Root fire: a fire that starts underground in the root system of a tree, smoldering and burning unnoticed until it bursts out of its confines sometimes reaching places above ground far away from its origin. And so it goes with Rootfire, the lifestyle company named for this kind of covert blaze.
Begun in 2010, Rootfire was established by a group of friends including founder Seth Herman, who was committed to reggae music and roots culture. Others with the same vision soon joined him, including Reid Foster, who manages talent for Ineffable Music Group. Each wanted to share inspiration and information about the scene they lived and breathed.
Since then, Rootfire has grown into the voice of the progressive reggae community, where everyone is invited to discover new music, connect with each other, and participate in an international movement to create a conscious way of life. The company has blossomed from an idea to a force for positivity, which includes online media offerings promoting music, healthy lifestyles and giving, family-friendly music festivals, and The Rootfire Cooperative.
Started in 2016, the cooperative is a joint partnership between Ineffable Music Group, a music management venture, and Rootfire that provides interest-free loans to artists for production and marketing recorded music. Rootfire Cooperative doesn’t take any portion of album profits, which go directly to artists who maintain 100% ownership of their music through the entire process. Artists repay their loans from album sales, and the cooperative recoups only its invested funds.
While independent, Ineffable Music Group is part of the Rootfire family and provides artists like Jesse Royal and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad to perform at Rootfire festivals around the U.S., including Rootfire At The Park in Cocoa, Florida.
Held at Riverfront Park from November 10-12, the festival will feature not only marquee names such as Michael Franti and Spearhead, The Hip Abduction, Stephen Marley, Shaggy and Citizen Cope but also loads of Florida talent and indie bands from around the country. Yoga, a soccer garden, a kids’ zone, a beach cleanup, local food and craft vendors, and Hurricane Irma relief efforts will also be on the menu.
Earlier this year, Seth Herman retired from the music biz to start a family, and Reid Foster officially took over in March as General Manager for Rootfire. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Reid for MusicFestNews.com about the concept of Rootfire and its impact on progressive reggae and the world at large.
MFN: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today about Rootfire. I want to ask you about Rootfire as a concept and vision. What is it exactly?
RF: That’s something I could talk about all day long. Speaking for Seth, because he’s really the one who started this, it was initially kind of a platform for him to run his artist management operations. But he really wanted it to be able to exist without it being directly tied to any specific artist — kind of way that an artist’s and manager’s relationship is. And he really wanted to be able to impact the greater scene that we all exist in — and in doing so wanted to help people recognize that a lot of the clichés that mainstream society sees about Reggae music really relate to red, gold and green, and Bob Marley, and Rastafarianism, and pot smoking and all that stuff. And all that’s fine, but there really is a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Seth, I think, really had a vision for trying to bring more people into progressive roots music and modern reggae and help people understand that it’s not just about getting irie and sitting by the beach. There are lots of people who are actively involved in this scene who are outdoor enthusiasts and health nuts, and, frankly, Seth is both of those. So, this is a reflection of his personality.
Really, as things began to grow it became obvious that one of the real strengths of our modern reggae scene is the family feel that everybody has. There are all of the crazy things that you can imagine of any other genre when it comes to touring and festivals and recording music and releasing it and the types of shenanigans that band members get into. But, really, everybody who’s connected to Rootfire is part of a bigger family that is pretty unique in my experience in the music industry – partly because reggae is a fairly small genre and a fairly small subset in mainstream music. Everybody knows everybody.
Just this past weekend, I was at a festival in Virginia Beach, and within five minutes I ran into probably 30 people whom I know and love because I’ve toured with them in the past, or I saw them at this festival, or I saw them at that festival. It’s a pretty small world. The point being that, as Rootfire continued to develop, we really kind of recognized that that’s a real strength.
Through Rootfire, we wanted to continue trying to develop and foster a community of supportive artists and managers and promoters who are all really working together, who are all doing these things for the right reasons. It’s very rare to find somebody in our world who’s like a scummy person. It’s pretty rare to find someone in reggae music who’s not doing it for the right reasons. We really wanted to leverage that and try to bring people together and use the strength of our community to help the rising tide lift all boats.
The ethos of Rootfire has always come from a place of us asking, “What can we do to make something really cool? What can we do to make someone’s day? What can we do to genuinely help someone out”
The various branches of the business now are kind of all reflections of that — specifically the Rootfire Cooperative. That was a big watershed moment for us in just kind of realizing that we could do something really, really major to impact the artist in a really positive way by creating this alternative to the traditional record label. Truly that was a function at our core, wanting to do something that would really make a difference in a positive way.
All of this stuff just kind of stems back to who Seth is as a person and who I am and the people that we know and love and just the fact that we genuinely want to leave a positive footprint on the planet. Rootfire has evolved into a pretty special vehicle for that.
MFN: I’ve heard the term progressive reggae bantered about a lot but have never been completely clear about its meaning. Could you explain what progressive reggae actually is?
RF: Depending on whom you talk to there might be different definitions. But the way I look at it, Reggae music, by and large, for people who don’t pay attention to Reggae music, it’s very easy for people to say it all sounds the same. And a lot of that goes back to what we’ve heard from Bob Marley. Obviously, Bob Marley is the artist who achieved truly mainstream worldwide recognition.
I look at it as a way to explain reggae music that does not necessarily fit that Bob Marley mold. As people start getting deeper and deeper into reggae, truly we exist in a world now where the term reggae music is pretty loosely applied to a wide range of sound. There are bands like SOJA from the DC area. They have a very different sound from, say, a Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad.
Progressive reggae is really a term that we loosely use to identify new reggae as opposed to the old kind of traditional-sounding reggae. And in the traditional sound, there are new bands who play the more traditional sound. But when we’re talking about progressive roots and progressive reggae, it’s generally a reference to that stuff that is lumped into the scene of reggae but that doesn’t really have the same kind of sonic footprint as those old Bob Marley tunes or The Gladiators, The Wailers, The Ethiopians — those kind of old-school Jamaican reggae acts.
It’s also a reference to the kind of fusion that’s involved in modern reggae music. 311 very often gets lumped into reggae. But they’re far from traditional-sounding reggae. They just have some of the same elements. And then there’s a band Rebelution. They’re kind of considered one of the biggest reggae bands around right now but, again, very different stylistically than that the traditional kind of reggae stuff. So progressive reggae music is a term that is loosely assigned to anything that doesn’t fit that more traditional mold.
MFN: Rootfire is a company that promotes a lifestyle. What kind of lifestyle are we talking about?
RF: That kind of goes back to that active outdoor lifestyle and consciousness — the community consciousness. Part of what we do at the event is bringing in the soccer garden party. And that’s directly related to the lifestyle kinds of things that are important to us that we identify with that are beyond that kind of stereotypical palm trees and joints type of vibe.
The lifestyle here is that you don’t have to be just sitting on the beach to enjoy reggae music. You can be into hiking. You can be into soccer. You can be into making your own Kombucha. You can be into community gardening. Really, the lifestyle is a reference to the ways we try and maintain a healthy life for ourselves and one that is engaging in the community that we live in, hopefully leaving a positive mark rather than a negative one.
MFN: The line-up for Rootfire At The Park is stacked and amazing. Who curates your shows?
RF: It’s a team effort. It’s myself and our partner Rob Dueterman. He’s our partner on the ground in Cocoa and then the folks at Ineffable — Thomas Cussins and Dan Sheehan from Ineffable Music Group. We all work together on curating the festival.
But in general we’ll get on the phone and say, “What about this artist? Yeah! I love um!” Or, “What about that artist? Nah. They’re playing the market a month before. We can’t do it. What about this artist? Neh, not really the right vibe for our family friendly stuff.” I’m typically the person who will say, “I’m not sure that’s really the right fit.” Or, “Hell yeah! Let’s get ‘em!”
MFN: Is there a common thread that all these artists share that make you want to say, “Okay, we’re getting these guys!”
RF: The common thread is that we all collectively think it’s going to make for a cool show. When we first started programing this festival back in February, we had a gut check. We very consciously want to be going outside the bounds of normal reggae music because we want to bring more people in and exposing them to the genre who might not otherwise go see a Stephen Marley show or go see a Shaggy or go see Michael Franti.
So we did a lot of brainstorming about this and said like, “Okay. There’s a couple of directions we could go with this.” We could be focused on reggae music and jam bands. We could be focused on reggae music and hip hop. We could be focused on reggae music and folk music. We could be focused on reggae music and indie bands.
We generally agreed that for various reasons we wanted to try and dip into more indie-leaning bands for this festival in particular.
And part of that is because we didn’t want to be copying a lot of other festivals. For example: Caliroots (California Roots Music And Arts Festival), which has become the main event in the American reggae scene, they have made a conscious decision to focus on reggae and bring elements of hip hop in. So, like, last year they had The Roots. They’ve had Nas. We didn’t just want to copy the Caliroots formula.
Likewise, there’s a festival called Levitate (Music and Arts) Festival in Boston, which really very specifically goes after reggae music and jam bands. And we didn’t just want to copy Levitate.
The folk-Americana stuff really, really makes a lot of sense, and I think we very likely will have another event that’s kind of focused on meshing those two genres in the future. But for a variety of reasons for this festival we decided we wanted to be focused on leaning into more indie bands to bring those fans in and expose them to reggae. So, that was kind of the underlying goal with programming this one.
MFN: How do you choose the sites for the festivals?
RF: That’s a pretty organic process. With the Cocoa festival it was Dueterman, our partner on the ground there. He said, “Hey. I’ve got a great spot we can throw a festival.” And we’re like, “Okay! Great! Let’s do it!” With Seattle, there again, it was a very unique partnership where we partnered with AEG and Knitting Factory (Concert House) on our Seattle event, where they had the exclusive access to book Marymoor Park. So that’s where we did it.
With our event in southern California it was really just a product of knowing the venue is there and knowing who we can work with to have a successful event. And having boots on the ground is critically important thing to us.
So really it’s a function of, like, if somebody tells us there’s a venue that’s available and they think we can have a successful event there, that’s how the conversation starts.
MFN: One of the things I wanted to talk about is the positivity Rootfire brings to the world, especially being located in Charlottesville, where Nazis marched on the University of Virginia. How did you cope with that?
RF: I wrote an article about that for Rootfire and just to repeat what I said there… all of that went down within earshot of my house. It hit us pretty hard when it happened. But Charlottesville is a pretty special place. It’s a very small community full of very creative and entrepreneurial people — a lot of educated, progressive thinkers are here. And when I say progressive, I don’t necessarily mean that as in liberal as opposed to conservative — just progressive across the board.
The fact that that stuff happened here really changed the community in a way you might expect. You know, everyone was pretty rattled. But everybody here rallied pretty quickly. Within days of the events on August 11 and 12, I was starting to get invited to community organizations meetings to talk about it and think about how we can leverage our resources for good. And for me, Rootfire and music is the resource that I can leverage.
So, for me, what happened in Charlottesville really, while they have rattled us at the core, they only go to strengthen our resolve to really putting good energy out into the world and trying to make the world a better place using those resources we have.
I personally, very strongly, believe that art leads culture. And I have access to the artists, and I have the means to bring them together in a way that maybe can change people’s perspectives. And if we don’t change people’s perspectives, at the very least, we provide a place for them to get together and enjoy something they have in common, which is music and being outside and playing soccer.
I think what happened in Charlottesville is just an example of the way we try and live our lives where, in general, we try to use those challenging times to grow and be better people and learn. Rootfire has been a fantastic outlet for us to really channel that energy and try to point it directly back into people whom we know that we can reach and who have expressed that they want to be reached.
MFN: This dovetails nicely into my last question, which is: if Rootfire were to end tomorrow, what do you hope to leave the community at large?
RF: First of all, if this thing were to end tomorrow, I would be really sad. But I would like to think that the work that we’ve done so far kind of speaks for itself.
We’ve put a lot of energy into supporting artists, and that’s what we intend to continue doing. And through supporting artists, we want to be contributing to the communities that these artists live in and the communities that the fans live in. All of it really comes back to my belief that art leads culture, and if we have the ability to steer the artists and help them to create that art, we are positively contributing to culture in the process.
MFN: Thank you for your time, Reid. Great way to end on this positive note.
100% of ticket proceeds from Rootfire At The Park will be donated to Hurricane Irma relief efforts. For more information and to purchase tickets click on the links below.