As the summer season began to wane in southern California, veteran Reggae punk rockers Sublime brought a day-long music festival to Ventura Fairgrounds, courtesy of CBF productions. The same company that kept live music alive during the pandemic by producing two seasons of the Concerts In Your Car series have now transitioned back to their original mission of creating music and food festivals. Following in the footsteps of the highly successful two-day sold-out Tequila festival a month earlier, The September Reggae festival attracted nearly 10,000 people to the day-long celebration.
Sublime made the stop on their highly successful summer tour along with their touring partner's Dirty Heads and Hirie. But the event in Ventura on the beach at Surfers Point was a special one, adding local bands from the genre, including The Free Love Project and Rey Fresco. The result was a day-long festival saturated in the summer sun, locally brewed beer and wine, and beach-style munchies.
The Free Love Project opened the show with a spirited hour-long set. The band was founded by long-time Ventura Reggae and Ska maestro Darren "Zorba" Cruz. Cruz has performed in successful regional bands, including Irie Ites, SkaDaddyZ, and Strand Quentin, since the 1980s. The musician formed FLP during the pandemic to collaborate with local musicians sharing a love for the Reggae genre. Cruz wrote some songs and advertised them on local social media. The response was overwhelming with musicians wishing to participate in records and live shows, including members of bands like Stalag 13, I Decline, Ill Repute, Raging Arb, Night Demon, The Question, Rising Son members, All A Blur, Bobby Campbell, and his brothers Brandon Cruz and Dalton Cruz. The band Cruz assembled for the Ventura fairgrounds concert showcased an enormous talent with no less than ten seasoned performers on the stage. Three generations of local residents, many of them from the surf community, danced to the hypnotic beat.
An exceptional set came next from another local band, Rey Fresco, who only recently reformed after a long hiatus. Rey Fresco is an American band from Ventura, California, with an eclectic mix of rock, reggae, world, soul, and Latin music. It uniquely features a Veracruz harp as one of their lead instruments. Lead singer Roger Keiaho fronted the band with his usual trance dance-infused energetic style while local surfboard shaper and drummer Andrew Jones laid down a steady beat. He was backed up in the rhythm section by funk-inspired bassist Shawn Echevarria. Xocoyotzin “Xoco” Moraza brought a unique layer to the mix with his harp playing. Southern California locals have known how special this band has been for a long time, and their performance at Surfer Point did not disappoint.
As the long summer sun began to wane and the fairgrounds filled to near capacity, the nationally touring part of the festival took over with a sensational performance by Philippine-born, Hawaiian reggae singer HIRIE, and her soulful backing band. The beaming singer wowed the crowd with her hits like “Sensi Boy," “She Go," “Don’t Take My Ganja," and “Sun And Shine.” The sometimes-shy singer also threw in a medley of cover songs featuring Matisyahu’s “One Day.” Her phenomenal backing band had no problem melding many genres into their funk-laden Reggae style.
As the cool twilight air began to set in and the massive stage lit up in a multimedia extravaganza co-headliner, Dirty Heads took the stage amidst a colossal roar from their ever-tightening crowd. The group came ready to play, beaming smiles and exuding energy from the moment they took the stage. One of the twilight hour highlights was when Rome joined Dirty Heads on stage for “Lay Me Down,” a song they recorded in 2008 with Rome Ramirez. The euphoric crowd sang along to the band’s most well-known party anthems like “Oxygen,” “Believe,” and “Sweet Summer.”
Sublime took the stage triumphantly for the headline set as stars began to fill the clear summer night sky. The large crowd pressed ever closer to the stage. The group sounded tight and disciplined, diving into their catalog of well-known tunes. Ironically, the band's current iteration is more popular than the original group that penned the band's biggest hits back when Bradley Nowell was still alive and fronting the group. Since then, original bassist Eric Wilson has kept the band alive along with drummer Carlos Verdugo and new singer/guitarist Rome Ramirez. The latest version of the group has produced three well-received albums of their own. Sublime with Rome frontman Rome Ramirez dazzled the crowd with an ear-shattering bass-heavy sound. The band as a whole, including touring musicians, meshed perfectly. Eric Wilson, the lone remaining member of the original band, pretty much stood stoically throughout his performance.
In contrast, other members of the group provide the spunky youthful energy associated with early Sublime music. The group played a 90-minute set, closing the 10-hour marathon festival with two of Sublime’s signature songs, “What I Got” and “Santaria.” Many in the crowd were still singing along on their way back to the parking lot.