Last weekend the 10th edition of the Montreal International Reggae Festival (MIRF) reached new heights of popularity. Held from Friday, August 16, to Sunday, August 18, it attracted a sold-out crowd on Saturday night. On Friday and Sunday selling 97 per cent of the total site capacity of 10,000 seats was taken.
Friday night's performers included Morgan Heritage, making a remarkable return to the MIRF stage for the third time. They performed all their greatest hits as well as extracts from their new album, Here Come the Kings. It was a dynamic set despite the absence of Una Morgan,who fell ill after arriving in Montreal, Canada.
Traditionally known as dancehall night, Saturday featured some of the most relevant artistes on the scene currently. They included Toronto's Dahlia and Jamaica's Mr Vegas, who performed his hits over the past 15 years.
Also featured at the event was Kes The Band, which brought out many of Montreal's Eastern Caribbean revellers. Shaggy was also in top form as well as an electrifying musical doctor, Beenie Man.
The legendary King Yellowman also gave a lively set, setting a high bar for young sensation Serani and singer Alaine. These performances were very good, but proved an icebreaker for the magical performance of iconic reggae artiste Cocoa Tea.
The festival was closed by Freddie McGregor and his Big Ship Crew, who performed a plethora of his timeless hits.
The only downside to this year's Montreal International Reggae Festival was the cancellation of Luciano's scheduled appearance, following a visa problem that was beyond the control of MIRF.
Chatting with Jimmy Cliff is not like a normal conversation. It’s like talking to a poet whose choice of words is organically and naturally the most eloquent. He gives the impression that he’s not even trying. That’s how he talks. And that gift of words, which the celebrated reggae legend and actor has used to acclaim, makes even the most innocuous chat something pretty.
Take his description of his native Jamaica, which is still his home base, as “my inspiration. I still get that from Jamaica. The energy is right, there. It’s a little piece of Atlantis that sank.”
Come on. Who talks like that? Jimmy Cliff does.
As he makes his way to SunFest on Sunday (3 p.m.) by way of Miami, his base when stateside, he’s enjoying a renewed interest from fans old and new since the 2012 release of the Grammy-nominated “Rebirth,” which made Rolling Stone’s list of the year’s best albums. But he says he is, as ever, the same man, “singing the songs I have sung. Acting was my first love, but singing is something I value. So I wanted to be one of the great singers.”
Although he started writing in his teens, Cliff came to international acclaim in 1972’s “The Harder They Come.” He played a penniless reggae musician turned criminal Ivanhoe, creating not only a classic about poverty, ambition and crime, but introduced audiences to reggae music with songs like “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” “Many Rivers To Cross” and the title track.
Cliff believes that its appeal transcends culture and geography because it’s about all of us.
“Reggae touches the human people on this planet. It’s political, spiritual — one of the best ways of relating to human beings. When I first came to the U.S., it was mostly Caucasians that found it. One of the reasons that I like to be in Florida is that more (people descended) from Africa would find it too. It connects to people all over the world, to the continent.”
There’s something more universal than the message, of course.
“It’s got that beat where you don’t have to be a great dancer,” he says, and even over the phone you can tell he’s smiling. “You know that dance where you don’t have to move a lot and still feel you look good.”
We know the one. That dance and the swaying rhythms that inspire it are universal, and Cliff is constantly finding musicians who claim him as an influence, including former Rancid singer Tim Armstrong, who produced his most recent album, and Dave Matthews, with whom he’s toured.
“It’s good that I can do that,” he says. “I think I’m an inspiration just from living my life. I am a person who is just very sensitive, feeling everything. Some good, some bad. People grew up listening to my music, and it’s good to see that so many have drawn imagination from that. It’s encouraging for me.”
In turn, Cliff says he likes to draw inspiration from other artists and genres to “stay current,” even when breathing new life into a classic, like The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” from “Rebirth.” (Or his version of the Partridge Family’s “C’mon, Get Happy” in the recent Jamaican Volkswagen ad.)
He says that he is drawn to songs that are from different genres “that feel right.”
After decades of touring, Cliff says he still enjoys it, although he’s careful “to take care of myself.” He’s pleased to find that reggae has translated to places far removed from the ocean, “like Chicago.”
And no matter where he goes, he just hopes to leave the place feeling better than when he left.
“I look at life as a journey,” he says. “Each (chapter) has stops and starts. Some are interesting, some are not. But you can learn something, take something as you go along.”
When: Wednesday through Sunday
Where: The Flagler Drive waterfront, downtown West Palm Beach
The big acts: Train, Smashing Pumpkins, Boz Scaggs, Jimmy Cliff (3 p.m. Sunday, May 5), Cheap Trick, Barenaked Ladies, Ed Sheeran, Gary Clark Jr., Phillip Phillips and more.
Tickets: $22 to $37 for daily admission.
More info: SunFest.com and at 800-SUNFEST (786-3378).
THE POST IS YOUR SUNFEST SOURCE
Nobody is more familiar with Sunfest than Leslie Gray Streeter, who is entering her 11th year of covering SunFest for The Palm Beach Post and pbpulse.com. Her favorite acts among the hundreds she’s seen over the years: James Brown, Jason Mraz, Mavis Staples and the unforgettable night that Eric Clapton came on stage to play guitar with Sheryl Crow on “Higher Ground.”
If you want to know what’s happening at SunFest this year, follow Leslie’s blogs on pbpulse.com and her Tweets (@lesliestreeter), beginning Wednesday night and throughout the weekend.
And keep turning to the Palm Beach Post all this week for Sunfest coverage:
TUESDAY ACCENT: Leslie’s look at the offbeat band Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes. And in The Scene: 5 non-musical things to do at SunFest.
WEDNESDAY ACCENT: What’s new in SunFest food? Liz Balmaseda reports.
THURSDAY ACCENT: Leslie interviews the Boca man behind SunFest’s psychedelic party, Life In Color.
FRIDAY’S TGIF: Our big weekend SunFest issue, with day-to-day schedules, a site map and Leslie’s interview with Slightly Stoopid.
SATURDAY ACCENT: Leslie’s interview with Sunfest performer and “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips.
Plus: Daily schedules in The Scene from Wednesday-Sunday.
If there is one thing that Slightly Stoopid does not lack, it is stage presence.
While some of the musical talent did not seem to transfer from its eight studio albums to the live performance, Slightly Stoopid did present a very cohesive reggae sound, with a small mix of jam and punk rock.
Slightly Stoopid offered Athens a solid collection of fan favorites, playing hits such as “Closer to the Sun,” “Collie Man,” and “No Cocaine.” The band even threw in a cover of Charles Wright & the Watts 103 Street Rhythm Band's eponymous classic, "Express Yourself."
What set Friday’s show apart from other spring concerts was the band’s interaction with the crowd. The tickets were sold out, but the show still had a feeling of intimacy created by the band’s outgoing personality on stage.
Lead guitarist and vocalist, Miles Doughty had the fans raising their hands in the air, raising their lighters in the air, saying '"hello" to a sick friend of the band on the phone, and even chanting “shimmy shimmy ya” by the Ol' Dirty Bastard.
As has become a trend at the Georgia Theatre this spring, the crowd was audible from across the street and started a Braves chop right before the encore, proving Slightly Stoopid’s ability to please time and time again.
The opening act, Tribal Seeds, shared the stage with Slightly Stoopid for its encore. They will continue to tour together for the next few weeks, making stops in Nashville, Tenn., Winston-Salem, N.C., and numerous other musical hot spots in the Southeast.
Having now toured on its last album for nearly eight months, Slightly Stoopid will likely continue playing its warm weather music live throughout the summer. As the band continues to play a driving force in the reggae movement that was once driven by classics like Sublime, it would be no surprise to see Slightly Stoopid continue its success with a ninth studio album in the near future.
Some people might think punk rock is more noise than music, but if it wasn't for the punk scene in the 1970s, Americans may never have had the chance to hear reggae music.
"The only venue reggae bands could get booked into years ago were punk rock concerts," said Jamin Hazelaar, lead singer for the band Thicker Than Thieves. "That's the first time I heard the sound, and I've been hooked on it ever since."
Thicker Than Thieves is a San Diego-based band that will make a stop in the Tri-Cities on April 13 at the Roxy Wine Bar in downtown Kennewick. This is the group's first visit to the area. The last time the band came to Washington, they were part of the 2004 Warped Tour's stop at the Gorge Amphitheatre near George.
Though Hazelaar loves playing to a huge crowd on a big stage, he also loves the intimacy of a smaller venue like the Roxy.
"Don't get me wrong, I love the big stage," he said in a telephone interview with the Herald. "But small venues are equally cool. Besides, I'd rather play to a full house of 100 people than a half-full house with 100,000."
He describes the band's sound as a mix of surf punk salted with sweet reggae rock. Hazelaar is known for his intoxicating vocals and songwriting, though he credits the band's soulfulness to the inspiring talents of all five of the band members, which also includes Mauricio Mora on guitar, Mr. Kees on drums, bassist Mick Kline and David Perez on keyboards. The band's other guitarist, Brian Sykes, won't be on the tour, as he is recovering from back surgery, the band's management said.
Hazelaar, a 40-something musician, grew up with punk rock, but when he got a taste for reggae, he never looked back.
"What I love about this music is that it's all about how you feel about yourself and the rest of the world," Hazelaar said.
It's feel-good music that he describes as having an edge of punk with a feel-good vibe.
Showtime at the Roxy is 9:30 p.m. Tickets cost $5 in advance or $10 at the door. The Roxy Wine Bar is at the corner of Auburn Street and Kennewick Avenue.
On Saturday, September 1, 2012 the first full day of Reggae music came to life at the One Love, One Heart Reggae Festival taking place out at the Rio Ramaza Marina Park. The music was popping but, unfortunately, the crowds were not. Live performances began at 11:00 a.m. and continued through the day and into the night. Food vendors were plentiful but business a tad slow despite the great list of Reggae performers that deserved huge rounds of applause. The performers included a full list of talented artists including Midnite, King Hopeton, Finn, Pound Game, UpRising, IFA, United District, Reggae Bubblers, Queen Makeda, Bambu Prophets, and Jah Thunder Wisdom. The somewhat unimpressive crowd was not due to lack of talent or quality booking.
Vocalist Koolant Brown knew what he was getting into when he joined the pioneer reggae band The Wailers in 2010. The band, lead by original member Aston "Family Man" Barrett, is best known for its work with Bunny Wailer, and the two late Jamaican-music icons Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, has sold more than 250 million albums worldwide and have 20 charting hits, according Billboard magazine."I wasn't nervous about joining the band because I was born listening to their music and I believe that many are called but few are chosen and they chose me," Brown said during a phone interview from the band's stop in Lexington, Ky. "Even before I joined, I had been performing with many of these people, and the thing about the Wailers is they love playing these songs and I also love singing for the people."