FRENCH’S CAMP — The 21st Reggae on the River officially opened on Friday with thousands of revelers swarming along the Eel River near Piercy.
The California Highway Patrol and festival volunteers controlled pedestrian and vehicle traffic starting in the early morning hours along a narrow stretch of U.S. Highway 101 running next to the camp.
Across the highway from the camp at the 76 gas station, hundreds of festival attendees mulled around, some waiting for entry, some vying for a ticket to the festival that sold out weeks ago. The masses were let in a few at a time, and rushed anxiously down to the Eel to stake out prime camping areas. A six-year veteran of Reggae on the River likened the morning rush to homesteading.
Controlling the never-ending stream of traffic seemed to be one of the biggest challenges. Kahilianna Hallock of Venice Beach, who has been working on the traffic crew for the past three years, said the hardest part about directing traffic was making sure cars don’t get stuck in the rocks. A tow truck had to be pulled out of the deep rocks by someone who volunteered their pick-up.
Reggae on the River veterans were easily identified by the metal rakes and shovels used to clear their camping areas of the river rocks. Many campers struggled with hauling large futon mattresses down to the river. After getting situated, many weary travelers opted for catnaps before the music began.
At noon on Friday, the festival opened with an American Indian ceremony led by the All Nation Singers and Medicine Warrior Dancers.
Fred Coyote Downey, a Medicine Warrior Dancer, called the arena’s audience a “flower garden of people.” After the performance on-stage, dancers joined hands with the audience and led a spiral dance.
“This is Mother Earth,” remarked one Medicine Warrior Dancer. “She gave us today. Dance on her.”
The scene on Thursday was controlled chaos as volunteers, press and production staff poured into French’s Camp.
A day before the masses arrived for Reggae on the River, a few hundred were allowed into the campground.
After checking in and being given the appropriate wrist band, one of many color options depending on a person’s role in the festival, the next challenge was finding a parking spot and setting up camp.
Volunteers directed traffic as vehicles were squeezed into parking spots sardine-style.
By Thursday afternoon the campground was in the beginning stages of becoming a small city for the weekend. Tents popped up, much-needed shade canopies were erected and coolers were hauled precariously over riverbed rocks. The porta-potties were put to use.
As the sun set over the rolling hills on the Humboldt-Mendocino county border, a relative calm settled over French’s Camp. It was difficult to imagine the empty arena holding the more than 10,000 reggae revelers expected to start arriving at dawn. Vendors set up their displays as people relaxed underneath shade canopies on the hills surrounding the vast space.
Although festival promoters said signs warning of the Eel River’s blue-green algae were to be posted near the river, none were seen by Friday. A dog recently died after drinking from the south fork of the Eel River.
The anticipation of Friday’s music was heard as periodic waves of cheers spread throughout the camp. While laughter and welcoming smiles were prevalent, some dived into the festivities and cooler contents wholeheartedly, much to the dismay of neighboring campers attempting to get a good night’s sleep atop the river rocks.