Come together: Reggaefest more about togetherness than music
BY THOMAS CONNER 06/28/1999
© Tulsa World
Whenever Tim Barraza speaks to me of Reggaefest — the annual summer festival he has organized in Tulsa for 14 years — the music is one of the last things he mentions.
First instead are the crafts, the games, the people-watching, the food and the general good feeling generated by hordes of people coming together for peaceful reasons. Barraza loves and promotes reggae music because it doesn't so much merit its own strict attention as it provides a soundtrack for such congregating. The idea is simple: The more people that get out of their houses, mingle with their fellow humans and have a great time, the happier they will be, and a small but vital blow will have been struck for world peace.
That seems to be the core reason why Barraza started Reggaefest back in 1985 — as a small street festival outside the nightclub he owned then at 18th and Boston. It's probably the reason the festival has grown so substantially over the years and why it has replicated itself in other cities throughout the southwest.
Last year, the Reggaefest idea had begun to show some wear. By then, it had grown to fill the River West Festival Park and had become less of a people's event and more of a Lollapalooza-influenced cluster-concert — three stages, vendors shoved out of reach and one clotted mass of people who could barely move and interact. The ever-impressive series of performers were singing about peace, love and understanding to an audience that pretty much stayed put and kept its eyes on the stage.
This year, there was new life in the Reggaefest ideal. This year, the two-day festival was back to its roots — in the street.
The real estate brokers are right: location is everything. Reggaefest '99 took place for the first time in the downtown Brady Arts District, and the new digs serve the festival's original purpose much better.
It was a funky village full of people to see and things to do. Booths selling sandals, shawls and shades lined Main Street. A full-fledged carnival — complete with games, rides, even a giant Ferris wheel — filled Main and Cameron streets. Vendors cooking everything from corn dogs to jerk chicken filled Brady Street with sumptuous smells; the restaurants and clubs along that street also were open, offering a cool (literally and figuratively) respite from the asphalt. In one intersection, the Lacy Park African Dance Ensemble along with the Living Arts drumming circle pounded the pavement with traditional dances and fierce riddims. Everywhere, men and women, black and white, young and old tapped their feet or nodded their heads to the music.
There was movement, mingling and mirth.
Oh yes, and music.
Saturday's line-up onstage was as diverse and internationally renowned as ever. The Mighty Diamonds sang three-part harmonies as breezy as the evening, namely their hit "Pass the Koutchie" (Musical Youth put it on the radio in 1982 as "Pass the Dutchie") and a song that fit the festival, singing, "We got to live some life before we go." Mighty Sparrow brought his droning calypso to the stage, pounding out incessant, indistinguishable rhythms and slowing down only for an hysterical soca ballad called "Don't Touch My President" — likely the most intelligent and hilarious lyric inspired by the Lewinsky fiasco ("We have real issues to address ... let's talk about police brutality / don't tell me about no Monica mess").
Sparrow covered all the bases, singing songs about swordfish and even quoting modern rock's Bloodhound Gang in his finale ("The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire"). Pato Banton closed the show with a lively set of traditional and earnest reggae, pausing a couple of times in his set to encourage people in the crowd to greet strangers around them.
See, Barraza is right. Even Banton admitted that love and peace and getting along is more important than the music. "That's why we have come here tonight in Tulsa," Banton said. The music is a bonus — Reggaefest is really about coming together and all the rest of that hokey stuff. Reggaefest in the Brady District makes that goal easier to fulfill than ever before. The crowd was significantly smaller this year, but Tulsa someday soon will get over its irrational fear of its own downtown and come together for street festivals like this. It truly is about more than good reggae music.
A Reggaefest on Brady? You better believe it.
BY THOMAS CONNER 06/25/1999
Reggaefest '99 hasn't changed much, really. The bill is
still packed with international world music stars, and the
peaceful vibe of easygoing summertime music is still as
strong. Barraza's just moving the party outside his club
"Reggaefest started as a street party, and this is a
chance to bring it back to to that feeling," Barraza said
Since launching Reggaefest in 1985 outside SRO's, the
festival has outgrown its original 18th Street and Boston
Avenue location. Reggaefest has carried on in Mohawk Park
and the River Parks Amphitheater. It's even replicated
itself into similar festivals in Pasadena, Calif., and
Barraza, though, has returned to the nightclub business.
Just last week, he opened The Bowery at Main and Brady
streets in the Brady District — and that's where Reggaefest
will be this weekend. Downtown, in the street.
"Reggaefest is more about seeing people and walking
around looking at cool stuff and listening to great music.
It's always been a street party at heart, even when it was
in the wilderness," Barraza said.
Barraza describes this year's event as a "teeming
marketplace" featuring arts and crafts, exotic food and a
full-fledged carnival including a petting zoo for kids.
The one-stage line-up for the festival follows.
Tickets for Reggaefest '99 are $15 per day or $22.50 for
a weekend pass, available at the gate or at any Tulsa-area
Git-N-Go store. Children under 10 are admitted free.
Reggaefest International, 749-4709.
Gates open at 5 p.m.
Local Hero plays at 6:30 p.m.
This group of Tulsa musicians has played every Tulsa
Reggaefest in every location. One of the most viable reggae
acts in the nation, Local Hero — led by Doc James, a
Rastafarian Gentle Ben — continues to stick close to home
and keep the reggae rooted in a city that really needs it.
Local Hero's latest CD is titled "Rebirth," from Third Street
The Mystic Revealers play at 8:30 p.m.
This Jamaica-based band is one of roots reggae's latest
torch-bearers, producing a subtly updated take on the music
that groups like Burning Spear have been churning out for a
quarter of a century. They understand better than most the
complex whole of reggae, and they don't concentrate on one
form of it, like dancehall. They're supporting their latest
album "Crossing the Atlantic."
Lee "Scratch" Perry with the Mad Professor and the
Robotics play at 10:30 p.m.
Some say he's a genius, others say he's crazy.
Everyone's correct. Perry is a towering figure in the world
of reggae music, a monolithic madman who has more than any
other artist helped shape the sound of dub and take reggae
to parts of the world it never would have reached. He's one
of the few reggae artists who sounds truly unique, and he's
got the individualist personality to match the singular
"I am the first scientist to mix the reggae and find out
what the reggae really is," he once said. He visits Tulsa's
Reggaefest as part of his Cities Too Hot Tour, which
beckons concertgoers with the slogan, "Burn down your
offices, sell your assets and come with me."
If Perry weren't enough, he's backed now by the Mad
Professor and his band, the Robotics. The Mad Professor is
a similarly unique reggae talent behind the boards; he's
leant his production skills to the likes of the Beastie
Boys, the Clash, Massive Attack and the Orb, to name a few.
The combination should be explosive.
Gates open at 2 p.m.
Hyacinth House plays at 2:30 p.m.
This on-again/off-again Tulsa collective take it easy on
stage and mix up every conceivable form of music into their
own heady brew — reggae, funk, rock and lots of Dead-ish
Native Roots plays at 4:30 p.m.
Albuquerque is not the climate you think of when you
think reggae, but Native Roots hold their own in the desert
quite well. Mixing reggae with a dollop of blues, this
Native American band marries the universal love of reggae
with a Native American respect for the earth.
The Mighty Diamonds play at 6:30 p.m.
The most consistent and long-running vocal trio in
Jamaican musical history, the Mighty Diamonds deliver an
achingly pure collective voice. Best known for reggae
classics like "Pass the Koutchie," "Country Living" and "The
Right Time," their arsenal is full of sharp songs and
The Mighty Sparrow plays at 8:30 p.m.
Francisco, aka the Mighty Sparrow, has been the ruling
king of calypso for more than 40 years. His first hit, "Jean
and Dinah," was covered by Harry Belafonte, but his jovial
singing style has been applied to more topical fare about
regional politics than those trademark calypso romantic
comedies. In the '90s, Eddy Grant's record label has been
reissuing many of his vintage records.
Pato Banton plays at 10:30 p.m.
Patrick Murray, aka Pato Banton, got his start in his
father's travelling DJ show. He captured his devloping
toasting skills on a single, "Hello Tosh, Go a Toshiba,"
which caught the ear of fellow Birmingham, England native
Ranking Roger, then building the successful group English
Beat. A duet with Roger followed, as did an appearance on
UB40's "Hip Hop Robot."
Soon he was on his own, debuting with a solo album that
featured Birmingham's Studio Two house band and an
appearance by the "Late Show's" Paul Schaffer. His comic
vocal characterizations won him his first notice, but soon
he devloped into a more streamlined pop-soul reggae artist.
His first American hit was a cover of the Police's "Spirits
in the Material World." His lively performances have won him
most of his sizeable following.
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.