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Reggae on The River Festival Celebrates 20th Anniversary - 2003-07-16

It's called "The biggest and best reggae festival in the world." The Reggae On The River Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary in August with a musical lineup that's expected to draw thousands to the banks of the Eel River in Northern California.

Under a blazing hot sun in the sweltering summer heat, most fans will probably opt for swimming in the Eel River. But that's just fine with the performers. Because the narrow, winding river is so close to the stage, people can wade in the water and still hear the driving rhythms of reggae music rising high above the surrounding redwood forest.

This year, Jimmy Cliff marks his return to Reggae On The River on the 30th anniversary of his hit movie, The Harder They Come. The semi-autobiographical film about an aspiring singer trying to break into the music business in Jamaica brought reggae to an international audience, and helped open the door for Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and festival headliners Third World, and Toots and the Maytals.

We have singer Toots Hibbert to thank for coming up with the word reggae on his 1968 hit Do The Reggay. Toots and The Maytals were relative unknowns when they appeared in The Harder They Come.

Admission to the very first Reggae On The River in 1984 was only $12. About 1,000 people attended the one-day concert that featured The Itals, The Meditations, The Caribbean All-Stars, The Dreadbeats and Tommy Tabu and The Flaming Limbo Dancers. The 20th anniversary festival, sold out since May, will draw over 10,000 fans each paying $140 for three days and two nights of "positive vibrations."

On the bill with Jamaica's Jimmy Cliff, Toots and The Maytals, Third World, Beres Hammond, Judy Mowatt and Bob Marley's sons Steven, Julian and Damian are some of the best in dancehall, hip-hop, R&B, folk, electronica and world music. Several area Native American tribes are among the 40 groups slated to perform.

Reggae On The River takes place in Piercy, California on August 1, 2 and 3. In honor of the festival's 20th anniversary, Earth Beat Records has released a reggae compilation featuring past and present Reggae On The River performers, including West Indian duo Israel Vibration.