RED ROCKS AMPHITHEATRE
Colorado is famous for its lush mountain scenery and its down-to-earth people, not to mention the renowned Reggae festival put on by Bill Bass Promotions. I was delighted to be there for the first time and when I got to the show, the beauty of the amphitheatre impressed me: it was built into the natural rock formations, the color rich like Southwest Native American pottery. The amphitheatre holds about 9200 people, and it was over three-quarters full on both days (for more information about the amphitheatre, check out: www.red-rocks.com/history.htm).
Saturday, I had missed the Heavyweight Dub Champions and 2 Skinee J’s, but I enjoyed the Reggae Cowboys–dreadlocked Rastas in cowboy boots and hats. They have a definite country twang to their sound and they performed a cover of Bob Marley’s “Concrete Jungle” which really got the crowd going. They also did their own songs: “Rock Steady Rodeo,” “Tell the Truth,” “Reggae on the River, Reggae On the Rocks” and “Wild, Wild West Indian”. Their bassist, “Gully” Clarke, is fabulous.
Next up were the Black-Eyed Peas who tore the house down! Their music, a hybrid of hip-hop, R&B, funk and jazz, was impressive. The multiracial band is comprised of three male rappers (Will I Am, Apl de Ap, and Taboo), one female vocalist (Kim), a trumpeter, a DJ and a rhythm section (drum, bass and keyboard). Their energetic set even included a freestyle breakdancing sequence. With their rapid-fire lyrics, they performed their big hit, “Karma”. Their performance was the surprise break-through of the festival.
As the sun set, Andrew Tosh came up next, and it was the best I’ve ever heard him sing. He was confident, in tune, and made a strong connection with the audience. Dressed in green army fatigues, he had his shades on and looked noble. He performed many of his father’s songs, opening up with “Steppin’ Razor” segueing into “Not Gonna Give It Up”. The Fully Fullwood band was backing him up, as they have done throughout the Freedom Fighters tour, with Karen Grant singing back-up. Andrew then sang a tribute to his father; “He Never Died,” followed by the beautiful “Rastafari Is” and a strong “African”. “Equal Rights” had a great new drum line and went straight into “Downpressor Man” and “Don’t Look Back”. “Legalize It” was a strong crowd favorite with a call and response section. The set ended with “Johnny Be Good”. The masses called him back for an encore of “Pick Myself Up,” “I’m the Toughest,” “Bush Doctor,” and “Get Up Stand Up” which had a nice jazzy keyboard solo. A wonderful performance by the son of a legend.
Michael Rose, Andrew’s compatriot for the Freedom Fighters Tour, was on next and he put on an awesome show! Dressed in black leather, with his locks tied up around his head, he gave 100% to his performance– sweating and working hard. He started off with “Short Temper” and continued with many of his Black Uhuru hits: “Party Next Door,” “Sensemilla,” “Ganja Bonanza,” “Sponji Reggae,” “Shine Eye Gal,” “General Penitentiary,” “Happiness,” “Youths of Eglington,” and “Mondays”. His back-up singers, Nerissa Scott and Ryan Bailey energetically bounced around throughout the entire performance. Hearing Michael’s trademark tu-tu-tueh’sand his stan-aeechie-oy’s in person definitely made me smile.
Topping off Saturday’s entertainment was Jimmy Cliff who had Luciano admiring from the sidelines. Mr. Cliff has an energy that can’t be rivaled! Dressed all in orange, he covered every inch of the stage, performing his classics: “Many Rivers To Cross,” “Vietnam,” “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” and “The Harder They Come.” He did a stirring rendition of “Save Our Planet Earth” about the environmental condition of our planet and the need for preservation. He also performed songs from his new LP “Humanitarian”. Ending the set, the band formed a nyabhinghi circle and sang the “Rivers of Babylon.” I thought the drumming was anti-climactic, but the spirit was certainly there. It was a beautiful day through and through. The festivities ended around 11:45 pm.
On Sunday, I spent some time with Luciano’s keyboardists, Paul and Rayon and also caught up with Luciano, his 2-year-old son Isaiah, and Mikey General.
By the time we reached the amphitheatre, it was almost 4 p.m. and I had missed John Brown’s Body and Justin Hinds and the Dominoes. However, the Abyssinians were stellar as usual. Donald Manning, Carlton Manning and Star David, dressed in their trademark red, gold and green, sang songs from way back: “Satta Massagana,” “Abendigo” and “Y Mas Gan” as well as performing more recent songs from their “Reunion” LP. The harmonies they create are so ethereal; it’s always a pleasure to listen to them. Next up were Luciano and the Firehouse Crew. They always put on a good show although I didn’t think their Colorado performance was as tight as their recent Maritime Hall show. Copeland Forbes, their manager, MCed the set. First the Firehouse Crew came out and played: Rayon “Zacheous” Webb and Paul “Right Move” Crosdale on keyboards, Sidney “Billy Congo” Watson playing percussion, Glen Browne on bass, Winston “Bo-Pee” Bowen on guitar and Melbourne “Uncle Dusty” Miller on drums. Then Copeland introduced Dean Fraser on saxophone, who has a new solo CD out entitled “Retrospect” on VP Records. He did a mellow rendition of Sting’s “Love Is the Seventh Wave” and a beautiful version of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”. Then the back-up singers entered: Sherida Sharp, Connie Campbell and Althea Layne-Hamilton.
Mikey General, the man with the happiest disposition, came out wearing a purple and gold African robe outfit. He spoke of the importance of humility and love. He said his parents expected him to be a doctor or a banker, and he let his family down by not pursuing those career goals. However, he dedicates his life to Jah Rastafari and has all the happiness in the world now. He then performed three songs.
Luciano walked on stage in his army fatigues, a colorful cap, wearing metal wire eyeglasses, and carrying a briefcase. He opened his briefcase and took out his Bible and read Matthew 24:3 to 24:15. He then went straight into “He’s My Friend,” followed by “Ulterior Motive” and “Sweep Over My Soul” from the latest album. Luciano is such a dynamic performer, reaching all over the stage, jumping up on speakers, animated throughout. He went through the rest of his set: “It’s Your World and Mine,” “He,” “Who Could It Be?” (with a call and response sequence getting the audience extremely jazzed), “Good God,” “One Way Ticket,” “It’s Me Again Jah,” “If You Want To Save the World” (which is an upbeat new song), “Lord Give Me Strength,” and “In This Thing Together”. The set ended with the Whitney Houston tune “My Love Is Your Love” where the women took turns soloing. All of the women had terrific voices, but I was especially impressed with Althea’s low alto voice. I thought their version was very well done.
The Long Beach Dub All-Stars were up next and quite a change of pace. The fans were going wild and rushing the stage during the set. They have a great following, as they’re the band Sublime absent lead vocalist Bradley Nowell, who died a few years back. They are touring now with Half-Pint and singing the old Sublime songs like “40 Oz. To Freedom” and “Doin’ Time.” The highlight of their performance was when Half-Pint got up on stage and sang with them.
Finally, the performer of all performers, the one who I had traveled all the way to Colorado to see, Mr. Winston Rodney, a.k.a. Burning Spear, took the stage. This was not just a performance; this was a spiritual experience. He is such an amazing songwriter and with the help of his talented stage engineer, Paul Virgo, he can do powerful things with the music. Looking stately yet humble with his white beard, holding a cordless microphone wrapped in red, gold and green thread, he didn’t smile once, portraying the seriousness of his calling. His horn section was incredibly tight, with trombone, trumpet and saxophone, even synchronizing a few dance steps. After the intro, the band went right into “Spear Burning,” reminiscent of the “Live in Paris” version. He then performed “Driver,” “Swell Headed,” “Marcus Garvey,” and “Tumble Down” where he expressed his total devotion to Jah, “People of the world, Jah is my life and strength and energy.” He then continued with “Old Marcus,” “Creation Rebel, “Call On You,” “Slavery Days,” “African Postman” which included a jaw-dropping percussion solo, “Foggy Road,” “Man In the Hills” and finished it off with “Happy Day”. I can’t praise him enough as he truly is a living legend.
It had been a fulfilling but tiring weekend with so many phenomenal performers and people. As my plane took off over the Colorado expanse, I reflected on all the wonderful people that I had encountered over the weekend and I knew that Jah was looking after me.