Reggae Fest Seeks Rebound After 2018 Losses

This year’s Reggae on the River music festival will have new activities – including a Cannabis Village with vending and consumption – and is seeking to recover from the $1.6 million loss seen last year.

Although some payments were made late last year, the Mateel Community Center’s first-time partnership with High Times productions resulted in a well-managed festival. No significant issues were flagged during the Humboldt County Planning Commission’s May 2 annual review of the festival’s permit. 

The upcoming festival, which is set for the first weekend in August, is considered to be an improved version with the inclusion of the Cannabis Village and a late night music venue at Center Beach. 

A representative of High Times told commissioners that “with these changes, we think it’s going to be even better than last year.” 

An improvement in financial performance is crucial, as commissioners were told that “we lost money last year – about $1.6 million – even after paying all of our vendors.”

There is optimism despite last year’s shortfall. “We had a terrible financial disaster and we found a little light in a partner to keep moving forward,” said Longtime Mateel supporter and current board member Bruce Champie, referring to losses from the 2017 festival and subsequent High Times partnership. “We’ve worked it out so that I think we can survive and we’re in favor of High Times bringing it for us – or we might have had to close up.” 

He added, “We survive pretty well in the south part of the county, under our own auspices and we need the support to keep going.” 

Commissioners were indeed supportive, only advancing concerns about potential noise and waste handling issues. But they were satisfied with the planned management. 

Commissioner Melanie McCavour said the festival’s environmental review “goes above and beyond” and that Reggae on the River may be the state’s only outdoor music event that’s operated under an Environmental Impact Report. 

The Cannabis Village offers enhanced opportunity for the festival and for its vendors. Noting that, Commissioner Noah Levy referred to a letter to the county and requests that he’s heard himself to have all-local cannabis vendors. 

The commission’s legal advisor discouraged making it a requirement, saying it may successfully be challenged through litigation. 

But during public comment, Terra Carver of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance said the group’s members want “local cannabis businesses to have an opportunity to participate in this -- or an exclusive opportunity even, potentially.” 

Dusty Hughston, vice president of the Mateel’s board, said the community center “supports local cannabis vendors 100 percent” but “this application is open to everyone, there’s no preferential treatment.” 

Commissioners suggested that outreach to local cannabis producers be done to inform them of the upcoming opportunity. 

Commission Chair Bob Morris is confident that local participation will be robust. “That was one basis for the original Reggae on the River, to bring some economic recovery to Garberville,” he said. “I’m comfortable with the Mateel being part of the project and that we will see local folks participate, because the Mateel is a locally-supported group -- they wouldn’t exist without local support.”

He added, “I would tend to think that those folks that do have influence on the Mateel are not gonna idly sit by and let the local vendors be taken out of the picture by out-of-the area folks.”

Commissioners unanimously voted to modify the festival’s permit to allow the new uses. 

Parking conditions are also changed for this year’s event. Instead of using off-site parking at the Benbow and Richardson Grove RV parks, the festival is authorized for use of 2,500 parking spaces at the County Line Ranch (formerly known as Dimmick Ranch), which is adjacent to the festival’s French’s Camp main site.  

Other conditions include capping total attendance at 9,000, the same level as last year. 

The late night area will stage music from 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. during each of the festival’s nights. A condition for what a county planner described as “dynamic management” will be in place, including availability of an “event hotline” for noise issues and other feedback.

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