Some things are too good to be true, whether it's ten CDs for a penny or John Lydon swearing he'll never again be a Sex Pistol. Such was the case at the August 4th show at Bayfront Park, a multiartist reggae blowout thrown by Jamaica Awareness in celebration of Jamaica's 34th independence anniversary. The lineup looked outstanding, a nice mix of new acts and old legends, with an unfathomably reasonable ticket price of $10 and Toots and the Maytals -- the greatest reggae group ever, period -- as the headlining act. All in all, a perfect way to spend a Sunday.
Alas, it wasn't to be.
Maytals frontman Toots Hibbert supposedly came down with appendicitis, so he and his band bowed out of the festival. Disappointment isn't the word. Try devastation. Anyway, it wasn't the end of the world, as the player bench was plenty deep without Toots. (Can't really argue with a roster that includes ska and rock steady pioneers Ken Boothe, Jackie Parris, Bob Andy, and Lloyd Parkes). Problem is, no one with Jamaica Awareness bothered to tell anyone before they entered the concert that Toots wasn't going to show up. (I found out only after asking a ticket-tearer near the amphitheater entrance.) Even worse, there was no notice of the Toots bailout posted anywhere at the ticket booth. The only sign there offered the following statement: NO REFUNDS. Meaning that, once you got inside the amphitheater, if you found out that Toots wasn't playing and you wanted your money back, tough. Read the sign, sport. NO REFUNDS.
And what would happen if you dared to ask for your money back? In my case, you'd get the ticket window shut in your face by a surly ticket-taker (while her equally surly co-workers busied themselves counting out stacks of ten- and twenty-dollar bills). And if you asked to speak to the show's promoter, or at least a representative with Jamaica Awareness? You would instead be paid a visit by a uniformed off-duty policeman patrolling the park as a security guard, asking you what the problem is.
Better to have asked Jamaica Awareness president Eddy Edwards what the problem was. When contacted by phone last week, Edwards said there was no problem at all, aside from some trouble with the sound system. He didn't even think Toots and the Maytals should be considered the stars of the show, despite the top billing they received on the poster for this year's festival. "There wasn't really a headliner per se," Edwards claimed. "He [Toots] wasn't the headliner. We had so many different artists that anybody could have headlined this thing."
So why, then, does Jamaica Awareness's press material for the festival promise that Toots and the Maytals will "lead a strong lineup of veterans" at the festival? Edwards first denied the group was portrayed as the lead act. After having the press release read to him, he conceded: "I guess it says it that way. I really don't have an answer for you right this minute." Edwards promised to look at his press material and call back to explain. As of Friday, August 9, there was no call from Edwards.
And really, it doesn't matter whether he calls or not. There simply isn't one good reason for someone involved with the festival not to have put a note on the ticket window explaining that the headliner isn't going to be performing and if you pay your ten dollars you're not going to hear Toots but you are going to hear some pretty good reggae by some other artists.
Oh wait, I thought of one: Money.
Mary Karlzen may have been dropped from her deal with Atlantic Records, but that doesn't mean the music has stopped. The singer/songwriter has just finished a limited edition four-track compact disc titled Whatever that will be available one of three ways: through her fan club; at club appearances; and, after it gets set up, on the Mary Karlzen Web page. "The thinking right now is, rather than wait until she gets a new label, why not make some new music available to her fans," explains Rich Ulloa, Karlzen's manager. The disc is being released on Karlzen's new label, Cartwheelin' Rat Records.
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The disc includes two Karlzen originals ("Whatever," "Tommy Like a Tidal Wave") and a pair of covers -- Vic Chesnutt's "Geppetto" and "Happy Birthday," borrowed from Concrete Blonde's 1989 album Free. Karlzen's next local show will be at Tobacco Road on August 24, along with Amanda Green. You can buy the CD there, or drop a line to Karlzen's fan club: 8336 SW 40th St., Miami, FL 33155.
The rock I've heard in most Latin rock seems to be derived from such pathetic sources as Journey, Foreigner, Styx, and Loverboy -- slick, glossy stuff that reeks of formula whether the vocals are in English or Spanish. Not so with Arranca, a Cuban-American rock en espanol trio from Cincinnati whose debut album Exile on Pain Street (Exilio Doloroso) screams and wails like the Rolling Stones album from which it scavenges its name. Led by one-time Miamian Victor Garcia-Rivera, Arranca mixes the confrontational assault of three-chord punk with daring rewrites of Latino classics such as "Oye el Cha Cha," a Forties hit first recorded by Cuba's Trio Matamoros.
Arranca is among the gazillion bands playing at the Bayfront Park Amphitheatre Sunday, August 18, during the Premios Rock Latino festival. On Saturday, August 17, they'll be doing an acoustic set at Cafe Nostalgia in Little Havana. Neither performance should be missed.
-- By John Floyd