Come summer, reggae festivals are as commonplace in the States as Bob Marley tees are at reggae festivals.
Held every Memorial Day weekend in downtown Miami since 2007, Best of the Best is one of the only annual fests in the U.S. that puts the emphasis squarely on dancehall, and it's certainly the largest.
After taking on more and more hip-hop acts in its last few editions, this year's festival returns to its roots with a strictly Caribbean lineup.
"Best of the Best started as a reggae, dancehall, and soca show," says promoter Joseph "Joey Budafuco" Louis Jr. "But the intent has always been to integrate different genres of music to draw a more culturally diverse crowd.
"The show became so popular with the urban, hip-hop audience that we were approached by Radio One to put on the first two-day Best of the Best Concert [in 2011] and Best of the Best 2013 was initially supposed to continue as a two-day show. We were in talks with several hip-hop and R&B acts. But by the time they confirmed, it was too late to adequately promote that show."
So while there's no Rick Ross or Nicki Minaj to lure the patois illiterate this year, Caribbean music enthusiasts will be treated to a full schedule of up-to-di-time dancehall, classic reggae, and manic soca.
Hailed by many as Jamaica's greatest living singer, Beres Hammond got his start fronting reggae soul band Zap Pow in the '70s before '80s dancehall hits like "What One Dance Can Do" elevated him to iconic status. He'll make his Best of the Best debut on the heels of November's double-disc, One Life, One Love, among the best reggae albums in years.
It's been some years since dancehall's had a new star with real longevity. In the fast-moving genre, one month's rising star is often the next month's has-been. Konshens, who broke in Japan and Europe before blowing up at home, has proved to be Jamaica's most consistent hitmaker over the last two years, keeping dancehall queens winin' with hits like "Do Sum'n" and "Gal a Bubble."
He was one of several Jamaican artists forced to cancel appearances at 2010's Best of the Best after their visas were suddenly revoked by the U.S. Hopefully no bureaucratic snafus keep the "King of the Dancehall" from defending his self-awarded title this year.
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Arguably, crooner Kevin "Sanchez" Jackson's greatest talent is his ability to turn mediocre pop songs into timeless reggae gold. His impeccably soulful cover of Jermaine Jackson's schmaltzy (and largely forgotten) "Lonely Won't Leave Me Alone," one of his signature hits, is sure to bring the house down.
The 20-year-old Jamar McNaughton has been declared reggae's next big thing at home in Jamaica, and he was recently the subject of a mixtape released by Major Lazer. He'll make his U.S. festival debut at Best of the Best.
JW & Blaze
Speaking of Major Lazer, a highlight of Diplo and crew's Ultra Music Festival sets this year was a brief soca segment that had ravers at Bayfront Park doing the side-to-side Trinidadian dance known as "palancing." At Best of the Best, JW & Blaze, the artists whose song "Palance" set off the craze (and said ravers) will be on hand to perform it live.
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Best of the Best is always good for bringing out dancehall stars no one's heard from in a while. The elusive Supercat headlined in 2008 while 2011's edition saw the return of Shabba Ranks. This year's where'd-they-find-him act is Mad Cobra, best known for 1992's crossover hit "Flex."
Best of the Best 2013. With Beenie Man, Beres Hammond, and others. Saturday, May 26. Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The festival begins at 4 p.m. and tickets cost $47 to $137 plus fees via bestofthebestconcert.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-358-7550 or visit bayfrontparkmiami.com.