Sierra Nevada World Music Festival makes return – Jamaica Observer

THE Sierra Nevada World Music Festival (SNWMF), a calendar event for reggae since 1994, returns on June 16-18 after a five-year break. It will be held at its traditional base — the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, California.
Gretchen Smith — wife of founder Warren Smith who died in 2021 — leads the team for the three-day show which features Burning Spear, Beres Hammond, Tarrus Riley, Kabaka Pyramid, Derrick Morgan, Luciano and the Soul Syndicate Band in its line-up.
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer she spoke about staging the SNWMF without her husband, who was a respected figure in the California reggae community.
“Bittersweet. Bitter that he is not here; sweet that I’ve been able to continue his life’s work after a five-year hiatus. Warren was a good teacher. We worked together side by side for 25 years to create SNWMF. He left me a clear path to follow. It is also sweet that after so much COVID isolation we can have festivals and gather together again,” said Smith.
She disclosed that the Mendocino County Fairgrounds was secured two years ago. That was followed by getting top acts who reflected the roots music her husband discovered in the early 1970s when he heard songs of Jimmy Cliff.
In addition to reggae artistes, next month’s event features Canada-based Haitian singer Wesli, Bassekou Kouyate of Mali, and the Soul Ska band from San Francisco.
Travel arrangements, Smith revealed, was the most challenging part of her job.
“The visa requirements have become so strict; this is an issue that really needs attention. It’s becoming more and more difficult for international artistes to tour in the United States and for Americans to be exposed to other music cultures,” she said. “There were a few artistes who couldn’t be present this year at SNWMF because of the restrictive visa requirements.”
Along with Reggae On The River, SNWMF is one of the enduring reggae shows in California, where Jamaican culture first found an audience in the early 1970s through The Harder They Come movie and soundtrack. Cliff, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and The Wailing Souls helped make the “Golden State” the strongest market for roots-reggae in the United States.
Born in Sacramento, California, Warren Smith promoted his first reggae show at San Francisco’s famed Winterland Auditorium in July 1975. Inner Circle, Dennis Brown and Toots and The Maytals performed.
Three years later he held the Island Music Festival in Trelawny, with Peter Tosh and Burning Spear as headliners.
Smith also operated Epiphany Records which released songs and albums by Jamaican roots-reggae acts like Earl Zero and the Soul Syndicate Band.
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