[FESTIVAL COVERAGE] 20th Anniversary of Rototom Sunsplash Reggae Festival
Rototom Sunsplash Reggae Festival, one of the largest platforms in the world for reggae music, took place in Benicassim, Spain for it’s 20th anniversary this year on August 21-24. World renowned for it’s culture and music, The Sights and Sounds was lucky enough to have an international correspondent in the area to be able to attend and cover the event this year. Chris Pitcher, from The Priti Life, had the opportunity to run around and experience the unique atmosphere at Rototom Sunsplash, here is his story:
Photos and editorial by: Chris Pitcher
Day one – Wednesday August 21st
I arrived without knowing how I was going to get in – whether I was going to be able to get a press pass or have to buy a ticket or something else. Generally I was just unsure of anything with the festival altogether. It was spur of the moment and I did not have anything planned until the 28th, so why not go check it out. Luckily after negotiating my way through three security checkpoints I made it to the press tent and explained myself, my situation, and who I represented. After being handed off, I finally talked with someone who had the power to do something and I found my self with backstage access and a press pass for the rest of the festival.
Pretty awesome start to the festival!
After all of that was sorted, I walked around the grounds checking out the whole festival, and it was everything you could want a reggae festival to be. Rototom Sunsplash Festival has nine different stages – with one of them being down on the beach where buses to ferry you back and forth. Camp grounds are set up next to the festival for everyone to hang out, eat, smoke, party, and sleep once they succumb to the wariness of the night. And there are stores from head shops to clothing shops to marijuana seed shops, and restaurants with cuisine spanning the globe. I even ran into a candy shop (that is a smart business person). Also available for the public are multiple areas for educational and physical activities, from reggae university to yoga and circus acts.
As far as music goes – because, you know, some people actually come to listen to it – it was a solid night of dreadlocks, instrumental solos, and solid jamming. Main stage clearly was the real attraction for most fest goers because it consistently had about ten thousand people while the other stages had a few hundred. The Skatalites, one of the originators of Jamaican music, warmed up the crowd at the main stage with some classics of their own and a twenty minute tribute to the one and only Bob Marley. Dubheart, winners of the European reggae contest, kept the crowd lively until Ce’Cile took stage. People were definitely loving her music, but some of her shout outs were quite interesting,”how many of you ladies out there cheating on your man? We should be doing more of it!” To close out the night Alborosie & Shengen Clan closed out the night on the main stage keeping people dancing until three in the morning.
As my tired eyes took over my body I set up my hammock between two trees and quickly passed into dreamland with the Dub station stage still releasing ground shaking bass waves.
Check out the full photo album here.
Day 2 – Thursday, August 22nd
I headed down to the beach to check out the scene. They had two different beach areas; one for relaxing with different activities going on, such as Capoeira, and the other for partying and dancing on the beach with a full DJ booth and speaker set up. Both beach areas had great energy, one for chilling out and the other for getting your boogy on.
Afterwards I walked back up to the festival grounds through the city, about a half hour walk. Much of the city has accepted the festival with reggae flags hanging in windows and on poles. Markets are easily accessible to grab food and drink that you can bring back to the campsite. There are also plenty of restaurants sprawled through out the town. I finally made it back to the festival and it was almost time for acts to start on the main stage.
Another night of great music by Richie Spice, Sud Sound System, Africa Unite, and Busy Signal had the crowd in a frenzy by the end. Richie Spice and Africa Unite were more traditional reggae as Sud Sound System and Busy Signal were high energy rapping lyrics over their band. Busy Signal may have been one of my favorite performances as he had so much energy and emotion. After wards I ended up at Dub Station where they were playing reggae songs over filthy dubstep beats to pulsate your body to until the wee hours of the morning.
Check out the full photo album here.
Day 3 – Friday, August 23rd
I slept late into the afternoon as I was up until 6 am dancing. After some delicious food, a bottle of water, and a good old Red Bull I was feeling recovered. I wandered around and took in different acts during the day at some of the smaller stages. There was quite the hilarious clown show with adult humor and music intertwined. After that I came upon a band of drummers creating rhythmic beats to the on lookers that could not help tap their feet or let their whole body surrender to the music.
Afterward, the sun disappeared behind the horizon and the main stage filled up again to the sounds of Horace Andy, Nneka, John Holt, and Leroy Sibbles. All put on a great show in their own ways, but by far my favorite performance of the festival was Nneka. Her presence on stage was soulful and radiant. Her voice not only soothed but astounded the audience with emotional lyrics that were bleeding from her soul. Can only wonder how much longer until she becomes a huge star with performances like that. However, not to be out done, John Holt came out and put on a show as he has for decades.
As Leroy Sibbles finished on the main stage, my stomach rumbled and one of my fellow press mates took me to this amazing pizza place set up in in the Feria Artesana. It is a vegetarian pizza spot that just cooks whatever they want and then you choose from whats on the counter for five euros. It was delicious and ended up having two more on Saturday.
Check out the full photo album here.
Day 4 – Saturday, August 24th
I woke up from the sun basking warmth on my legs in the hammock around eleven-o-clock and was ready to take on the last day of the festival. Everyone was excited for the big finale of Damien Marley on the Main stage to close out the festival. I headed down to the beach again as it was a beautiful sunny day and to take in the sights of topless women juggling and live acoustics.
Upon my return I found a group of guys putting on a slack line show at the circus area. Showing off great aerial acrobatics to the large crowd it was a fun spectacle. Afterwards the drum band had teamed up with some of the circus performers and were creating quite the show in the main stage area. They had a whole group of people dancing in unison following them as they marched around the grounds.
Finally night fell and anticipation filled the air as in only a few shorts hours Damien Marley would grace the stage. In many senses they worshiped the very idea of him. As one of the most well known names in reggae music the main stage was packed for the oncoming performance. Before he could take stage there were still some great performances for the crowd to dance, smoke, and sing to: Misty in Roots, Gondwana, Black am I, Wayne Marshall, and Chris Ellis. After Misty in Roots and Gondwana there was a halt in the music and a quick ceremony thanking all the people that had made this festival possible for twenty years. After the roaring response from the crowd the music continued. It was time, time for Damian to take the stage to the acceptance of the probably 25,000 people in the crowd. He had the crowd singing and dancing from the moment he grabbed the mic. It was a captivating finish to the festival.
However, that was not the end for most fest goers as music continued until 8 am and they continued to party with drums until 10 am in the campsite.
The festival was an amazing experience that took on more than just music. With all the activities and lectures, and shows, it was more than just a music festival. It was a place to come bond with similar minded people and pursue your passions in this community. Strongly recommend making it in the coming years if you are in Europe traveling.