After two years of soul-destroying pandemic, we really needed some Cali Vibes. Essentially a reggae festival (across the spectrum) with a few other acts dotted in, this event next to the water in Long Beach offered a peaceful environment to enjoy music that was more hit than miss. It was safe – everyone’s vaccine certificate was checked on the way in – and the haze of marijuana smoke hanging over the crowd hinted at the very chill atmosphere. Honestly, this festival was medicinal.

There were plenty of highlights. Super-successful dancehall singer and songwriter Sean Paul really took the main stage (named the Koi Stage) by storm on the first day, Friday, blasting through energetic hits such as “Dynamite,” creating a party atmosphere and holding the crowd in the palm of his hand. The contrast with Soja was undeniably stark – the Virginia band seemed lifeless in comparison.

Shaggy (Brett Callwood)

That theme continued on Saturday. Shaggy was a ringmaster, with “Oh Carolina,” “Boombastic” and “It Wasn’t Me” to pull from his arsenal. But then the American acts on the two main stages, such as Tribal Seeds, Stick Figure and Slightly Stoopid seemed soulless. So we dived into the BoomYard Stage.

The aim of BoomYard, according to the press release, was to “initiate discovery of Caribbean artists and culture.” So we were treated to a bunch of DJs and vocalists flown in from the islands, all weekend. Frankly, that’s where the party really was. No twee, soft reggae radio-friendly nonsense here – on Saturday the Renaissance DJs (flown in from Jamaica) didn’t let the energy drop for a second while dancehall singers like TeeJay and Mr. Vegas bounced around the tiny stage. We were treated to very, very provocative dancehall dancing, hilarious banter from the Renaissance MCs and, seriously, the very best fun of the whole weekend.

We only left BoomYard because the Marley Brothers were headlining the Koi Stage, celebrating what would have been Bob’s 77th birthday. So Ziggy, Stephen, Damian, Ky-Mani and Julian took turns at the front for stone-cold classics such as “Jamming,” “Is This Love,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Get Up Stand Up” and a closing “Exodus.” Marley is obviously the reggae Elvis, and his family paying tribute so flawlessly would surely make him proud.

On Sunday, we got there early enough to catch Hirie and were impressed with her Gwen Stefani-ish pop-reggae. But it was the one-two punch of Wu-Tang Clan and Sublime with Rome that drove the festival home. Wu-Tang were clearly in Long Beach to have fun, paying respects to reggae at the start but not pulling any punches. They even took a second to spin Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and have a pogo. No Ghostface Killah at Cali Vibes, but they didn’t let his absence spoil the party and, frankly, there are few things more fun than singing “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothing Ta F’ Wit” with thousands of like-minded souls.

There’s something very right about seeing Sublime with Rome in their hometown of Long Beach. At this point, moaning about who is and who isn’t in the band is tiresome and redundant – this is the version of Sublime that we have, and on Sunday they put on a fantastic show. Rome Ramirez still seems genuinely humbled that he gets to front this band and, more importantly, he’s a superb singer and guitarist. Bassist Eric Wilson is the remaining Sublime man, and the pair (and their band) run through classics like “Wrong Way” with no small amount of gusto. This group has been around since 2009 now, and they’re a smooth-running machine.

And with that, we were done. We went home with memories of Wu-Tang, Sublime, Shaggy, the Marleys and the BoomYard party still swimming through our head.

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