By Jordan Reisman
Everything evolves over time; technology, fashion, worldviews, and eventually, music. If you told Toots Hibbert that the reggae music he created in the 1960’s would eventually be played by white guys from New Hampshire, he would probably ask for you to point out New Hampshire on a map. But part of the beauty of music is how it changes, how it doesn’t follow the same path for long. Roots of Creation are just those white guys from New Hampshire that are not just playing reggae, but creating a sound all on their own. With their own background in the jam scene, they label their music “Reggae/Rock Dubtronica Hybrid.”
Though they’re not exactly straight out of college, the band was formed in 1999, and have been earning their stripes on the festival circuit ever since. Their Facebook page reads that their location is the “603,” which to the unseasoned US citizen means nothing but in reality they occupy the only area code in New Hampshire. Not all of their touring or forming members are from the Granite State though; they come from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida. So, basically Roots of Creation is the whole East Coast.
1999 was a unique year as reggae’s predecessor, ska, in its 3rd wave was seeing mainstream attention with bands like Reel Big Fish and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. It was three years after the death of Bradley Nowell of Sublime and two years after the release of their posthumous self-titled record. It must have seemed like a good time for a band to carry the torch of that sound.
Roots of Creation doesn’t seem like they’re in denial over the similarities because it doesn’t take a genius to make that comparison. It can be healthy to wear your influences on your sleeve like that because it’s more paying homage to your “roots” than ripping off another band’s sound. They even chose a Sublime song title as their band name.
Lead singer Brett Wilson says, “At the time when I chose the name – “Roots of Creation” was a little known B-side on the Badfish CD single. I thought it would be an awesome name for a band. Once the box set came out later on, people knew our secret. Bradley had a huge effect on me vocally and songwriting wise. The fusion of all my favorite underground genres at the time – punk rock, reggae, hip-hop, dancehall, ska blew my mind.”
Most big name rock, punk and indie bands tour certain routes that include the big cities like New York, Chicago, Philly, Atlanta, etc. This traditional path ignores many rural areas and even states such as Vermont, Maine, and upstate New York. In the jam/reggae community though, such areas are not so overlooked and major festivals are held in places like Hunter, New York, Rutland, Vermont, and a recent sold out show with the Wailers in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
Wilson says about the neglect much of New England receives from music media:
“There are a couple media outlets that are trying to change that. The Hippo is great! We just received an award from Cider Magazine last weekend for ‘Favorite Jam Band’ which is won by music fans voting. Cider covers the music scene in New Hampshire and Vermont. I think the festival scene deserves to blow up here. There are some killer hip-hop, reggae, and bluegrass acts in New Hampshire, Live Free or Die!”
The aforementioned “festival circuit” is where most of the buzz on RoC comes from. This kind of environment may be foreign to people who live in metropolitan areas and get down with their dive bar scene, but to folks who come from largely rural states like New Hampshire and Vermont, festivals are the culture that they create.
Drummer Mike Chadinha says, “The festival atmosphere is like no other. So many bands and so many people are there for one reason: music. It’s always awesome seeing a great new band that you never would’ve seen if it wasn’t for the festival as well as all the new people you meet. It’s also a place where people can really let all the stress in their lives go for a couple days and just let loose… and they do.”
They don’t just selfishly hit the stage and wait for their jam band groupies backstage though, they actually stand behind a sizable number of causes too.
“We have played so many benefits and fundraisers. RoC loves to support a good cause. We remain heavily involved with Strangers Helping Strangers, who focus on feeding families in need with food drives across the US. We also work with Student’s for Sensible Drug Policy’s (SSDP) program – AMPLIFY Project.”
With the heavy amount of touring that they do in such areas, they have taken to capture a medium that is all but left behind in modern music: the live record. In 2008, they recorded ROC Vol. 1 which was followed by ROC Vol. 2 in 2010. These albums are reminiscent of the long-lost bootleg live album, a sort of cult collectors wet dream, popularized by jam legends the Grateful Dead and Phish.
When asked what their favorite bootleg is, the answers ranged from “Phish at Bomb Factory 5/7/94” to “Jerry Garcia & John Kahn: 5/5/82 at Oregon State Prison.” The term “classic album” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
RoC Vol. 1 and 2’s production value is spotless for a live record, and the crowd reaction gives a much more personal and intimate feel. They even include a few choice covers like “Watching the Detectives” by Elvis Costello, “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads, and “You Don’t Know How It Feels” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Of course they make the songs their own by infusing the classics with the slowed down reggae beats they have come to be known for.
Chadinha says, “The studio lacks the experience of us feeding off the crowd and the crowd feeding off of us to create an energy that can’t really be recreated in the studio. A ROC show to me is a high energy, conscious throw down.”
Their last official LP was Rise Up way back in 2006, taking on the historically political aspect of reggae music. Though obviously they are not speaking of the plight of the Jamaican citizen to gain power, they are using the phrase as a more general call to arms of the human population. And, following in the tradition of reggae’s past heroes, marijuana is most definitely part of this people’s revolution. They’ve gotten older and have realized that it won’t happen with just the stoner ideals of marijuana being “God’s gift,” but with actual legislation reform.
Roots of Creation can’t man this whole revolution alone though, which is why they’ve enlisted the help of their “Universal Soldiers.” Grateful Dead has Deadheads, Phish has Phishheads and so why can’t RoC have their own fan cult?
“Our street team, the Universal Soldiers, have really been the most important factor in pushing the band forward and spreading our music. We have always been an underground grassroots movement. We welcome anyone to become a part of the team.”
Isn’t life better when you’re part of the team?