"I was very passionate about reggae music for a very long time," said Harrison Stafford, Tri-Valley native and founder of the group GROUNDATION.
"I used to give presentations at Walnut Grove school when I was a small kid about the Rastafari movement and about Peter Tosh and all these things," he added.
Stafford, who was born in Livermore and raised in Pleasanton, is gearing up for an upcoming performance at the Brentwood Emporium set for next Thursday (Sept. 21).
The show will commemorate the 20th anniversary of GROUNDATION's third studio album "Hebron Gate" which Stafford said was the project that launched the group to popularity internationally.
Over the past two decades, GROUNDATION has released a total of 10 studio albums and performed in more than 35 countries on five continents.
The concert in Brentwood will be a homecoming of sorts for Strafford, who currently lives in Tracy but is often traveling abroad with the band. "France and Brazil are the hugest crowds and the biggest fan support that we have and it's kind of rare that we perform in California," Stafford told the Weekly in a recent interview.
The band will perform the entire "Hebron Gate" album along with other songs from their extensive catalog, including their most recent album "One Rock," which features collaborations with legendary reggae groups Israel Vibration, The Abyssinians and The Congos.
Stafford said his connection to reggae initially began while he was attending Hebrew school as a child. Although he was white, Jewish and growing up in an affluent community, he said he was hearing the reggae artists his older brother listened to singing about children of Israel and Moses and Exodus, which resonated with him.
"This really struck a chord in me. The message of the music, talking about these ancient things and at the same time going to synagogue and learning Hebrew and learning the Torah. I felt like it was a music that was made for me, so I fell in love with reggae music from that time," he said.
GROUNDATION was formed years later in 1998 when Stafford started a roots reggae/jazz fusion group with fellow students in the Jazz Performance program at Sonoma State University. Stafford's knowledge of the reggae genre led to him later developing and offering a course he taught at Sonoma State called "The History of Reggae Music".
In addition to the music itself, Stafford also immersed himself into Jamaican culture by spending summers on the Caribbean island throughout his youth, visiting a pen pal he had connected with through his parents. He studied the history of the Rastafari movement over the course of many years and even met his wife there, who is Jamaican.
The name of the band pays homage to Grounation Day, which is observed by Rastafarians all over the world on April 21 to celebrate the day in 1966 that the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie visited Jamaica. Selassie inspired the Rastafari movement and is worshiped as a deity within the religion.
"GROUNDATION is honoring that moment while also trying to be grounded, to be a new movement -- a movement where we are all one people, which is really the teachings of Rastafari," Stafford said.
Stafford said the group is excited to perform in a city close to where he grew up and introduce potential new fans to their music. "Perhaps the people in the Tri-Valley are hungry for an event to dance and celebrate life and really just experience something powerful, culturally, in their backyard," he said.
The Sept. 21 show is set for 8 p.m. at the Brentwood Emporium located at 561 1st St. in Brentwood. Tickets are available at www.groundation.com/live and at www.brentwoodemporium.net/activities.