The story of Amit Gilad and Brooks Ellis is one that Hollywood gatekeepers would decline for being too perfect.
The biggest question for Gilad (Ellis was called away during the interview) was this: As charming and rustic as Topanga is, why reggae? Moreover, why a two-day fest that has now become a city staple known as “Reggae on the Mountain?” (ROTM)
“Playing reggae, it’s a form of meditation,” states Gilad. “I’ve played all types of music and I’ve found playing rock is kinda wild and kinetic. Reggae focuses on the groove and dedicating to the beat. With rock energy, it all energy out. With reggae, it’s all energy in. Locking into that rootsy groove.”
Summing up, “It’s a positive message of love. A place for great people and draws from different communities in the LA music scene. What can be better than that?”
Now in its eighth year, ROTM was founded in 2009 by Gilad and Ellis, self-described “canyon boys.” Developed by the duo and the Topanga Community Center, it’s a joint effort in cultivating the philosophy of reggae and Topanga. The genesis of a partnership started with house parties in high school and eventually a Topanga Days tent at the ripe age of 17. Knowing each other’s strength is the reason for their quick rise.
“My niche,” states Amit, “is the booking and the marketing while his [Brooks] is the logistics and master of bar and working with people.” While the partnership is a story itself, the duo recognizes they’ve had tons of help. “Time to figure everything out and do our own thing is important. But this has really become a friends-and-family situation—Not just Brooks…all my friends.”
That’s what becomes so interesting. This story of two canyon boys is amazing, but the story is so much more than just them. “It’s amazing that we’re able to give everyone jobs to whoever wants one and help the local economy and the youth. This doesn’t happen without these people that have been here since day one. It’s totally grassroots. We’ve been very, very lucky. Never being let down and really being able to dial it in.”
As a partnership and the festival grows, you’d expect things to change, but as the adage goes, the more they stay the same. “This is what I imagined when I was 18 but know that this does not happen overnight. It’s incredibly fulfilling to give back. That’s how a community should work.”
However, “Biggest difference is that we were blissfully ignorant. We were so happy-go-lucky. It’s bigger events now but it’s also more organic.”
Gilad could afford to take some credit for himself. “Mentors from Topanga Days promoters help. Now we know what we are getting into. Seven or eight years will do that to you. Booking shows over the years but we’ve been so lucky to make a career and fundraisers ten times the size we started with.”
During its run, ROTM has proudly hosted top reggae artists such as Steel Pulse, Julian Marley, Ky Mani Marley, Alborosie, Don Carlos, Easy Star All Stars, The Wailing Souls, Rootz Underground, Pato Banton, Ras Michael and many more. The curation that this festival has is second to none. Artists this year include a Sly and Robbie reunion along with Michael Rose, the first reggae Grammy winner.
For all the accomplishments, this is the beginning.
“More events would be great. Funk. Indie Jams. You name it. We just want to curate it to our sensibilities. We’d love to expand outward, outside of the canyon to downtown LA and camping festivals. Let’s just keep going for bigger and better but the canyon will always be our heart and soul. I really feel the best is yet to come.”