This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual festival ...
© Tulsa World
Brush off the black coat and polish the white shoes. This year's Reggaefest lineup is gonna get you skankin'.
By Thomas Conner 06/27/1997
Each year when Interfest organizer Tim Barraza brings over the
schedule for Tulsa's annual Reggaefest, the list of acts he has
booked for lil' ol' Tulsa raises brows around the newsroom. It's
that ""Wow, they're coming to Tulsa?'' look, and it instills the
respect for this festival it so richly deserves. This year's
line-up, when you stop to look at the roots of these acts, is
nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Friday night is particularly astonishing, a night set aside for
several of the finest contributors to ska music — if not the
founders themselves. A couple of local favorites introduce the
Saturday vibe before DJ pioneer Tony Rebel and the Queen of Reggae
herself, Rita Marley. Pack your sunscreen and take a look here at
who's gracing the River Parks stages this weekend:
The Blue Collars
Aside from being the only ska band in town, the Blue Collars are
amazingly adept. Since wowing the crowd two months ago at an
outdoor festival show, they've been landing gigs in clubs all
around Tulsa — at least, the ones that will admit these thoroughly
under-age players. (The keyboard player is in the eighth grade, and
the rest are high schoolers.)
The septet fell into playing ska when, still playing punk, they
signed on keyboard player Charles Halka who showed the others the
magic of synthesized horns. ""We decided, hey, let's give this ska
thing a try,'' said drummer JoJo Hull, and soon three live horn
players were added.
""It's amazing how this stuff gets to people,'' Hull said. ""Ska
seems to be easier for people to listen to than straight punk or
reggae. Most of our songs, too, don't have truly deep meanings.
They're about girls and being in love and stuff in life that's not
The song ""Bros. Before Hose,'' for instance, sprang to life
after Hull lamented the demands of a girlfriend who complained he
spent too much time with his bandmates. He chose the bros. over the
hose, get it?
The Toasters grew out of ska's third wave in the early '80s, the
years 2-Tone Records created such a revolution in Britain with acts
from Madness to the Specials. With their own record company, Moon
Records, boasting such strong new ska talent — including the
Scofflaws, Skavoovie and the Epitones (in Tulsa earlier this week),
and the Dance Hall Crashers — they're poised as ushers for the
latest ska craze.
The Toasters released their first single in 1983 and have been
touring pretty much ever since — occasionally knocking out clean
studio albums, some produced by Joe Jackson — tirelessly preaching
the salvation of ska to audiences that are consistently surprised
by the music's energy and history. ""I think a lot of people are
surprised to learn that reggae came out of ska music and not the
other way 'round,'' said guitarist Rob ""Bucket'' Hingley.
The band is supporting its latest album, ""Hard Band for Dead.''
Whether or not you've heard of the Skatalites — and, believe
me, every serious ska fan out there had a small cow when they heard
this bunch was on the bill — the one thing you need to understand
is that the presence of them on this festival's line-up was the
bait that lured in the other ska acts. The Skatalites, you see,
might as well have — and perhaps did — invent this form of music,
the precursor to reggae itself.
The influence the Skatalites have had on ska and so much music
beyond it is incredible considering the original band was only
together for 14 months and made pitiful few records during that
time. The first 10 members came together in 1963 when ska was just
taking off in Jamaica. They were left rudderless in 1964 when the
embodiment of the band's spirit and energy, trombonist Don
Drummond, murdered his wife and was committed to a sanitarium.
After that, the Skatalites fell apart, and ska's laid-back child,
reggae, came ashore in America and Europe.
Those 14 months were exciting enough to attract the attention of
numerous future rockers like the Clash's Joe Strummer and the
Toasters' Rob ""Bucket'' Hingley. The influence of the Skatalites
started showing up in their work in the late '70s and early '80s.
Madness brought black-and-white checks back to the mainstream, and
the Specials scored a hit with a Skatalites cover, ""Guns of
Navarone.'' The new interest in ska led the remaining Skatalites to
reunite at the 1983 Reggae Sunsplash festival in Jamaica, and the
fresh energy in the band kept them together again. A new studio
record, ""Scattered Lights,'' was out on the Alligator blues label
the following year, and a cassette issue of a live show soon
followed. The magic was back, and by 1995, the Skatalites won a
The Long Beach Dub All-Stars
Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh ran into each other on Big Wheels when
they were kids, and they've been hanging out together ever since.
As the rhythm section for singer-guitarist Brad Nowell in Sublime,
they pushed reggae-drenched music to the top of the pop and
alternative charts, where two of those songs still linger.
After Nowell died last year of a heroin overdose, Wilson and
Gaugh wisely chose not to wallow, to instead ""keep it positive''
and continue moving the music forward. Sublime was never really a
ska band, but pinning down the new Wilson-Gaugh project is even
With nine people in the band — drawn from the session players
who helped round out the one and only Sublime record and some of
the shows — the sound of this group is definitely textured. The
tight reggae grooves are embellished with plenty of scratching,
hip-hop beats, horn riffs and the attention-getting toasting of
leader Opie Oritz.
The bunch came together last year for a benefit show to raise
money for Nowell's son, and the musical concept has held them
together for a few more shows since. But the cohesion is likely not
strong enough to make this the next touring and recording outgrowth
of Sublime. This line-up has performed only about five shows
"This show should be a rare treat for the audience out that
way. It'll probably be the only show we do anywhere near the
Midwest,'' member Michael Happoldt said.
Tribe of Souls
Talking with the members of Tulsa's own Tribe of Souls reminded
me of one of the joys of Reggaefest: talking to musicians who are
so incredibly sincere about all those peace and love messages in
this kind of music. It was difficult to get a word in among bass
player Al Hebert's proselytizing, and that's OK by me.
"Love is a learned process,'' he would say. ""There is goodness
out there. Love is definitely something you fight for, whether in
yourself physically, mentally or spiritually. We get out there with
that message and encourage people to find the best in each other
I don't get to print things like that from other bands. Only in
That Tribe of Souls is appearing at this year's Reggaefest is a
bit of an accomplishment considering the band formed about three
months ago. Hebert had been languishing in town after the club gig
he moved in for collapsed. He'd worked on some songwriting with
then-Local Hero guitarist Brian Simmons and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
drummer Sean Layton, but with the demands of each player's other
bands, nothing materialized.
Then Simmons and Hebert auditioned an unknown drummer named
Charles Butler. Despite never landing a professional gig before,
the two agreed that Butler was the kick they were looking for. Soon
Simmons amicably departed Local Hero and the trio became Tribe of
We ran a story last weekend about one local band's growing
nationwide acclaim, as usual overlooking one of Tulsa's most
impressive exports: Local Hero.
This straight-up reggae band has played all but one or two of
the 12 Tulsa Reggaefests and have been offering their powerful
peace to audiences around the country for almost as many years.
This summer is another busy one for the local heroes, playing
festivals in Colorado and Iowa as well as regular gigs across the
If you didn't catch them at Mayfest, this may be your first
chance to see the band with original guitarist Kelly Campbell back
in the fold. After Brian Simmons left the band to form Tribe of
Souls, Campbell drifted back in, mostly as a result of Local Hero
member U-E Flannery occasional sitting in with Simmons' other
Flannery said that a final mix for a third Local Hero CD could
be finished this week, meaning it could be on shelves by Labor Day.
The Reggae Cowboys
Now here's something an Oklahoma audience can get into: a reggae
band with a fixation on the American West. Their fliers actually
read, "Y'all come forward and check the riddims!''
"One in seven cowboys was black,'' singer-guitarist Bird
Bellony is quick to point out. "Bill Pickett actually invented the
sport of bull-dogging.''
The West Indies meets the Wild West! The group's latest CD opens
with a version of "Hang 'Em High'' that conjures images of
tumbleweeds rolling down the beach, spaghetti westerns filmed in
Trenchtown, dusty loners meeting in the middle of main street to
toast each other instead of drawing guns. The album closes with a
take on ""Hotel California'' that shimmers with an eerie vibe with
its epicenter somewhere near Roswell, N.M.
Mainstream audiences might know Tony Rebel from his hit with
Queen Latifah, "Weekend Love.'' Reggae fans know him from his most
recent album, "Vibes of the Times,'' which lingered on top of the
reggae charts for months. He's an influential DJ — sometimes
referred to as the Bob Marley of DJs — and the leader of a new
movement in dancehall music.
His first hit was the song "Fresh Vegetable'' in 1989. Since
then, he has maintained an unbroken string of reggae hits while
developing and producing the work of other reggae stars like
R&B-flavored reggae sensation Diana King. Billboard magazine called
him "an awesomely gifted toaster ... unmatched in the dance hall.''
What Reggaefest would be complete without a Marley on the bill?
(Paging Ziggy: Please phone in.) This year, it's Bob's wife, Rita
— the woman who dried her tears after Bob's death ("No Woman No
Cry,'' after all), picked up the banner of his music and message
and kept the procession marching forward.
Rita Anderson, born in Cuba and raised in Trenchtown, Jamaica,
met young Robert Nesta Marley in the ghetto, and their similar
musical callings bonded. They were married in 1966, and by the
early '70s, she had formed the I-Threes (Rita, Judy Mowatt and
Marcia Griffiths) to harmonize behind Bob, who had become the first
reggae act to land an international record contract.
From that moment on, Rita was at Bob's side throughout his
triumphant career. She took the stage with him at the Smile Jamaica
Concert in 1976, three days after both were injured in an ambush at
a rehearsal studio (56 Hope Road, now the Bob Marley Museum). She
was part of the One Love Concert when Bob symbolically joined the
hands of the leaders of Jamaica's two opposing political parties.
She was there at the end when Bob died of cancer in 1981.
She carried on and organized the World Music Festival in Jamaica
in 1982, a concert featuring every huge name in reggae plus leading
crossovers from the Grateful Dead to Joe Jackson, and that's where
she received her official title as Queen of Reggae.
Reggaefest '97 Dishes Up River Parks Groove
By Thomas Conner 06/30/1997
The Friday night crowd at the 12th annual Reggaefest was pumped up. People were packing in close to the stage, and the heat of the day along with the concentration of bodies was adding to everyone's giddiness. The Toasters had gotten everyone's blood pumping, and now they were chomping at the bit for the night's big name: the Long Beach Dub All-Stars, remnants of the hit-packed band Sublime.
So when drummer Bud Gaugh slipped on stage to test his drums for the sound check, the frenzied crowd went even wilder. Engineers were still on stage, bewildered at the response. The crowd thought the band was beginning, and the band decided to go ahead and gratify them — about 40 minutes early. Since they got such a head start, flustered-but- amused Reggaefest organizer Tim Barraza told the band to drag out the set.
And they did, particularly at the beginning. This eagerly awaited supergroup started off slow and lazy, with nine band members haphazardly wandering around the stage listlessly tossing off riffs and confounding the spotlights. Frankly, for a while they were pretty boring. However, once they offered T-shirts to any women who would flash their gratitude and scores of women hopped onto their boyfriends' shoulders to, um, show their wares, the band suddenly found inspiration and began seriously dishing up the groove.
The All-Stars — featuring the rhythm section from Sublime, left adrift after the death of guitarist-singer Brad Nowell — are an unfocused bunch with occasional moments of brilliance. Gaugh has got the most powerful left arm of any drumming circle, and he uses it to pound a tight snare rhythm for the rest of the band to follow. Vocalist Opie Oritz recalls some of the rapid-fire toasting of Cypress Hill's B-Real but with less cartoonish oafery. The jewel of the whole bunch, though, is sax man Tim Wu, a player who can honk a fat ska line as well as pull pure silk out of his battered horn. His versatility, in particular, colored the few Sublime songs (except the hits — legal problems, no doubt) and a surprise cover of the Grateful Dead's “Scarlet Begonias.''
The Skatalites had started Friday off, just as they helped launch the ska genre that eventually gave birth to reggae itself. Sporting six of the original members from 1964, the Skatalites seemed to be showing their age, playing overly extended and surprisingly mellow instrumentals that had more to do with jazz than ska. Veteran alto sax man Lester Sterling and new trumpeter Nathan Breedlove are fine, competent players, but the way they traded off noodling solos over the steady reggae rhythms of keyboardist Bill Smith (and, please, the James Bond theme?) — it was like listening to David Newman and Al Hirt at the Jazz on Greenwood festival, not the booty-shaking party for lazybones they used to be.
Jack Ruby saved the day, though. Jack Ruby Jr., that is, son of the celebrated Jamaican DJ and now the lead vocalist for the Toasters. This band ripped through an hour-and-a-half set of, well, everything — reggae, rap, the third-wave ska which they uphold so valiantly, even a swinging jazz number called “Mona'' led by trumpeter The Sledge. Guitarist “Bucket'' Hingley sang quite a bit, too, but Ruby was the showman, jumping all over the stage and dousing the crowd with innumerable bottles of Aquafina (for which he was fiercely scolded by a stage manager after the show — that was the All-Stars' water). Everyone picked up the traditional “skanking'' dance and wore out the amphitheater grass from beginning to end.
Tulsa's own Blue Collars served up the most potent shot of ska between Friday's main-stage acts on the second stage. In fact, they drew a crowd comparable to that gathered for the Skatalites. Their original songs are well-composed and hotter than the River Parks asphalt. Charles' Halka's manic trance over the keyboards is the heartbeat for the entire combo to pump out rollicking ska, namely a song called “Purposeless'' with an irresistible “hey! hey!'' chorus.
The festival returned to the more laid-back vibes on Saturday, focusing on more traditional reggae, like the easy beats and firm convictions of Tulsa's own Local Hero. Few acts — even reggae acts — maintain the kind of musical integrity and social importance that this band has held together for more than a decade. When singer-bassist Doc James asked everyone to reach out and hold the hand of someone next to you as he sang “Yes I Remember,'' he wasn't pandering or merely trying to wake up the audience; he was simply a shining reminder of what this music is all about. It's religious music. Its messages and its very rhythms are about peace and harmony, and when the band is as attuned and adept as Local Hero, it's very exciting.
Later, after a lively preface by Sugar Black and LeBanculah with the Sane Band, Jamaican toastmaster Tony Rebel pushed that vibe forward even further. Sometimes jabbering clearly over a parade march, sometimes toasting with the sense of melody Buju Banton hasn't yet grasped, Rebel talked about God, goodness and love in his songs, even slipping in a verse or two from “Onward Christian Soldiers.'' Before kicking off his encores of “Don't Give Up'' and “Love One Another,'' he sermonized about his love for children and his desire for family units to be stronger. Why does reggae reach people with these messages where Christian music so often fails?
Before Rebel came on, the Reggae Cowboys provided an opportune time to wander off to the vendors lining the edge of the festival grounds. This Canadian band's shtick is playing covers (“Hotel California,'' “Hang 'Em High'') and original songs about the American West with reggae rhythms. Five Rasta players in cowboy outfits overusing the word “y'all'' is just odd enough to catch your eye, but the music was too bland to hang an ear on.
Tulsa's own Tribe of Souls held down Saturday's second stage with its fat, funky sounds — more funky than Reggaefest has seen in a while. Al Hebert uses his bass wisely as much more than a mere rhythm instrument, walking funky lines in rings around former Local Hero guitarist Brian Simmons' flashy guitar work. Hebert also plays the tambourine with his foot. Ten points for ingenuity.
The great fanfare leading to the appearance of Rita Marley included a few songs by her sister, Tahina. Festival organizers got wind that P.J. Allen, the youngest survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing, was in the crowd with his family. They were offered to appear on stage, which they did, quite coincidentally during Tahina's song “Save the Children.'' Goosebumps all around.
After an inordinate string of performers from Rita's Tuff Gong label, the queen of reggae finally took the stage before an ecstatic and loving crowd. She returned the love throughout her 45-minute set. During a cover of “To Love Somebody'' (that's right, the Bee Gees), she said, “I love you, Tulsa'' repeatedly while blowing kisses to audience members. Late in her set, she asked, “Do you love Bob Marley?'' Enormous whoops. “Me, too,'' she said, and began singing Bob's “No Woman No Cry.'' Again, goosebumps all around. She plowed through a lengthy medley of Bob's songs, a gracious and dignified part of his legacy. During her encore, she tried to say hello to some of the audience, and she either handed her microphone to the crowd or it was snatched from her. Before she could grab it back, we were graced with whoops and shouts from the frontline crowd.
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These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.