The Reggae Festival

August 14, 2006

bunny wailer 2 rrl ready.jpgCarrie and Sally took us as their guests to the Hollywood Bowl last night. They bought a “series” — their last concert had been a Bollywood concert and the next will be Willie Nelson. Last night was Roots Rock Reggae Festival 2006. None of the four of us was particularly a reggae fan but we were up for it.

We got a box a few rows back from the upper class next-to-the-stage-area. First business was to unpack the essentials: the fat and alcohol delivery systems — St. Andre triple cream cheese, duck pate, a bottle of Chardonnay and one of Shiraz. The temperature was perfect. We looked around. There were so many NORMAL looking people to be at a reggae concert. But hey. As the evening darkened, so did the familiar smell in the air. Then in came the reggae royalty. Men and women in gorgeous loud and flowing regalia with dreadlocks for days. James Spader, looking fat and befuddled, waddled across the A-section looking for someone, sat down, got up and went back from where he came. I’ll have whatever HE’s having.

The first band came on. I proudly stuffed in my excellent ear plugs. The others ripped up pieces of their napkin and stuffed them in their ears. We finished up our delicious salads and salami, screamed at each other trying to finish our conversation over the deafening music. This was the home team, LA boys and proud of it: Ozomatl. The band even has its own theme song which they sang at the end. They were all mixes of white, Latino, black, and Korean. They looked like they had all met in high school. Alright, it was probably detention, but it was clear they all were tight. The Korean-mix dude seemed to be the local Taiko-cum-Korean drumming expert and his percussive flair infused the set. All the players were not only multi-national but multi-instrumentalists as well. We heard people switch off singing, playing sax, trumpet, guitar, trombone, percussion instruments. And they all MOVED. All the time. There were elements of reggae, but rap was stronger. But then the song would morph into some Mexican groove that kept another segment in the music. It was a great mix of styles and music. None of these dudes has any idea of when to stop the music. Song duration generated by repetition ad nauseum is somehow proportionate to the size of the car they drive. It went on too long but I was glad to hear them.

Then the MC, er, DJ, er Lord ReggaeMeister shouted “can you all say eeraaaayyyy?” The girls and I were puzzled. Daniel assured us this was some tradition at reggae concerts.

The next segment featured the only surviving member of the reggae triumvirate: Bunny Wailer. Dude: this guy is so out there. This man has smoked so much ganja in his life, he seems to float like a puppet. The median age of the band is probably 55. I stared at each one of the band members, turning them into a portrait of a weathered man, lost in the music. The ghosts of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley hung thick over the southern Californian sunset.

Foolishly, we had taken out our earplugs to chat between sets, when all of a sudden a sonic boom went off. No, it was the bass drum. THE BEAT. And in reggae, that means a big f*ckin bass drum, heavily miked, with the bass EQed all the way up. Our bodies actually shook. Our hair was constantly vibrating. All of us looked at each other and our mouths were all wide open in disbelief. Everyone crammed in their earplugs and settled in for the next set. Out came Bunny, dressed a bit like Captain Marvel with an off-the-show reject outfit from Project Runway, with flowing white material and a few bold lines of red, green, orange, and well, it was bizarre. And I’m sure it signifies something to Rastafarians, which I presume most of the band is.

Our bodies got used to the TWO– FOUR bass whomping, and settled into that familiar reggae groove. Everyone was moving. The nerdball accountant over there forgot to take his pen holder out of his short sleeve shirt, but there he is smokin a joint with his late 50s wife with long flowing silver hair, having her own flashback to some private moment both dancing in their seats, in ecstacy. There is what looks to be a 4 month baby right in front of the speakers. What is that mother thinking?? There are third generation hippie children chasing each other down the aisles. There are fussy Hollywood Bowl employees looking miserable at the noise level, and perplexed at what to do about the encroaching haze, visible in the spotlights.

There is an interesting rhythmic hierarchy in reggae. The BEAT is 10 times louder than anything, and it moves along on 2 and 4, while beats 1 and 3 are emasculated. Bunny hops along in eighth notes to the band’s offbeat eighths, giving him the puppet feel. We, as listeners, can’t resist this rhythmic momentum. It’s here to stay. You hear it in all kinds of music nowadays. It started here.

The coolest thing Bunny had the audience do was to have everyone take out their cell phones and shine them. Holy sheet. It was amazing. First of all to realize how many people HAVE cell phones, but then to see it as a sea of little blue screens was thrilling. You could hear the sold out audience gasp at its own beauty. It would have been cool to have a helicopter picture of that moment.

After a brief intermission, Stephen Marley came out. [I’m unclear of the lineage. Son of Bob?] Remember how loud the bass drum was in the last set? Well, the bass guitar joined that volume level. We all touched each other feeling the invasive vibrations of the bass and bass drums on each other’s bodies and clothes. Daniel and I couldn’t take it. All three were concerned for my ears (which was sweet) and they saw me cramming my somewhat excellent earplugs further into my ear canal. We kissed the young lawyer lovers goodnight and quietly fled. No, we didn’t stay for Ziggy Marley. Our plate was full.

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