Since 1994, Sierra Nevada World Music Festival has been an iconic part of the California festival circuit, bringing music lovers from around the world together in a family-friendly setting for three magical days. Founder and programmer Warren Smith envisioned a unique mix of authentic roots-reggae and global music trends, bringing this to fruition with so many memorable performances over 25 years. With Warren’s passing in 2021 and the Covid-19 pandemic, the festival had been on hiatus. This year, the time is right to gather again in celebration of Peace, Love & Music. The beautiful forests and rolling hills of Mendocino County are home, and we look forward to welcoming you! SNWMF 2023 is for Warren ❤️
Sierra Nevada World Music Festival was conceived in Riverfront Park, in the town of Marysville, California, kicking off in 1994. A venue change in 2001 saw the festival move to the Calaveras County Fairgrounds in Angels Camp CA, also known as Frogtown. The festival took place in these golden hills of the Gold Country until 2006 when the festival found its new home in Mendocino. The move to Mendocino took the event to a new level with an incredibly supportive region and community.
While originally conceived as a reggae-centric world music festival during the 1990s, Sierra Nevada was alway a reggae festival first, despite the heavyweight appearances of artists like Baba Maal, Salif Keita, Alpha Blondy, Zakir Hussein, Femi and Sean Kuti, The Africa Fete tour, and dozens of other global music stars.
The heart and soul of the festival is a celebration of ska, rocksteady, and reggae’s founding artists, sometimes forgotten but cherished among reggae collectors, super-fans, and by founder Warren Smith. Performances over the years have included Alton Ellis, The Skatalites, Rico Rodriguez, Ken Boothe, Roy Shirley, Prince Buster, the Pioneers, Keith & Tex, and Junior Byles, among others.
Reggae artists who performed at the festival over the years include icons like Jimmy Cliff, Bunny Wailer, Toots & The Maytals, Damian Marley, Wailing Souls, Black Uhuru, Lee Scratch Perry, Marcia Griffiths, Burning Spear (who returns this year), and Beres Hammond (who also returns this year). More recently, the festival has seen next generation reggae artists like Protoje, who returns this year, and Chronixx, as well as the most recent Grammy winner, Kabaka Pyramid. Top reggae DJs and soundmen including Jah Shaka, Stone Love, Mad Professor and David Rodigan have also been featured participants.
Warren Smith's work in reggae dates to the 1970s. Smith, was an early reggae promoter and producer on the West Coast, having brought Dennis Brown, Big Youth, and Soul Syndicate to California for the first time during the 1970s. Spending extensive time in Jamaica in the 1970s, he produced the Island Music Festival in the Parish of Trelawny in 1978, the same year as the One Love Peace Concert.
As a manager and record producer, worked closely with Soul Syndicate, issuing records Harvest Uptown, Famine Downtown and Love Is And Always on his Epiphany Records label. This period was documented in Jeremiah Stein’s excellent film about Soul Syndicate, Word, Sound, and Power (1979).
Smith was also the first producer to record on the 16-track tape machine at Jamaica’s famed Channel One studio when it was installed in 1979. Earl Zero’s Visions Of Love LP was the fruit of this labor. Greensleeves Records’ early catalog also includes two songs from Warren’s Channel One sessions (co-produced by Chinna Smith), Earl Zero’s “City Of The Wicked” and “Righteous Works.”
After a five year hiatus, Warren Smith’s wife Gretchen took the helm for the 2023 festival, a tribute to her husband’s legacy.
Carter Van Pelt