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4 Artists to Catch at Cow Palace’s 420 Reggae Festival - By brett-callwood - April 20, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

4 Artists to Catch at Cow Palace’s 420 Reggae Festival

New Kingston

When it comes to the celebration of marijuana and advocacy for its legalization, no form of music quite hits the mark like reggae. Thanks to its spiritual association with the Rastafarian faith, reggae and weed will forever go hand-in-hand.

In anticipation of Cow Palace’s 420 Reggae Festival this weekend, we spoke with four artists who will regale stoners with some sweet, sweet tunes on the annual weed holiday.

Tahir Panton of New Kingston:

Brooklyn reggae band New Kingston formed in 2006, when Courtney Panton Sr. wanted to play music with his three sons Tahir, Courtney, and Stephen. In the decade since, the band has forged a modern-traditional take on reggae, fusing the genre with R&B and dancehall, resulting in something that’s soulful as well as dance-friendly and sensual.

The band is no stranger to Mary Jane — they frequently reference it in their music — and Tahir says New Kingston is happy to use their voice to advocate for the “wonderful plant.”

“Marijuana is a special plant,” Tahir says. “Reggae is special, just like the marijuana plant. It makes that connection with reggae music so much deeper. There is a direct correlation between marijuana and reggae music, I believe.”

And though Tahir doesn’t remember the first time he smoked, he can easily recall the first time he got high.

“A lot of people try marijuana one time and think nothing happened. They don’t really get high,” he says. “The first time I did get high, I was in Toronto, and it made me think deeply. It opens up the brain more to the understanding of everything. You’ll think deeper into food, life, relationships, and music.”

Robbie Gallo of Vokab Kompany:

A little different from the other acts on the bill, Vokab Kompany is a San Diego hip-hop group formed in 2006 that incorporates reggae and electronic elements in their music. The group is definitely not what you’d call a traditional reggae band, but vocalist Robbie Gallo believes they’ll fit in just fine.

“We’ve crossed that reggae bridge,” he says. “It’s fun, it sounds great, and it’s usually easy listening, although ironically it’s never easy to make — drummers keeping time with that reggae beat is difficult. But we have a couple of tracks that have that reggae vibe.”

Gallo claims that Vokab Kompany goes down well with reggae crowds, particularly at festivals, because the music successfully crosses over. And the fact that the group advocates for the legalization of marijuana doesn’t hurt their case either.

“We all voted for it,” Gallo says. “Even though the bill wasn’t perfect, we took that into consideration and did feel that it’s about time. We support medical use especially, because we’ve seen a ton of research proving that it can have many positive attributes. Obviously, used responsibly, it’s a way-chiller thing than alcohol.”

Gallo says that he was 17 the first time he smoked weed but, not having any prior experience, he didn’t know if he was high or not.

“Then my sister’s boyfriend brought home some what he called ‘bomb weed,’ ” he says. “I got so stoned and thought, ‘OK, that’s what it’s supposed to do.’ That was fun. Again though, I’m definitely not condoning the use of smoking, especially at younger ages. I’ve seen it really mess with people when they’re not mentally developed enough to handle it. They can spin out of control from there.”

Gallo says that he’s smoked out of apples a bunch of times, and cites their easy disposal as the reason.

“Usually, we’d smoke out of apples because we didn’t want to get caught having a pipe,” he says. “You can eat it or pop it in a bush, and be gone. Today, some of the contraptions are pretty insane. I enjoy rolling a joint or smoking out of a nice pipe. That just about does it for me — nothing too crazy.”

Luis Castillo of Tribal Seeds:

Like Vokab Kompany, Tribal Seeds was formed in San Diego. Unlike Vokab Kompany, Tribal Seeds plays a traditional and authentic style of reggae. The band formed in 2003 out of a desire to call out the system and rebel against social injustices, according to keyboardist Luis Castillo.

Castillo says that the band is looking forward to the 420 festival, as it will give them the opportunity to speak their minds about marijuana and be part of the movement.

“We use the plant as a form of medication for the mind,” he says. “[We] let it be something spiritual. You can open your third eye with this plant, and open your subconscious — be able to question things and have a rebel frequency about oneself.”

Castillo was 13 when he first got high, listening to a song called “Jah Jah Voice” by the reggae singer Peter Broggs.

“Reggae really does go with smoking,” Castillo says. “It really does enhance it and bring out certain elements of the music that people need. People need it to understand what’s really happening in the music. My experience was a great revelation of how to start the reggae music life. Being able to see that…was very crucial at the start of my career.”

The most interesting thing Castillo has smoked from is a coconut shell chalice, containing water and adorned with a clay kutchie, and a bamboo stick from where the hit is taken.

“It’s probably the tastiest way I’ve ever smoked herb,” Castillo says. “It was the most interesting method, and the best experience I’ve had.”

Ted Bowne of Passafire:

Reggae-rock band Passafire initially formed while the members were attending the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2003. When college was over, the band started touring and recording, and never stopped. Blending progressive, alternative, and hard rock with reggae, Passafire is equally at home at Riot Fest as it is at this 420 Reggae Fest.

Singer and guitarist Ted Browne says that while not all of Passafire’s band members actively indulge in marijuana, they all advocate for the plant’s legalization.

“I’m all about it,” Browne says. “There is a misconception that everyone who plays in a reggae band smokes weed, and it’s not true. We have people in the band who don’t smoke but still enjoy reggae very much. For me, it’s a huge honor to be chosen to play a festival that’s spreading awareness for legalization.”

Browne recalls having an out-of-body experience the first time he got high, finding himself in a “Mario Kart” situation.

“The first time I got high was the second time I smoked,” he says. “We walked around my neighborhood late at night. I was playing a lot of Mario Kart at the time — I think I was like 14. The little guy who flies around you with the camera and films you while you’re on your car? I was that guy looking down on me and my friends. It was really weird. I’ve not had an experience like that since, but I’ve definitely gotten high since then. That was a totally unique experience for me.”

Browne, who says that he has smoked from a 5-foot bamboo water pipe that he had to light with a match held between his toes, says that Passafire will be performing a 420-focussed set at the festival.

“By that, I mean more reggae, roots, dub, and chill stuff,” he says. “But, we can’t really play a full set without rocking out at least once or twice. You can definitely expect some rock in there, and we’re gonna try to stand out. It’s going to be a predominantly roots and chill event.”

420 Reggae Festival 2017
Friday, April 21 through Sunday, April 23, at Cow Palace. More info here.