Jennifer Paterson walked around the Queen Mary Events Park in Long Beach on Friday afternoon, carrying a neon pink poster with “Free Hugs” written on it, obliging when people stopped her after reading her sign.
That spirit of camaraderie, inclusiveness, general good vibes filled the air — along with the odor of a certain plant — as the fifth annual One Love Cali Reggae Festival opened its three-day run on Feb. 7.
“I’ve been coming for five years. I love the music, I like the people, everyone is really nice,” Paterson said as she walked around the festival, which included performances by acts such as Sublime with Rome, Dirty Heads, Steel Pulse, Matisyahu, Atmosphere, Tomorrow’s Bad Seeds, Katastro and Cali Conscious on opening day.
“And you meet new friends,” she added, pointing to her friend Laith Atiyeh, whom she met at the concert last year.
“This is a great concert. I always look forward to it because the reggae community is just family, everyone feels included,” he said.
With a lineup of more than 80 bands, performing throughout the three-day event, many of them from Southern California, One Love marks the first music festival of the year at the busy ship.
And for some groups, it also marked a dream come true.
“It was a privilege and an honor to be here,” Justin Ratowsky, lead singer and guitarist for the Huntington Beach-based reggae surf-rock band Cali Conscious said shortly after the band played the fest’s opening set.
It was especially significant for Ratowsky, who has attended the festival every year, since his grandfather was in the armed forces and traveled on the Queen Mary when the ship ferried soldiers across the ocean during World War II.
“It was a really cool experience. It was his birthday yesterday so this felt good…the stage was right next to the line to get in so we know people were standing outside vibing to our set,” Ratowsky said.
Lines to get in as the doors opened were a bit slow with people waiting about 40 minutes or so to get into the venue, so there were only a few dozen people in front of the main stage when Hermosa Beach’s Tomorrow’s Bad Seeds performed a passionate half-hour set as people danced to the reggae rock beats.
“It’s always a good vibe here. We always give it all we have whether it’s one person or there’s a million, it’s all the same,” said Moises Juarez, the band’s lead singer as he stood backstage after their set.
“In my opinion, compared to the radio that’s watered-down this is more like truth music. It’s more like a vibe of humanity and has realness to it,” he said.
The festival continues Saturday with artists such as Rebelution, Stick Figure, Fortunate Youth and the Long Beach Dub All Stars.
Sunday’s lineup will include Iration, Slightly Stoopid, Common Kings and Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley.
Saturday’s passes are sold out, but there are still some tickets available for Sunday’s show via onelovecalifest.com