AVA: The Sierra Nevada World Music Festival (SNWMF) relocated to Boonville in 2006, after operating in the Sierra foothills since 1994, making this the 12th year here. After some challenges with an extreme heatwave and then extreme fires in the first couple years, it's been pretty much smooth sailing since, albeit with some adjustments to volume and such. Any notable changes planned for this year?
Smith: It's been that many years already? Time sure flies. But no, other than some upgrades to the camping sites, to bring in more fresh water and such, going on some feedback from attendees, things will be pretty much the same. All your favorite food and drink vendors should be returning too. All the kids' and family stuff will be going on as usual. I guess overall we feel "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
OK, so tell us about some the musical offerings you are looking forward to.
There are quite a few. Of course Gentleman is a treat — and they reached out to us to play again as they have such good memories from the first time they played for us, way back in Angel's Camp days. We have Macka B too, who also hasn't been with us since Angel's Camp. That one is an exclusive.
He is great. I've heard him do some very funny stuff about both vegetarianism — and cannabis, of course.
Have you seen his video "Kukumba"? It's got like half a million hits online so far...
His first LP was a longtime classic 30 years ago, and he sang of food on that one too — how "Baked Bean and Egg" can give you bad flatulence.
Indeed. And we finally got Horace Andy, after about three times trying to book him. And I'm really excited about Christopher Ellis, the son of the late legenday singer Alton Ellis. He's superb and a very nice guy, unlike the kids of some other stars we won't mention. And speaking of that, on the same day we have Tarrus Riley, son of the great Jimmy Riley, and he's also highly professional and a joy to work with. And one more — Marla Brown, the daughter of the legendary late Dennis Brown, maybe my favorite reggae singer of all time.
He was Bob Marley's favorite too. And for the "revival reggae" crowd, bringing some old school vibes back, you have the leader, Chronixx, plus I-Taweh, who really has a buzz about him too...
In the dancehall, the legendary Lee Scratch Perry is returning to make up for being rained out last year, with his Subatomic Sound System and even Dennis Bovell, the Linton Kwesi Johnson bassist/bandleader and dub, master who will do both dancehall and stage sets.
I've heard of people coming cross country just for that — could be called historic. But it does seem that it's getting harder each year to bring the old classic reggae founders, as you are renowned for doing. This year you've got Keith and Tex, and again, Horace Andy, and one ska band, Soul Ska from Marin County, who've really earned a place here, but that's about it.
Yes, and true, it gets harder to find and bring them as time flies by. But with Third World, Barrington Levy, Ranking Joe, and Bovell, we feel we've got plenty of the roots. And of course Mellow Mood is returning as they were such a huge success here last year; and Paulo Bandini from them will also do a dance hall set with Comanche High Power.
"Back by popular demand", as they say. On that note, some dancehall stars like Capleton have been controversial for homophobia and misogyny, and I know bringing him has been a sore spot in some quarters.
Yes, and we certainly gave it some thought. But he apologized for all that 15 years ago, although it has haunted him. I think at some point you have to take him at his word, that he's overcome the overt homophobia in Jamaica — it's like 95% prevalent there, but I think Capleton did realize once he got out into the broader world that this just doesn't fly. And I expect and hope that in Jamaica itself things are slowly changing, as Obama and so many others have spoken out for these human rights. Anyway, we welcome him back, and it's not the first time we've had him. He puts on a phenomenal show. A lot of our audience want some "fire" on stage, and he certainly brings that.
How about non-reggae acts this year?
We've got Lakou Muzik from Haiti, and they are amazing and will wind up the village stage on Sunday night. And Sinkane, who has his roots in the Sudan, a soulful world music artist. We've got Soul Sauce from Korea, a sort of follow-up to Windy City from there a couple years back who enthralled so many, and Eastern Standard Sound, a Korean DJ system. The Black Seeds from New Zealand are a kind of rock and reggae group who have been building a fan base for years. The Talking Dreads do Talking Heads songs in a reggae style, and I really recommend people catch them if they like something new and different — they're great.
How many staff and volunteers do you now have?
I'd say about 50 staff and about 300 volunteers. They have their own camp, with staff spread all over. I stay on site, and sleep after it's all over.
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(Disclosure: AVA writer Steve Heilig is also SNWMF MC Rico, announcing bands while wearing specially re-purposed recycled Armani suits)