Southern California is blessed with more than just great weather, it's host to a number of great live music venues. Among them, one of the most prestigious is The Hollywood Bowl. At almost a century old the Bowl has hosted just about every major artist you can imagine, so what better place to send off a Reggae legend.
Thousands of fans swarmed the Bowl for the 15th Annual Reggae Night. Casual reggae fans and longtime reggae veterans were ready to celebrate, with many wearing their red, gold, and green to commemorate the occasion.
The hills were glowing behind the band shell as the musicians began with a short medley and got the night started. In a gorgeous red gown, Etana, glided across the stage and was the first up to perform. The Strong One went on to sing a handful of songs from her hit album of the same name including Jah Chariot, Roots and I Am Not Afraid, with the latter dedicated to the victims of the recent Orlando tragedy. Off the Better Tomorrow LP, we heard the title track and Reggae, during which she demonstrated how "the bass line goes with the waist line,” and got the crowd moving their hips to the beat with a drum breakdown. She and the crowd continued to dance as the set continued with her version of Marcia Griffith's Stepping Out of Babylon, and a few more tunes from her Free Expression and I Rise LPs. The highlights of her performance for many came in the form of classic songs even the casual reggae fan could sing along to like Bob Marley's Simmer Down and Dawn Penn's No, No, No.
As the intermission wound down and the sun began to set, the colored lights of the stage came up and the live music started. Ky-Mani Marley took the stage to the sound of his fathers 1973 hit, Concrete Jungle. He quickly found his comfort zone and continued with the single New Heights before moving into the herb tune Hustler off his Radio album. He mixed in his Maestro LP with Love Over All and hit a few other singles in between. Social-media personality Sammy Wilk joined the artist on stage for their collaborative single, Light It Up. Wilk didn't necessarily look the part, but held his own on stage with a member of Reggae royalty. As the sun set, Ky-Mani brought the crowd to their feet when he moved into a couple Bob Marley classics, Is This Love and Iron Lion Zion. It was another unifying sing-along moment where everyone in attendance knew the words and was happy to take part. Marley closed his set strong with another of his father's staples, Redemption Song, a song whose lyrics ring true as much today as they did the day they were written.
Another intermission brought us to dark, with concertgoers excitedly embracing the energy of the night. As the crowd found their way back the lights on stage went dark, and slowly came back up in all purple to reveal the band that took us through a quick medley of Spear tunes.
It wasn't long before the man of the night was made his walk toward the microphone in the center of the stage and brought everyone in attendance to their feet once again. Opening with one of the first songs he ever recorded, Door Peep, 71 year-old Winston Rodney began what would end up being an almost 90 minute farewell to California.
The set list included Driver, Old Marcus and Man In The Hills as no Burning Spear show is complete without them. The Nyabinghi drum and horn break at the end of the classic Jah No Dead was a definite highlight. "From 1969, the Spear has been burning until this time!" With his microphone wrapped in what appeared to be red, gold and green shoelaces he addressed the crowd, calling out "talk to me, people!" and each time received a deserved roar of cheers and applause in response. After a spirited performance of Red, Green, and Gold, the Spear walked off stage and the lights went dark.
The Bowl has always had reputation for keeping a tight schedule, preventing many artists in the past from an encore, so many attendees thought he had left the stage for the last time. It appears the good people at The Hollywood Bowl appreciated the importance of this last performance, and out of respect for the man and the occasion, made an exception.
The stage lit up again, this time in blue, illuminatining the man and his band again on stage. He began a heartfelt address to the crowd, "Never want to cause you any sorrow. Never want to cause you any pain." Burning Spear was paying his respect. "One thing I did admire about Prince, he was standin' up for what he believed in. Standin' up for his independence...as a singer, and musician. Standing up for what belongs to him." He ended with a dedication, "I want to sing a song based upon the way Prince were treated," a reference to Prince's struggle with labels in the early 90's. The crowd erupted as a familiar tune started and he asked, "So do you remember the days of slavery?" before launching into one of his biggest hits, Slavery Days. After knocking out a few more classics, including a heavy version of Holy Foundation. The set finished with the Spear still pushing and the crowd still wanting more, but the night and the performance had to end eventually.
"Thank you, California. Thank you. Talk to me people!" and with that he walked off stage for the last time in California.
Maximum respect to The Hollywood Bowl for providing yet another stellar evening of reggae music. We again thank the powers that be for the unexpected encore we received, as every extra minute with the man would count. There's no doubt all in attendance will be ready to rock again this time next year for Reggae Night XVI.
Photos by Tommy Rillorta for Sensimedia.
Reggae Night XV at Hollywood Bowl (Event Photo Gallery).