Review & Photos: Stephen Marley @ Milwaukee SummerFest 2011
07/15/2011 by Libby Manz
Stephen Marley – The Ultimate Reggae Experience!
Stephen Marley & Ghetto Youths Crew @ Milwaukee Summerfest 7/2/2011
I am a true reggae fan, having attended over one hundred shows all across the United States including multiple experiences at Reggae on the Rocks and the River out West with my best friend and favorite photographer, Julie Collins of Rose Mountain Photo, an even bigger fan of reggae than myself. For the past few years, I have been a regular customer at Chicago’s once great reggae club that is sadly no more, The Wild Hare; Julie was the house photographer there. We have never had the opportunity to see the legendary Bob Marley, but we have seen everyone in the family that has performed in America several times, as they always know how to put on an amazingly spiritual and soulful show every time. This weekend at Summer Fest was no exception, Stephen Marley featuring a range of special guests including Jeremiah and Mystic Marley, and the Ghetto Youths Crew, put on what was easily one of the greatest reggae shows I’ve had the blessing to attend, not to mention a great festival experience with friends.
We traveled to Milwaukee from Chicago with a few other reggae fans, and stayed at the 118 year old Pfister Hotel, a few blocks from the festival. When we arrived at the grounds, we had some difficulty getting our press passes, which led to a running dash led by Summer Fest security guard Angie. I think she wanted to make up for the time we spent waiting to get our passes, by getting us to the stage as fast as she could. We struggled to catch up, so eventually Angie turned back to grab the larger of the two bags and run even faster towards the Harley Davidson Roadhouse stage. Several days have passed and my knees still hurt from this mad dash that I am fairly certain could not have happened without the motivation provided by our now friend Angie from Milwaukee.
We were greeted at the door to the backstage trailer by an energetic Squidley Cole, the drummer who rocked the stage and kept the crowd jammin’ for the whole show. All of the performers were back there getting pumped up to go out on stage, jumping and smiling, and feeling alright. I met Erica Newell, the lovely singer, who told Julie that she perked up at the thought of having her photo taken by her. Erica introduced me to Rick, the bass guitarist, who had one of the most genuine smiles on his face when he shook my hand. I left Anne and Julie as they ventured into the photographer’s pit, and I headed out into the crowd on the right side of the stage.
I made it out there just as they ran out on stage, lead by Jeremiah waving the Rasta flag as Stephen asked the crowd, “Do you love reggae music?” Stephen began the show with songs from his new album, Revelation Part 1: The Roots of life, Freedom Time and “No Cigarette Smoking In My Room, interwoven with some of Bob Marley’s greats such as Three Little Birds and Jammin; perhaps to highlight the connection to the return to roots-reggae on Stephen’s new album. The album is purposefully reminiscent of roots reggae, as a means of bringing back the message of roots reggae as the voice of the poor and oppressed, fighting to survive. Stephen said in an interview with Danielle Andes of Cleveland Concerts Examiner on July 2 that, “It was that voice – the voice of truth and rights and justice…along the way a lot of that has been lost,” and he showed us the way back through his moving performance, with a familial feel. One of the messages he sent, also from his new album, was a song he collaborated with brother Damian Marley on titled Jah Army.
The stage was teeming with musicians and their instruments, including a flautist! Much respect to a man who can jam out with a flute alongside a full band with drums, bass, and brass, without getting lost in the mix. Stephen’s soulful voice commands the stage; his energy is fantastic as he bounds about and jumps all over the stage, keeping up with the young boy doing the same. The vibe was amazing; the crowd was jumping, shouting, and getting down as we heard the amazing messages in these songs. It was a diverse crowd, like all of the best reggae shows attract. We all felt it when he sang the words, “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing’s gonna be alright!” returning again to his roots, only to be followed up with Jammin, for which I had to take my shoes off to truly jam, as jammin is surely not a thing of the past.
Saturday night’s show was a spiritually healing, energy cleansing, better than a dream experience; and Stephen and his band and guests knew the crowd needed more. Just to make sure, they came out and asked if we wanted some more, and again if we loved reggae music. Apparently our enthusiastic reply was sufficient to provide us with two encore performances, after a wonderfully slow played One Love conclusion. The first encore brought everyone back on stage, including the Marley children, they busted out a stellar Could You Be Loved. As if that was not enough, they blew the crowd away with Buffalo Soldier, my favorite song as an historian; as Bob Marley so eloquently pointed out so long ago, “if you know your history, then you will know where your coming from, then you wouldn’t have to ask me, who the heck do I think I am?” The dreadlock Rastas in the crowd raged, the diverse crowd shouted out in rapture, and Stephen skillfully blended a song from his new album, Made in Africa, and his traditional closing song to honor his father’s message, One Love, that featured solo performances from each of the musicians.
The crowd waited and chanted for more long after the band left the stage, the looks on many of their faces were of shock and awe; they clearly shared my belief that this was the perfect blend of Stephen’s new school style, the Ghetto Youths' creative hip hop message and beat, along with a bountiful tribute to the legendary Grandfather of reggae, Bob Marley. The spirit of Bob lives on through his expansive family, and the millions of fans around the world. If you love Bob Marley, you should get to a Stephen Marley show, the experience will be one of the greatest reggae experiences of your lifetime.
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