The heat may have kept the crowds away at Reggaefest '98, but the music was cool
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
The Specials had an encore planned, but Hepcat did not.
Ironically, the crowd had to be suckered into hollering for
a Specials reprise, but they willingly screamed bloody
murder to bring back Hepcat.
“This is really cool,'' said Alex Desert, one of
Hepcat's two singers. “You guys are really hip.''
Indeed, when Tulsans show up to a concert, they are
always a feisty and appreciative bunch. The trick is
getting them to show up. As Reggaefest '98 got under way
Friday afternoon at the River Parks Amphitheater,
organizers were wringing their hands and gazing at an
unusually thin crowd. Until the headliner, Dave Wakeling,
you still could plop down a blanket close enough to see the
wrinkles on the singers' faces. This was, after all, the
13th annual Reggaefest — was the numerology working its
The thin first-night crowd likely had more to do with
the extreme heat (you weenies) and the question numerous
readers might have asked in the previous paragraph: “Dave
who?'' Friday's bill — indeed, this year's whole Reggaefest
line-up — was less focused and recognizable than previous
bills. The talent quotient was high as ever — higher in a
couple of cases — but we're still a city that won't lay down
the entertainment dollars unless we're sure we'll be able
to sing along.
Most folks over 25 probably would have at least hummed
along with most of Wakeling's crystalline tunes. The crisp,
Cockney voice that once led such inimitable (and nearly
identical) second-wave ska groups as the English Beat and
General Public has lost none of its crispness in such
standards as “Tenderness,'' “I'll Take You There,'' even
his old cover of “Tears of a Clown.'' No one else sings
with Wakeling's kind of panache — punctuating verses with a
falsetto bark, opening songs with desperate panting and
stylizing his creamy vocals evenly along a line between
romantic indulgence and lurid excess. His new foursome,
tentatively called Bang!, is a straight guitar-bass-drums
four-piece. True, their are no horns — a ska no-no — but the
witty Wakeling has always been a better pop act than a
trooper in whichever ska revolution, and when the quartet
(electrified by the impressive effects of guitarist Danilo
Galura) blasted through a full-bore rendition of “Twist
and Crawl,'' who still gave a hoot about the unwritten
traditions of ska?
Tulsa's own Tribe of Souls started off the day with
their usual aplomb, and the Rhythm Lizards again deftly
fashioned their own Margaritaville on the second stage, but
other acts fell short. The Blue Collars are a frenetic
young ska-tinged posse absolutely packed with potential,
but lack of rehearsal and enough material to fill the
timeslot made for a weaker-than-usual set and a troubled
ending. Judy Mowatt arrived as they were finishing and,
after asking where was the changing room, added, “Ooh.
Who's making that
Mowatt herself, a former I-Three singer behind the
Wailers, didn't do much to blow anyone away, though. Backed
by a flavorless band, she relied on Bob Dylan covers to
boost the intake of her strong but indistinct voice.
Somehow, when she sang, “We're livin' in a mad, mad world
/ When will the war be over?'' it packed the same punch as
it would have coming from the mouth of Anita Baker, though
her set warmed up as the night cooled down.
Saturday's line-up held faster and drew the standard
Reggaefest throng. Tulsa's own Local Hero again dazzled a
crowd left hanging when King Chango didn't show (instead
opting for another bar gig in Spain — whatever). The night
was capped off by Eek-a-Mouse, a veteran reggae cowboy who
scatted (“bing bing biddley bong bong'') his way through
some middling reggae, but the evening acts nearly brought
the stage down.
The Specials were as smokin' as most fans thought they
would be. Opening with “The Guns of Navarone,'' they tore
through several classics (“Rat Race,'' the scorching
“Concrete Jungle'') and equally arresting new songs with
the manic Mark Adams gyrating behind his keyboards, Neville
Staple singing and toasting (“Man, I thought Jamaica was
hot ...'') and the ferocious Roddy “Radiation'' Byers
striking his Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) poses and wailing on
much more melodic and jumpy guitar solos. After the
still-topical anti-racism rant “Doesn't Make It Alright,''
Hepcat trumpeter Kincaid Smith joined the Specials for
their classic “A Message to Your Rudy.''
That was only a glimmer of the fun to come. Hepcat may
be the classiest, most entertaining act at Reggaefest since
it moved from Mohawk Park. Led by the playful duo of Desert
and Greg Lee, Hepcat brought the festival to life with an
unusual elixir: they combined the carefree cheer of
Jamaican roots rhythms with both the wide-eyed swing
touches of current retro bands like the Royal Crown Revue
and the cool soul-jazz stylings abandoned since the days of
'60s cats Earl Grant, Brother Jack McDuff or Harold
Johnson. As the poker-faced band kept the music bouncing,
Desert and Lee (and sometimes Smith) kept dancing. They
seemed to prefer instrumentals like “We're Having a
Party'' because it gave them the opportunity to dance
together on the runway, though their warm voices blended
well for both sprightly romantic ballads (“Goodbye
Street'') and grooving movers (“I Can't Wait''). Worth
every drop of sweat.
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.