Buju Banton and Friends Concert at Bayfront Park Amphitheather, January 16

See 10 photos from Buju Banton's show at Bayfront.

Buju Banton and Friends

Featuring Buju Banton, Stephen Marley, DJ Khaled, Gramps Morgan, and More
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Bayfront Park Amphitheater, Miami

Better than: Any reggae concert you've ever attended.

Last night was a movie of epic blockbuster proportions. Imagine if Avatar came out with a sequel staring Will Smith and Angelina Jolie in 4D, mix that with some Pirates of the Caribbean action and you got yourself last night. So let's repeat: Last night was a movie!

For those of you who've been living under a rock, reggae icon Buju Banton is free on bail and took over Bayfront Park with a few of his closest friends. It was a long-awaited return for this controversial artist who has been a solid, iconic figure in the reggae community for over two decades. Now, after 11 months behind bars, Buju is back and his stage show could not have been better. It was clear that Buju missed performing. And if there's any place on earth that he wishes to permanently be, it was the stage. 

But before Buju's triumphant return on stage, we cannot forget the slew of musician friends who came out to support. And besides the artists, let's not forget the fans. Supporters from New York, Toronto, Kingston, London, and even as far away as Australia came to see Buju in the flesh.

And those who weren't able to cough up a few hundred bucks for plane tickets were able to see the concert virtually for only $25 bucks! LIME Mobile, a new cellular phone company in the Caribbean and proud sponsor of the show, was streaming live to all mobile devices in Jamaica and beyond. Promoters are saying that hundreds of thousands of reggae fans were tuning in live from across the globe to see this concert online. An exact number is still being determined. But we're certain that many reggae artists who wished to be present at the concert but could not receive their Visas to travel were indeed tuning in from home.   

Back to the show ... The park was jammed packed by 6 p.m. as up-and-comer Richie Loop took the stage, singing his latest radio hit, "My Cup", followed by roots reggae crooner Everton Blender who brought in his classic soul with "Ghetto People Song" and "Lift Up Your Head." After the legendary Mr. Blender, there was former teen sensation and longtime Buju collaborator Nadine Sutherland, who dropped the kind of original island gyal swagger that Rihanna can only dream about.

Up next, another reggae icon, Freddie McGregor and his "Big Ship," took over. By now, the park was overflowing with reggae diehards and it was barely sundown. A huge roar ripped through the crowd as surprise guest Gyptian hit the stage and sang his crossover hit "Hold You." Then enter Wayne Wonder who got the ladies dancing to his hit "No Letting Go."

Soon after, Black Uhuru legend Mykal Rose brought that old-school roots rock before Morgan Heritage's own Gramps Morgan did his bit. And keeping with the laid-back, lover's rock vibe came Tarrus Riley, singing strictly for the ladies.

As you can tell by now, with the laundry list of reggae artists who hit the stage, this concert was like the Reggae Grammy's. And as if it couldn't get any better, Mr. Dutty Rock, Sean Paul, showed up, delivering a speedy, chart-topping set accompanied by none other than Spragga Benz. The follow-up: Shaggy, who surprisingly did a solid 30-minute set with a full band before introducing DJ Khaled and Busta Rhymes. Within minutes, the 10,000-plus audience was going crazy for the tag team's remix of "All I Do Is Win."

Phew! Are we tired yet or what? But finally at 10 p.m. sharp, the lights went dim and the crowd bursted into cheers and tears as Buju Banton walked on stage, donning a classic white dress shirt and black pants, his dreads pinned up neatly, his leather boots glistening. The entrance was serene as he sang an acapella version of "Close One Yesterday." His voice was better than ever, clearer, stronger, more refined.

After his introduction song, he thanked his fans and supporters, something that he has so eagerly wanted to do since his arrest. But this was a joyous occasion, a celebration, a cathartic musical explosion. And without wasting any time, he went straight into his classic song library with heavy tunes, such as "Not an Easy Road," "Untold Stories," and "Wanna Be Loved."

Midway into the set, Buju took to the mic and said: "This woman I met when I was 18 years old. She said to me, 'Be careful what you say in your music because it takes a life of its own.'" In walked reggae legend Marcia Griffith, and the pair sang their classic duet "Closer" as well as "Live On." After that unbelievable performance, Buju told the crowd that his mentor, Beres Hammond, was also supposed to put in a cameo but was unable to make the trek. But no worries, Buju quickly went into the sweet classic Hammond classic "Who Say" as the audience sang along, word for word.

By 11:35 p.m., strict park curfew was about to come down. And Buju needed to move the show along if he wanted to bring in more of his friends. Out walked longtime friend and advocate Stephen Marley, launching into his popular hit "The Traffic Jam." As expected, Stephen introduced baby brother Damian Marley to finish up the song. And another major moment as Buju and the Marley brothers played their collabo song "Jah Army" as the crowd threw their lighters and flags high in the air.

Reaching the peak, Buju brought back his protege Wayne Wonder for their biggest hit, "I Don't Know Why," followed by "Forever Young." Next, "Champion" and "Driver A" got the crowd more hyped than usual. And finally, Buju took us all to church! He welcomed Gramps Morgan again for a gut-wrenching version of "23 Psalms," a plea to the Lord for his mercy.

To end the night, Buju brought out his attorney David Markus as the crowd gave an overwhelming cheer. This was Buju's homecoming. And without faith, love, and the support of friends, family, and fans, this concert would never have happened.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Despite the many talents that graced the stage last night, no one could have come close to the main act himself. Buju Banton's performance was the best we've ever seen. This man gave 150 percent of his soul at this show. For two hours straight, Buju's voice did not once pitch. His energy was locked on level 10 and his stage presence made you feel like you were the only person in the room. He was indeed born to perform.

Random Detail: At exactly 11:59 p.m., the park's light went on, the sound was shut off, and raindrops started to come down. Either it was coincidence or some divine moment ... Jah rastafari! 

Overheard in the Crowd: Security was full force as not just local but federal police agents were placed on duty for this concert. "It's like Fort Knox backstage," said one member of an artist's entourage. Imagine all the groupies, girlfriends, and baby mamas trying desperately to get in! Sorry, ladies, next time.

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Esther Park