the world’s largest prayer for peace with global simultaneous events, and now the Bay Area’s closest weekend campout music festival. Relocated to the urban Vallejo fairgrounds from its previous forest location in Mendocino County, hosting much later schedules (music playing til 8am), playa art, and many more electronic side acts, the event was noticeably different from last years, but kept up great vibes and one of the most diverse music lineups of the year.
The musical highlights were many! The festival headliner Ziggy Marley packed the largest audience to the main stage. Nine musicians made for a richer sound when compared to most reggae acts. He filled his ninety-minute set with a mix of his Grammy winning solo albums amongst classics from his late father Bob Marley including “Three Little Birds” and “Is This Love.”
Balkan Beat Box brought the most danceable set of the weekend. Whirlwind drumming and exotic brass wound up the crowd, with never a moment of silence – each song carried directly into the next in a jazz or jamband fashion. Pulling sounds from Arab music to Mexican Reggae to African tribal, they are a melting pot of high-energy sound.
Ghostland Observatory was the only heavy electro act on the main stage. Packing the sky with complex laser patterns, it was the only serious visual element to happen on the main stage beyond a couple color-changing lights. The thumping bass and raucous vocals energized the third and last night of the festival.
Rootz Underground’s vocalist Stephen Newland dread-bangs and throws flying kicks across the stage like a ska act, and his band comes armed with top quality reggae tunes for eager festival crowds.
Bay Area favorite Beats Antique started the set with a slow single clap in unison with the crowd. Masterful writing and rhythms by David Satori blend world music with sampled sounds of fantastical machinery. Zoe Jakes and her group of bellydancers add a talented gypsy meets cabaret meets steampunk performance complete with elaborate costumes of feathers and stripes.
German based Faun takes you back in time to a medieval pagan woodlands festival. This talented group was a great experience that I have never witnessed at a major Californian music event. The vocals are performed in English, German, Latin, and Scandinavian languages, and their instruments include celtic harp, Swedish nyckelharpa, hurdy gurdy, bagpipes, cittern, and flutes that serenaded and whirled over very dancey tribal electronic basslines.
The well-known Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk played two sets full of New Orleans spice with some great rock solo work by all of the members. Their first set started with much of the audience welcomed onto the stage for some rowdy dancing.
Earthdance had many speakers and workshops, one of which was Wavy Gravy’s Comedy hour. Full of wacky stories from the past and perhaps imagined past, the room was filled with laughs, Wavy’s bubbles, and fond memories of the Merry Pranksters.
The Global Synchronized Prayer for Peace on Saturday united with over 300 locations in 65 countries. Inspirational words and songs from the Elder’s Council were paired with a release of white doves over the crowd. Earthdance is one of my favorite west coast festivals, and has great potential to grow further, especially now that it is under an hour’s drive from San Francisco.