Rising stars

Local crew Mystic Roots tops Billboard reggae charts with new album

Mystic Roots Band (from left): Keith “Rabbit” Townsend Jr., Cootdog, Katherine Ramirez, Korey Ross and Marko.

Mystic Roots Band (from left): Keith “Rabbit” Townsend Jr., Cootdog, Katherine Ramirez, Korey Ross and Marko.

Photo courtesy of Mystic Roots Band

The Mystic Roots Band performs at the Sacred Music Festival, Saturday, June 24, 9 p.m., just before headliner Capleton.
Sacred Movement FestivalJune 23-25
Lake Concow Campground
Tickets: $35-$40/day pass; $90/three-day pass

For most folks for whom Chico’s music scene is even remotely significant, the Mystic Roots Band is ubiquitous, steeped as it is in the local party scene with its positive-charged soundscape of reggae, dancehall, hip-hop and pop. The enduring crew holds distinction as one of the longest-running bands to have called Chico home (splitting time between here and SoCal for a few years before returning).

Now in its third decade, the Mystic Roots Band shows few signs of slowing down, even with the recent birth of founder Cootdog and vocalist Katherine Ramirez’s son earlier this year. In fact, as of this writing, the band’s just-released album, Change, was in its second week at No. 1 on Billboard’s reggae charts.

As momentous of an achievement as that might be, in a very real way, the recognition feels like a natural result of Mystic Roots’ commitment to a perpetual grind.

“A long time ago, my rationale with Mystic Roots became, ‘There is no plan B,’” Cootdog explained during a recent interview. “It wasn’t, ‘Well, let’s see how this band works out and maybe we’ll do something else.’ Specifically, for this album, I attribute its success to us focusing the energy of the group more than we ever have.”

Despite its many-tentacled musical approach—conceived by the songwriting triptych of Cootdog, Ramirez and drummer/vocalist Marko—Change is one of the more cohesive records in the band’s catalog. Mystic Roots’ reggae foundation is complemented by a menagerie of styles on this album—digging deep into glittery pop on tracks like “I’m Good,” fidgeting in spasms of EDM revelry on “Change,” and paying homage to Cootdog’s West Coast hip-hop roots on “Sticky Situation,” a tune that samples 2Pac’s “Ambitionz Az A Ridah.” On the record’s standout single, “Ready for It”previously released as “Summer Festival” a few years agothe band somehow managed to inject each of these varied songwriting cornerstones into one track.

“I think that’s the song that encapsulates all these styles so well for us,” said Cootdog, noting that the track is also given an EDM/trap remix near the end of Change. Marko and Ramirez agree that the evolution in cohesiveness on Change has to do with their shared musical inspirations working together, rather than simply mashing whatever new song they came up with onto the record. In the past, through the band’s various lineups, songs were more liberally included onto releases.

“It’s now fewer people with more eclectic tastes around the same stuff, so it’s almost more distilling those tastes down,” explained Marko, whose song “Lullaby,” among others, is featured on the album.

“On this album, we shifted to Marko …” Cootdog said. “I had finally sort of exhausted the bank of my ideas, so for me it was a lot of new stuff. And it was great to have some of Marko’s songs revamped with myself and Kat’s writing.”

The Mystic Roots Band’s perennial summer festival appearances have helped cultivate a healthy fanbase, not only in Chico, but also worldwide thanks to several overseas tours as Pato Banton’s backing band in the 2000s. That trend continues this summer, with sets scheduled throughout California—at the Sacred Movement Festival in Concow (June 24), Reggae on the River in Garberville—and beyond.

And the band still holds onto its Chico party-kids-making-good identity as a self-perpetuating motivator. Even with a No. 1 album now on their resume, the band members maintain a healthy level of humility.

“It’s really nose to the grindstone, head to the stars,” Marko explained. “It’s a great team effort.”