The crowd at Saturday's Kaya Fest at Bayfront Park would have likely preferred smoke clouds to rain clouds in the forecast for the music and cannabis awareness festival. But though heavy rain did stay away, patient crowds battled a cold drizzle as the main acts took the stage.
Saturday's festival, curated by the Marley brothers, who also headlined the festivities, took place in the context of a confluence of new political realities. Medicinal marijuana became legal in Florida during November's paradigm-shifting election, so festival organizers sought to promote additional education about the benefits of marijuana’s many uses. Festival attendees could be seen rocking green shirts emblazoned with Kaya’s mission statement: “Education Before Recreation.”
One booth recruited registered voter signatures petitioning for a 2018 amendment which would regulate marijuana in the same fashion as alcohol. Kaya Village, a hut located among clothing and souvenir vendors, touted the eco-friendly benefits of hemp-made products. “Everything plastic (glass and paper) can be made from hemp,” read one poster.
Festival performers included reggae pioneers Inner Circle alongside more current acts like Sean Paul, who've sewn the reggae seeds Bob Marley planted into different strains of musical styles which they've taken around the world.
Paul packed his set with hits from the early 2000s (“Like Glue”) to today (Sia collab “Cheap Thrills” and his latest hit with Clean Bandit, “Rockabye”). The audience ate up the block party atmosphere, though Paul seemed out of breath at times while his backup dancers upped the energy level. At times like these, the mind starts to wander and wonder how performers like Beyoncé maintain their breath and hit high notes through athletic dance routines in stiletto heels. Nevertheless, Queen Bey deemed Sean Paul worthy of a feature on her track "Baby Boy" back when she was starting out and needed the extra help, and the throwback track was a crowd favorite during Paul’s set.
Wyclef Jean performed a schizophrenic set in which he played guitar with his teeth and on his knees, echoing Jimi Hendrix at the Monterrey Pop Festival; held his own on conga drums while singing "Guantanamera;" and free-styled in English, Spanish, French, and even Japanese. He wasted no time getting political, uttering the name “Trump” in the first sentence he spoke on stage. He urged the crowd to “show Donald Trump we're not scared of him” and quipped that we should've voted for him instead. Oddly the two do share some common ground — Jean sang about becoming president over a decade ago and beat Trump to the celebrity-turned- candidate game when he ran for president of Haiti in the aftermath of the catastrophic 2010 earthquake.
“Everybody that's waiting for a Fugees record — I'm waiting for a Fugees record, too,” said Jean near the end of his set. Whether it was a cheeky comment directed at overzealously nostalgic fans or a nudge to guest performer Lauryn Hill was unclear, but when Hill took the stage she showed no interest in revisiting the past. Hill blazed through reworked funk renditions of songs from her only solo album, the modern classic The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Her guttural but effortless vocals filled the amphitheater while she simultaneously moonlighted as a frenzied conductor for her band and backup singers. With a rolling arm motion she’d dare them to play faster, slicing the air with an abrupt wave when she wanted them to stop.
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Hill’s performance was the most anticipated of the night, judging by the whispers in the crowd in between sets, but the Marley brothers provided their own historic moment, reuniting on stage for the first time in two decades to perform their own songs as well as some of their father's most memorable tracks, including “Easy Skanking” and “Is This Love.” Pitbull also made a surprise appearance to perform his latest hit, "Options," with Stephen Marley.
As for that Fugees reunion, though, Kaya Fest might have to try again next year. And while they're at it, they might want to consider expanding the festival's recycling options. The promise of hemp’s potential rang all the more urgent at the end of the night, as plastic cups and Styrofoam littered the lawn of the amphitheater — and on Earth Day, no less.