The 28th Annual Ragga Muffins Festival in Long Beach drew a smaller crowd – could be the economy, or not enough mainstream artists to draw the parade of hipsters, pretty people and meat-heads so prevalent three years ago. In keeping with the festival’s oft spoken of return to its roots, this year’s line-up was about uplifting your spirits, not just shaking your booty.
In our preview we touched on the contributions of Lee “Scratch” Perry and Tony Rebel. On Sunday we got a history lesson on Leroy Sibbles…given by Sibbles himself. A legend by most standards, Sibbles is not attributed for his contributions to reggae (most notably his famed baseline popularized in “Pass the Dutchie”).
Well, we can give Sibbles credit for injecting the day with energy and establishing a collective desire for communion. As he repeated the refrain, “love is in air” we could see it was, as strangers danced together and refreshments were shared freely.
Sibbles set left the audience well primed for Pressure, a performer who may lack wrinkles but does not lack depth. It was obvious he enjoyed performing as much as the crowd was feeling him. When the crowd started singing his lyrics, Pressure couldn’t resist a smile and wink, reveling in their energy.
Great performances abounded, but this Bob Marley Day clearly belonged to Stephen Marley. The acoustic gig had an ethereal power, commanding the crowd’s attention from a seat in center stage. The crowd was enraptured and reverent, receiving his music like an offering. Festival goer Addison Alkire said it best, “this feels like church.” While Marley’s rendition of his father’s songs were true to form, his use of flute & sax imparted his own resonance.
It wasn’t all roses though. Introduced as “the son of a legend”, it seemed the Marley name got Julian a better time slot than he merited. Tanya even speculated that dubious intro might be foreshadowing. The audience was not impressed with his lineage and zoned out after the second song, missing repetitive melodies and gratuitous face grabbing.
By contrast, up-and-comer E-Dee’s energetic exhibition would have benefited from better placement; his was the first set on Sunday. He delivered songs heavy on bass with danceable beats, but it was like trying to light a wet match. After the set E-Dee acknowledged his attempts to draw audience, saying “If you don’t get hype the audience won’t.”
Another notable, Etana, also had a lackluster response, though for entirely different reasons. She blamed inadequate time for failing to get her message across; we humbly submit our own hypothesis. The instrumentation overpowered her voice from the start. As time went the strain on her voice was evident, perhaps from the effort of singing over the music. Even so, we must bear witness, she sings with grace, free of superfluous vibrato. And onstage she is regal.
Onto non-musical details. There were fewer vendors this year, but that was not a bad thing. Gone were the mass produced Bob Marley onesies sold at a dozen booths. When asked about the improved quality of the cultural wares, festival organizer Barbara Barabino said, “I was tired of the crap too.” She went on to say that she prioritized vendor selection this year, personally inviting real artists to “bring it back.”
Despite lower attendance, the 28th Annual Ragga Muffins Festival was a success. Buju Banton, Saturday’s headliner, said he makes music “to uplift, educate and eradicate negativity from the minds of the people.” That charge may well be applied to the real purpose of reggae music. This weekend that promise was fulfilled.