Tobacco-free cigarettes and Alika: Reggae on the River, through a lens

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Last week I decided it would be fun to check out Reggae on the River for the first time. I called up my brother DJ Guacamole to see if he'd like to come along, only to discover that he was DJing the late-night dancehall dome at Cooks Valley Campground. Without any further hesitation I jumped in my vintage Beemer and headed up to Sebastopol to meet up with him and his DJ buddy, Jacques of WBLK. Luckily for me, Jacques and Guac are well-connected in the NorCal reggae scene. We piled our stuff in Guac's van, I stuffed myself into the rear seat between sleeping bags and coolers full of Guinness. Three hours later we were greeted by Guac's dreaded friend in charge, Chris Tafari. He set us up with an awesome campsite just behind the dome stage.

The next morning, I woke up to scores of cars whose inhabitants were all trying to score the ideal camp spot. It was kinda like the frontier land rushes of the 1800s. Some of the most coveted spots were on the edge of the crystal-clear Eel River. It was that perfect temp that severs any hangover you might be tempted to throw its way. My first splash in the river helped washed away my puffy morning eyes like magic.

While cooling off in the water, I was soothed with the electro-dubstep sounds of Sacramento DJ J-Dubs from the River stage. I met a nice guy who offered me a sample of his hand-rolled, tobacco-free cigarette. Not being a smoker, I was quite hesitant, but seeing that I was at a reggae fest, I figured I'd better see what this stuff is all about. I took a little puff, and realized that the music playing in the background seemed to get a little clearer -- and my social skills got a little foggier.

On Saturday I rode a crowded party shuttle to the main festival site. While strolling around the festival, sipping on my Bob Marley coffee, I walked past the vendor booths separating the two main stages. For the shoppers of the world, this festival was a paradise of red, gold, and green accessories.

I was sweetly surprised when I reached the main stage to find the soulful sounds of veteran singer Calypso Rose. She has a confidence and grace that has been built over the greater part of a century. Later in the day I witnessed the much-anticipated Alika, who came all the way from Argentina to tour around the US with her monumental style of Latin reggae. I really enjoyed that her band Quinto Sol -- with this mix of music, there's no way to stop dancing.

Back at the late-night dancehall dome, I watched as Guacamole and Jacques lured people from their afternoon naps to the dancefloor. Eventually, the dome was filled with couples grinding their bodies to the dancehall beats. I really loved the singing of Cocoa Tea and Norris Man. And the great DJ sounds of Jah Warrior Shelter and Silverback. I even got to listen to the great beats of Selecta Konnex, as the sun came up over the Eel River.

Eventually Monday rolled around, and we had to head back to Sebastopol, but no fear. The Monday after, we were treated to a special WBLK show with Alika and DJ Stepwise at the Hopmonk Tavern.

Life is great for a photographer.