Steel Pulse and Stephen Marley Draw Huge Audiences at SunFest!
By M. Peggy Quattro
Photos Lynn Dearing
May 6, 2008 – Palm Beach, Florida – Another picture perfect weekend for a picture perfect festival. Founded in 1982, SunFest, Florida’s largest waterfront music and art festival, is held the first of every May and attracts more than 275,000 visitors annually. The ever-popular 5-day Fest stretches for nearly a mile, tucked between the beautiful Intracoastal Waterway and the architecturally beautiful downtown West Palm Beach.
The Fest always features the finest in music, food, art, and fun for the entire family. This year, SunFest’s diverse headliners, spread out over three stages, included John Legend, Fergie, Sheryl Crowe, Little Feat, The Black Crowes, and Morris Day and the Time, to name just a few. Reggae fans can always count on catching the Reggae train at SunFest, and this year’s featured performers included Steel Pulse, Stephen Marley, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Matisyahu, and Made of Hemp.
Friday night was warm and breezy, and Ozomatli – the great LA–based band that plays Jazz/Funk/Hip-Hop/Reggae/Salsa fusion – had the swelling audience in a dancing mood. Their energetic performance set the pace for the Grammy-winning Steel Pulse, the famed boys from Birmingham, and Reggae stalwarts since the late 1970s. Led by David Hinds, dressed in a long multi-colored African shirt, the driving band delivered a rousing, rocking set of Steel Pulse hits, starting off with “Rally Round,” a tune that had the thousands who turned up for the British legends singing and rallying for real. Their audience, exemplar of Reggae audiences on the whole, included young and old, black and white. The dreadlocked revolutionary with the distinct, melodious voice had the throng singing along with classics such as “Ravers,” “Your House,” “Roller Skate,” “Bodyguard,” “Taxi Driver,” and “Chant a Psalm (a day)” – funny note: the 40-something white dude next to me was happily singing along with “Jam a Song (a day)” – I laughed and told him, “that could work.” We do love our Reggae fans!
Keyboardist Selwyn Brown would come forward and offer some Dancehall licks to David’s message lyrics. Combinations included “Taxi Driver,” “Rally Round,” and “No More Weapons.” David took the mouth harp to build up a bluesy intro to “Dem a Wolf,” but it was “Ravers” that had the outdoor venue erupt with shouts, dancing, and everyone with hands in the air. By the time “Blazing Fire” lit the stage, David and the band were having a great time and enjoying the South Florida love. Fans were not ready to end the party when keyboardist Sidney Mills and bassman Amlak Tafari came forward to lead the call for more. Steel Pulse returned and took the stage for a rousing “Steppin’ Out,” then ended the show with the ever-timely “Earth Crisis.” The cheers were deafening and the crowd still wanted more. A good sign that it is time to bring Steel Pulse back to their South Florida fans.
Sunday was another gorgeous Florida day; the Intracoastal was filled with boats and yachts ready to take in the sights and sounds of SunFest. Stephen Marley was set to go on at 1:45, and loyal fans stood in the hot sun to catch the vibes from the ever-smiling young Marley. He began with several songs off his Grammy-winning Mind Control CD before slowing down with “No Woman No Cry.” The occasional cool breeze kept the crowd comfortable and in a dancing mood. The stage was filled with Marley’s — several of Bob’s children and grandchildren — and one of the youngest, Jeremiah, the littlest bearer of the Lion of Judah Reggae flag, worked alongside his father as he entertained the thousands who filled the waterfront venue.
Stephen performed “Lonely Avenue,” “She’s Gonna Leave,” and “Let Her Dance” off Mind Control, mixed in with “Buffalo Soldier” and “Three Little Birds.” Keeping in the tradition of having special guests share the stage with him, Stephen brought out Hip-Hop artist Illustrate, who got the crowd cheering with his contribution on the Latin-flavored “Let Her Dance.” This was followed by Stephen introducing brother Julian Marley who came bounding on the stage, long locks flying, to work out “Iron Bars,” the tune he recorded with Stephen for Mind Control.
Brother Damian Marley was introduced to screams as he went into “Traffic Jam” with brother Steve. The two then delivered their hit “All Night,” and their current single, “Mission,” which is mashing up the charts in Jamaica and the US. Damian gave a bit of “Welcome to Jamrock” before being joined by brother Julian, who gave a strong performance of “Could You Be Loved.” The three brothers, the sensational back-up singers, and the jamming band ended the high-energy show with the Reggae anthem, “One Love.” Always entertaining, always musically tight, the Marley brothers are consummate performers and their shows should not be missed. Look for them, and Steel Pulse, on tour this summer.