Twenty years ago the residents of Piercy, Calif., held a benefit concert to rebuild a community center torched by a local arsonist. The concert became an annual event, and today Reggae on the River attracts over 45,000 people a year, a cross section, as Michael Franti says of “hip-hoppers, dreadlockers and Woodstockers.” This two-disc set celebrates not just the festival, but also the earth-conscious, peace-loving community it created as an offshoot.
Disc one provides the back-story with interviews from Franti, Native American activist/poet John Trudell and local townsfolk involved in the festival. If you enjoy watching people set up tents and stands for merchandising African art, bongs and Indian fry bread, get ready for an exciting ride. Otherwise, this tedious photomontage, a brief appearance by the local Waila tribe of Native Americans and assorted visuals fail to offer viewers anything particularly compelling.
Disc two contains concert footage, and while the sound and visuals are crisp and sharp, arresting performances are few. Many of the acts are filmed in static long shots that drain the performance of any spark it might’ve had live, and most acts don’t look like they’re working all that hard. The exceptions are Franti & Spearhead’s rendition of “We Don’t Stop,” which has the entire crowd up and dancing, Oliver Mtukudzi’s “Hear Me Lord,” a bouncy spiritual featuring Mtukudzi’s fancy dancing, inspired guitar-work and an irresistible African rhythm, and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” given a smoky reading by former I Threes Judy Mowatt & Marcia Griffiths that silences the crowd with its sanctified power.