Hidden in the rolling, bright-green Dry Harbour Mountains of St. Ann Parish on Jamaica's north coast, there's a tiny rural village called Nine Mile.
You will find it by following the narrow road from Brown's Town and counting down the mile markers till you reach one less than ten. Just outside the compound, you will be greeted by yellow-eyed locals selling fresh ganja and skinny kids begging for a few American dollars. And then after a minute, you will be ushered inside through giant purple gates.
In the 66 years since Robert Nesta Marley was born here on February 6, 1945, Nine Mile has become a place of pilgrimage for tourists seeking a taste of that infamous gold bud and some kind of communion with the soul of the Reggae King. You will wander through Marley's childhood home, climb up to his meditation spot on Mount Zion Rock, and enter the mausoleum where he was buried after succumbing to cancer at a Miami hospital in 1981.
Without doubt, this village is the spiritual and historical center of Rasta music. And now it's also the namesake for Miami's recently rebranded Nine Mile Music Festival, known for years to local reggae heads as Marley Fest or the Carribean Music Festival.
Despite its new official handle, though, the 18th annual edition of Marley Fest still looks very familiar. As always, the setting will be Bayfront Park. And the lineup will again be built around a nucleus of Bob's offspring. Heading up the roster, second son and six-time Grammy winner Stephen will toss off one of his trademark eclectic sets, veering from new roots to dancehall to hip-hop and maybe even calling out his youngest brother and fellow Nine Mile headliner, Damian, for the recently released collabo cut, "Jah Army." The other Marleys making the trip are roots soldier Julian and Miami-bred Ky-Mani.
Yet beyond clan members and reggae regulars such as Inner Circle, Kevens, Gramps Morgan, and Fourth Dimension, there has been a significant shift in the makeup of this year's Marley fest with the unexpected addition of Diplo and Switch's hipster dancehall project Major Lazer, acid dub duo Thievery Corporation, and reggae-punks Slightly Stoopid -- not to mention an entire cadre of dubsteppers including DJ Hatcha, Mala, Juan BassHead, and MC Jumanji.
So the landscape looks a little different. But just take the Nine Mile trek, spark a spliff, and enjoy the evolution.
Nine Mile Music Festival 2011 Lineup
-Damian Jr. Gong Marley
-Benjah & Dillavou
-Mala of Digital Mystikz
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Nine Mile Music Festival. Saturday, March 12, 2011. Bayfront Park, 301 N. Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The concert begins at 1 p.m. and ends at 11:30. Adult admission costs $50 via bobmarleymovement.com, plus four canned goods that will be collected at the gate. Kids 12 and under get in free. Call 305-358-7550 or visit bayfrontparkmiami.com.