Reggae Masters Converge
Monterey Bay Reggae Festival features some all-time greats, plus some new ways to have fun.
Thursday, August 29, 2002
Photo: Rub-a-Dub Dub-Michael Rose, left, and EEK-A-Mouse take over the Fairgrounds stage on Saturday and Sunday.
Eight years ago, a man named Robert Brown had the idea of bringing a reggae festival to the Monterey area, and asked Andre Smith of A&P Productions to help make his dream a reality. The first Monterey Bay Reggae Festival featured a one-day show with five bands, and was attended by 1,300 people. Brown and Smith formed a formal partnership and began to plan their second year. But the following February, Robert Brown died.
Brown''s legacy lives on. What is usually known as The Garden Stage at the Monterey Fairgrounds becomes The Robert Brown Stage at the Monterey Bay Reggae Festival each year. Now in its eighth year, the fest draws bigger and bigger crowds (last year 4,000 people attended on both of the fest''s two days), and brings in more of the best-known reggae acts in the world.
"Each year is a struggle; we want to bring in the best bands, have the best equipment, and create a reputation and a following," Andre Smith says. The attempt to out-do itself every year means that the fest isn''t a big profit-maker, since any extra money is put back into the festival.
This year, two related reggae events span the course of four days. On Thursday, Monterey hosts the Reggae Ambassadors Worldwide (RAW) conference. The group consists of the artists, merchants, promoters and fans of reggae all over the world. This year''s conference features performances from Red Di, Native Elements and Humble Soul, as well as a talk from an Ethiopian priest, native drumming from Jamaica, and the reggae artist Mutabaruka presenting a talk on philosophy.
Then the real fun starts.
This year''s music festival at the fairgrounds is chock-full of new stuff, such as a play area for children (featuring a "Velcro room," among other delights); two clubs: the Turf Club, and the Reggae Lounge, both of which feature cocktails and food. Also new is the Rastafari Museum, featuring exhibits about reggae, Rastafarian culture and history.
This year thirty bands play on three stages over the course of the weekend, including the masterfully harmonious Mighty Diamonds, the seminal spoken-word "toaster" Mutabaruka, the hot new act Midnite, and singer Michael Rose of the late, great ''80s band Black Uhuru.
It isn''t easy pooling these many of reggae''s best groups together, Smith admits.
"We''re flying a lot of the acts in this year-a lot of them tour in the summers and are home by now, so we have to bring them here," Smith says. "But it''s worth it. Looking at the expressions when the music is in the air, all these different nationalities-it crosses over."
Also in the works is the plan to have a big-screen projector on the One World Stage, where the headliners will play.
The festival is being catered by Freestyle Catering, apparently to satisfy all those nationalities. The plan is to offer a multi-ethnic array of foods, as well as booths featuring crafts from every country, it seems, where anyone ever listened to reggae.
Laguna Seca campground is already booked up, and this year the festival is offering a shuttle service. It is important to Smith that the people here be as excited and well-informed. In the fifty minutes I sat talking to him, he took four phone calls and we were interrupted by two walk-ins.
The organizers of the Reggae Fest have big plans for coming years. They also hope to have the music last until Monday next year, making the festival span five days. It seems whatever progress is made by the festival is simply grounds for more progress, more ambition, more reggae.
Monterey Bay Reggae Festival, Aug 29- Sep 1. RAW band showcase is $18-$15 for just the conference. Advance tickets to the music festival days are $35 per day or $60 for a two-day pass. Tickets are $45 per day on the day of the show; $10 kids. Monterey Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairground, Monterey. For info and tickets, call A&R Productions at 394-6534 or visit www.mbayreggaefest.com.