First-rate reggae bands visit Erie about as often as Halley's comet, so circle Tuesday on your calendar. Mystic Vibrations from South Carolina will play at Docksider Tavern.
South Carolina? Don't smirk. Band leader Ric Williams grew up in the Little London area of Westmoreland in Jamaica when reggae was born and eventually exploded.
He saw his heroes at Reggae Sunsplash, a longtime reggae festival, as well as in clubs. Peter Tosh, one of his favorites, was born just six miles from his home.
"I started playing when I was in school," Williams said. "I saw Bob (Marley) at Sunsplash when I was 8 years old. And I saw Dennis Brown and a lot of these artists. Growing up, I got to back up a lot of the artists. I played behind Yellowman. Freddy McGregor. Big Youth -- a lot of them, in Negril."
At age 32, Williams took the big step -- moving from Jamaica to the U.S.
"I got married at the time," he explained. "I lived with my wife here for four or five years in Columbia, S.C."
South Carolina was not exactly a bastion of reggae.
"It was a lot of struggle. It was different," Williams said. "When I was in Jamaica, I was playing music every day in hotels and backing (musicians) whenever I could."
Fortunately, he found a few other misplaced musicians.
"I hooked up with a few guys that were from different islands," Williams said. "Then, I started to teach others who were interested to learn, then I started pulling from that."
Mystic Vibrations plays soulful, relaxed, traditional reggae with lithe grooves and an irrepressible, sunny vibe. This is sweet, swaying reggae -- neither ramped up nor clubbed up for modern times. The band also occasionally branches into dub-style reggae -- accentuating the bass and drums through reverb and echo.
Mystic Vibrations just issued "Gwaan," its first album since 2002's "Live in Finlay Park." Williams said the band will play a few songs from that album, but also mix in a healthy dose of covers by traditional stars such as Marley, Tosh and Brown.
Williams has expanded Mystic Vibrations' territory in recent years, though this is the quintet's first foray into Pennsylvania. They've shared festivals and gigs with the Wailers, Burning Spear, Third World, Yellowman and Inner Circle, among others.
Williams still visits Jamaica when he can, though he can't call it a vacation.
"When I go there, it's with my guitar, a job. It's not a vacation," he said with a laugh. "I just go down there and play music with friends who play in the hotels. Traditional reggae is still strong in the clubs, but the recording scene is different. It's strayed a little bit from the traditional. But, even in America, the (musicians) in reggae bands are playing traditional-style reggae."
Mystic Vibrations will play Tuesday at 9 p.m. at Docksider Tavern, 1015 State St. Tickets are $5 advance, $8 at the door. For more on the band, visit http://mystikmuzik.com.