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Reggae on the Mountain Festival: Interview with Brooks Ellis and Amit Gilad
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Reggae on the Mountain Festival: Interview with Brooks Ellis and Amit Gilad

Picture of Jasmine Ashoori
Updated: 11 December 2015
LA’s 6th Annual Reggae Festival is just around the corner, on July 25 & 26, so grab your fedora, hippie shades and Chuck Taylors, and hit the canyon for a blur of red, green and yellow. Reggae on the Mountain is one of the biggest reggae festivals in Los Angeles and all of Southern California. We interview the festival’s co-founders Brook Ellis and Amit Gilad.
Reggae on the Mountain 2013 | ©ReggaeontheMountain
Reggae on the Mountain 2013 | ©ReggaeontheMountain

A non-profit fundraiser for the Topanga Community Club, the event takes place in the heart of Topanga, a bohemian neighborhood distinguished for its artistic and creative presence. This year’s lineup features headliners Ky- Mani Marley, Alborosie and many other notable reggae artists. The two-day festival attracts a variety of people from all over Los Angeles to the canyon for an eventful day filled with music to jam to, phenomenal foods (including vegan Jamaican) and, most of all, great company. Before Reggae on the Mountain kicks off, co-founders Brooks Ellis and Amit Gilad share their previous experiences with us and elaborate on this year’s event highlights, as well as the future legacy that is Reggae on the Mountain.

Can you describe what Reggae on the Mountain is all about for our readers who have never heard of it?

Brooks: Reggae on the Mountain is a cultural event, a festival and a fundraiser for the Topanga community club, which is a local charity that hosts a wider range of programs from non-profit preschool and soccer leagues to Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s entirely run by a community organization, myself, who’s been a vice president on the board in previous years, as well as the co-founder Amit Gilad. The festival on the whole is about more than just this particular community, but the world community as a whole. Reggae just fit the bill and 6 years later now it’s turned into quite a thing.

What can you tell me about reggae culture and how it goes together with Topanga culture?

Brooks: We’re promoting more the music side of Reggae culture. The love and the gathering. The rasta culture is very deep and rooted, and there are a lot of beautiful aspects to bringing an island rebel culture to the canyon. You can move and groove with a neighbor; it doesn’t matter if you see them again or not. You take that positive feeling back with you into the world. We’re promoting one love, what Bob Marley says, through the sharing and exchanging of cultures through music. They say that through unity in diversity, you reach a bigger bond, you understand more of that culture and a million other cultures.

Amit: Spirituality belongs to everyone. Reggae is spiritual, positive music, and no matter what religion or culture you are from, you can relate to that spiritual music. It’s been really cool just to have learned so much about the rasta culture and to have been so involved.

Pato Banton Performing at Reggae on the Mountain 2013 | ©ReggaeontheMountain
Pato Banton Performing at Reggae on the Mountain 2013 | ©ReggaeontheMountain

What do you have in store for this year’s event?

Amit: What is really cool about this year’s event is the moment Ky-Mani Marley and Alborosie will actually be performing together for the first time in America. They have done a lot of tracks together in the past, so we’re excited to be having this really cool historic crossover.

Brooks: Also, we’ve got 11 food vendors that are all different and gourmet, from vegan Thai and strictly vegan Jamaican, to barbecue, the Green Truck and Middle Eastern food. And our beer sponsor has become more health conscious and real as we’ve switched to craft brew. Although it is a reggae festival and people are jamming, the event is very kid friendly (kids 12 and under are free) and we will have arts and crafts, a big gymnasium, bouncy slide and face painting.

Reggae on the Mountain Poster on Highway 27 | ©ReggaeontheMountain, Brynne Heatley
Reggae on the Mountain Poster on Highway 27 | ©ReggaeontheMountain, Brynne Heatley

What are you most excited for?

Amit: Personally, Alborosie is going to be insane. His band is the top band in Jamaica, they tour all over, and they are really headlining the biggest reggae festivals in the world. To see him here in Topanga, in that intimate setting is going to be incredible, and adding the second stage and really being able to incorporate a lot more of the local bands to play is awesome because we’re just cultivating that family LA reggae community up here. And Easy Star All Stars, we’ve both been a huge fan of them for many years.

Tell us a little more about your poster design.

Brooks: The image of the lion within the road, the creek, and the mountain every year represents our respect for the Rastafarian reggae culture and also our Topanga culture, which is the hills, the creek and the oak trees. Every year we’ve had local artists paint our poster; we like to keep straight to the roots with the hand painted signs, the hand painted posters, the bright colors, and the love that comes with creating an image. This year’s poster is painted by Brynne Heatley. It all goes back to respect for the reggae culture and bringing our culture of Topanga into it as well, that we’re the lion on the hill.

What draws you to the festival culture and community?

Brooks: To spread culture and love is at the basis of what we do. One of the most meaningful things you can do is come to a place with strangers and friends, exchange positive vibrations and emotions, and learn from cultures and experiences. You take that into your heart and into your soul, and then that goes with you into the world. So festivals spread love at the core and music can really shift people, just like all the fine arts bring us together.

Reggae on the Mountain Poster & Line-Up 2015 | ©ReggaeontheMountain, Brynne Heatley
Reggae on the Mountain Poster & Line-Up 2015 | ©ReggaeontheMountain, Brynne Heatley

Where do you see the festival going in the future?

Brooks: Where does a festival go? Hopefully nowhere, it stays where it is for generations to come. A festival, like any piece of art, becomes a living thing. We created it and now it belongs to everyone. So now our responsibility…every year is to cultivate by shedding what is bad and giving what is good. We hope to create larger festivals as well and many more of them, but this festival is our first child.

Amit: We’re still growing, we’re still learning for sure. This year marks our first two-day event with two stages, so it’s grown quite a lot. We want the kids of this canyon to come to our festival and be inspired and start doing things. It’s crazy how things evolve when you believe in yourself and the community believes in you. And here we are 6 years later, making sure we maintain really high quality shows as we’re just booking bigger and bigger international artists every year.

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