Rochester Reggae festival

Rochester Reggae and Craft Brew festival

Governor’s Inn Rochester NH

August 5, 2017

Some photos stolen from Marc Chilemi’s facebook page

 

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This was one of those gigs of opportunity.  We had to pick up the kids from summer camp in northern Maine, and I was mapping out the route and looking at facebook.  I was like, “Holy Shmoly, we’re driving right by this great reggae festival.”  Thus, our day was altered.

The good folks at the Governor’s Inn and Rochester (NH) Opera House have been putting music out to the public for years, from Sunday free concert series to their annual reggae festival.  This year they went a bit bigger, bringing in some amazing regional and international acts.  I missed the first band, Duppy Conquerors, Boston’s premier Bob Marley tribute band, but since I’m going to catch them this year at the Old 78 Farm Fall festival (OCT 7th), I wasn’t too bummed about that.

Up next was a New Hampshire band doing straight up classic roots reggae with a modern twist.  The weather had forced the show inside, but with the doors open to the patio, and tents everywhere, it had a mixed environment feeling.  The band, DreadRocks, was good, and we caught the last few minutes while picking up a few craft beers in one of the many bars located throughout the area.

Up next was Taj Weekes and Adowa.  This is a big reggae band whose leader, Taj Weekes, hails from St Lucia.  As such, he refers to his music as world music from St Lucia, but it is strongly reggae influenced and quite great.  I had seen them once before, and the band was really quite strong on this day.  Weekes’ vocals are emotive and reflect a more sensitive side than what some might normally be used to in reggae music.  The musicianship top to bottom is quite excellent, and I was stoked to catch up with the music and the message that they are showcasing while they tour the nation and the world.

Up next were the most historic of the bands that day, the Skatalites.  Having virtually invented both reggae and ska, the Skatalites have become to this scene the ancestral roots and forebears of the sound.  While nearly all of the original band members have since left the Earth, the band continues to soldier on with veteran musicians.  Many of them haven’t been in the Skatalites since its inception, but are multi decade veterans both of the band and of the Jamaican music scene.

The band in that regard is anchored by Sparrow on the drums and Val Douglas on the bass, both either heading toward or into their golden years.  They are able to spin out the magic and perfection that is the earliest forms of reggae and ska.  Ken Stewart handles both the keyboards and band leading, and is celebrating twenty nine years in the Skatalites.  He led them through songs from the Studio One era up through their latest release, Platinum Ska.

The rest of the band is an amalgam of amazing players from throughout the reggae scene.  I recognized Marc Chilemi on trumpet, from his days with nearly every great northeastern band (I think I may first have seen him at Harper’s Ferry with Babaloo fifteen years ago??).  Frenchie on the guitar shared band leading and audience warming duties and is really quite great, too.  A full horn section also included trombone and saxophone, and everyone was extremely reverential and spirited.

While the weather definitely dampened the crowd potential, several hundred fans came to see the bands and really make the best of a day that had at times torrential rain.  The hosts were also sunny despite that, and did a great job protecting the fans and the bands from the elements and throwing down a great show.

The highlight of the set for me was the drums and bass solo taken in the midst of a song.  Sparrow is a truly inspired drummer, able to create amazing beats and hits from the most sparse use of his instrument.  He pounds the drums with amazing strength, yet it never feels over done.  He is a master and a perfect drummer to handle the throne for the Skatalites.  Despite mobility issues off stage, Val Douglas moves on his bass as if he were a young man.  His fluid sound and keen understanding of the style makes him a treat to watch.

The band rolled from their Countdown to Freedom through amazing songs like Rock Fort Rock, the James Bond theme, Guns of Navarone, and just about anything you’d want to hear over a set that spanned over ninety minutes and lead to the audience calling them back for an encore.

I wished to stay for the Alchemystics who were handling the final slot of the night, but we had many miles to travel yet.  I was so happy that I took the chance on the weather and noticed that my route perfectly coincided with this great event.

To submit a review or story for consideration hit us at lmnandr@gmail.com

Check out the Live Music News and Review.com Facebook page for updates and announcements.

 

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