Toots and the Maytals, Bunny Wailer, and Steel Pulse at Bayside Rocks Festival

Bayside Rocks Festival

Featuring Toots and the Maytals, Steel Pulse, Bunny Wailer, Marcia Griffiths, Cultura Profética, Midnite, and many others

Bayside Park Ampitheater

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Better than: An overpriced reggae cruise heading to Montego Bay.

Downtown was abuzz as local book nerds and wandering teenage ravers flooded Biscayne Boulevard from NE 10th Street all the way to the Intercontinental on Saturday afternoon. The Miami International Book Fair was wrapping up and the mega-electro rave Autumn Music Festival was getting shut down. But we were giving praises to Jah that the Miami Heat wasn't playing. The foot and car traffic would have been unbearable.

The first band was Kulcha Shok's own Mixed Culture, a six-piece roots reggae band based out of Hollywood, whose latest album, Pesando Reggae, adds a Latin vibe to its moody, laid-back Jamaican sound. It was the perfect soundtrack as concert-goers sprawled out on the lawn, drinking lemon slushy and smoking suspicious cigarettes.

Next, there was a short set by another local up-and-comer, Calibe, who did a high-energy set of quirky dancehall. And then St. Croix's very own Midnite had some "technical difficulties" that resulted in a 20-minute sound check. Soon, it was nearing 5 p.m. and Midnite hadn't even gone on yet. You could already tell that promoters and festival producers were scrambling backstage, reworking band times and setlists. By the time Midnite finally started, the sun was slowly setting and the park was quickly filling. The band's lush sound, a deeply dubbed-out, old-school reggae left the audience in a tranquil meditation state.

Following Midnite, local artist Marijah channeled her best India Irie, playing an acoustic guitar and belting out soulful R&B. Officially nighttime, the park was getting busy -- the beers were pouring, the Jerk chicken was grilling, and somewhere the weed was smoking.

At 6:30 p.m., Lance-O introduced the next act en Espanol. Within an instant, a mob of Puerto Rican flags rushed the stage and Cultura Profetica came out. Who knew these guys had such a huge following down here? Then again, Miami's the perfect place for a group like this. Cultura Profetica is what would happens if neighboring islands like Puerto Rico and Jamaica decided to unite and create a new country. Cultura's music can't be considered true-to-the-core reggae. But it still packs that authentic roots-reggae punch any diehard Rasta could appreciate. The band played a hearty 40-minute set, infusing classic reggae with bossa nova and Latin jazz.

Up next, Kingston-bred, New York-based, Uriel Hamilton made his South Florida debut, doing a quick one-song set. And then legendary "Queen of Reggae," Marcia Griffiths, took the stage. Now Ms. Griffiths is indeed a legend. An original member of the I-Threes, the backup group for Bob Marley and the Wailers, Marcia has left a lasting imprint on reggae music. Her voice is still impeccable and her stage presence is awe-inspiring.

Marcia quickly got down to business and started her set with the classic "Closer to You" before moving onto "Fire Burning." She was soon joined by back-up singer and son, Tafari, for "All My Life." There was a somber moment of silence for the late, great Gregory Isaac, and a tribute to Bob. "Satisfy my Soul" and "Could You Be Loved" got the entire amphitheater rocking back and forth, lighters in the sky. And if that wasn't enough, Ms. Griffiths comes back with her ultimate crossover hit, "Electric Boogie," insisting a gang of audience members come up on stage and do a giant electric slide. 

By this point, everyone was filled with the Irie vibe and what better way to continue than with reggae's living legend, Bunny Wailer. He's not just a singer and songwriter. He's a mystic, a preacher, and spiritual healer. In his traditional all-white regalia, cape, and staff included, Bunny came bursting onstage like a reggae superhero or a Rastafarian Moses. This is Bob Marley's stepbrother. He and Bob grew up in a small wooden shack in Trenchtown and were able to create some of the most beautiful, uplifting music known to mankind. So to witness this man in the flesh is not only a treat but a blessing for any reggae fan.

Bunny started with "Rastaman Chant," setting the mood for "Bald Head Jesus" and a double-header, "Trenchtown/Trenchtown Rock," that got the now 8000-plus audience singing, "One good thing about music when it hits you, you feel no pain." Sing it, breddrens and sistrens! Bunny then mentioned a curfew and that he was asked to cut his set short. "When the party's getting hottie, someone's getting naughty," he joked. And with that, Bunny broke it down to the classic Wailer's ska tune, "Simmer Down" and ended his timeless set with "One Love." And the crowd sang along word for word, so deep into the music that no one noticed Bunny walking off the stage. And poof, like the prophet that he is, just disappearing into the abyss. Talk about an exit.

Everyone's checking their watches. It's 10:20 p.m., there are two major acts still left, and we all know about Bayfront Park's strict curfew. The question on everyone's mind: Will Toots play or not? The stage hands scurry on stage to quickly breakdown and set up for Steel Pulse. At 11 p.m., UK psychedelic reggae superstars Steel Pulse walk out, kicking off with the classic hit, "Roller Skates," singing, "Life without music/I can't go go no!" Then off they go into another hit "Your House" and ending the high-energy set with "Steppin Out."

Now, it's literally 15 minutes till midnight, the dreaded curfew. Will Toots be even able to hit the stage? But without delay, "Pressure Drop" comes blaring through the stacks as Toots's solid voice screams, "It is you!" And -- boom! -- onto the next, "Sweet and Dandy." And with only three minutes to spare, Toots instructs the crowd to put their fists in the air and scream, "Yeah!," as he goes into a fury with the epic prison song, "54-46 Was My Number." The crowd is pumped and just like that, midway into screaming, "Yeah!," the park's lights go up and the sound is cut off. How can they unplug on the legend!?! Someone start a protest!

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Reggae festivals are always known to go long. So really? A curfew? What kind of non-reggae-vibe is that!?!

The Crowd: Grown-folk Jamaicans reliving their youth, ex-hippies in penny loafers and golf tees, and Latin American hippies with fake dread locks. Jah! Rastafari!

Random Detail: Supposedly a suspicious vendor selling "soup" was also selling green stuff. No wonder when I asked him if they had a restaurant, he gave me that get-outta-my-face look.

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Esther Park