Reggae Rise Up Marlyland – Day 3

Day 3 of waking up for a festival I imagine feels like the day after playing ice hockey in the NHL, except you are not a professional hockey player, you don’t know how to ice skate, and you weren’t wearing any pads during the game… at least that’s what my buddy Todd sounded like he was going through.  Me, I was as fresh as Stick Figure on night one (sic).

As we head into the final day of the festival, several of “us” photographers run into Ben Allen, the marketing manager for Reggae Rise Up.  Ben is a great guy and doing an amazing job with bringing the festival (now in its 2nd year) to Baltimore.  Ben has helped promote the festival in Florida, Las Vegas, and Utah, and we express our gratitude and hope for the festival to continue in the North East.  Helping Ben with the video and marketing is a team from Sugar Shack, I’m sure you are familiar with their amazing work, but if not check out their videos and concerts!

Jah Works kicks of the Vibes stage on our final day.  Jah Works, a local Baltimore band that has been around for nearly 30 years, clearly evident in the way they own their craft.  For a local band far from the islands they were able to transport us to a tropical destination with their horn and percussion section (I swore I heard kettle drums).  Lead singer Scott Paynter flowed effortlessly through the performance.  An independent band, with more than 10 albums – definitely a band that was worthy of the early crowd that showed up for them.  Though it was my first, I don’t expect it to be the last seeing this band of sound.

Up first on the Rise Up stage is Soul Rebel Project, a reggae/rock infusion band brought the energy to this early crowd! Their blend of hypnotic and haunting vocals along with scorching guitar work elevated everyone present.  When they broke out their anthem, King, I felt their words resonate in my soul “My life is my life.  I will always hold my own.  Your life is your life, got to be the king of your own thrown.”   

Eli- Mac… wow, what a voice, then you’re gonna come out with that bass line during your entire set, ok!  With crowd dancing from open to finish, Eli- Mac brought it!  I felt a reggae/jazz fusion during some of her set that I really enjoyed.  Mr Sensi was a crowd favorite that got everybody floating to her beautiful sound.  Eli was not afraid to share her spotlight, highlighting a fun break dancer during her set; as well as, and this must have been expensive, she had a rainbow drop down behind her during her performance.  Get it Eli-Mac!

When Badfish takes the stage you know the party is getting hot!  Badfish brings the energy and sound of what a great Sublime show must’ve been like back in the mid 1990’s.  From start to finish the band sounded great with the crowd singing nearly every word back in time.  No doubt Bradley and Lou Dog were looking down from their big van in the sky smiling ear to ear listening to the sweet sound of 40,000 people singing his words.

“What goes best with Blue crab, Natty Bo, and Old Bay?” asks lead singer Ted Bowne, “Passafire, of course!”  And with that, dressed in an Old Bay Seasoning shirt Ted Bowne has entered the cult of Maryland, and the crowd loves every minute of it!  Backing this Maryland talk up with a great performance had many a veteran fan talking about Passafire the rest of the day, and many newbies such as myself to their music, cueing them up for future listens.

Grammy award winning artist, Koffee, while small in stature brought the energy of a giant.  Combined with 2 beautiful back up dancers, Koffee brings her smile and love for performance front and center.  When Koffee begins her song x10, instead of her studio version sampling Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, she actually busts out the first verse… it is at this point we get to see a little bit into the positive and powerful woman Koffee is.  Not once, but three different times she started singing this beautiful song – each time there were technical issues (thanks Todd).  Instead of getting frustrated, Koffee smiled and restarted the song knowing the crowd wanted to sing along to both Bob and Koffee in the same song.  Each time she started with nothing but positivity, and each time the crowd got louder and loved her even more.   Of course, Koffee busted out some other favorites like Toast, and my favorite Raggamuffin without technical issues to a crowd singing every word back to her.   However, it’s those moments when things are out of the artists control and how they handle them that stick hard with you, and the way she overcame that challenge with grace and power speaks to the type of performer she is.

The Expendibles have been one of my favorite Calistyle Reggae bands since hearing their self titled album back in 2007, yet this was my first time seeing them live.  To hear them play some of their hits from that early album including of course, Ganja Smugglin’ was pretty mind blowing.  However, it was some of their new music that had me even more impressed.  Their cover of Chris Isaak’s, Wicked Game, with a super heavy guitar had the crowd singing every word.  Along with their new song, Homewrecker, written with Little Stranger showed that The Expendables are still putting out excellent music.  Having said that, had they played Minimum Wage, I may have jumped on stage and tried to sing the song with Raul Bianchi and the rest of the band.   Great to finally see one of my favorites live, and know they are at least equally good live as in my ear holes.

You know you are getting close to the headliners when a band like Iration takes the stage.  A band with a huge following, a band that can mix it up with a smooth reggae feel, but has the fun energy of a ska band and the horn section to back it up.  Iration is not afraid to mix some of their classics up with some of the bands that they grew up listening too, as evident when they transitioned from playing their hit Turnaround into a bit of Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana adding a little extra energy into our reggae crowd.  Of course they kept most of their hits to the traditional version like everyone was used to, but sounding even better live.  Their classics like, Timebomb, Automatic, Falling were all tightly played like we remember listening too in our cars for many years.  Their new song, Day Trippin is a great new add to their library of music as well.  However, one of the most talked about covers was when Iration covered Blink 182’s, What’s My Age Again, once again adding a jolt of energy to the crowd and showing off just how talented they are to play a wide range of music.  A great performance from start to finish by Iration.

Closing out the Vibes stage, but opening many a person’s heart during his performance was Michael Franti.  This was not a performance, this was an experience.   

***side note, I took notes in my phone to reference while at the festival for each band.  I will share exactly what my notes said about Mr. Franti… “I have no words to explain the love that is being shared during this performance, absolutely speechless” ***                              

I had seen Michael Franti before, so I had an idea of what he might bring to the stage.  I was also, slightly concerned because he (along with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony) in my opinion were the least sounding reggae bands at the festival, yet here he was closing out the Vibes stage on the final night of the festival.  To this point in the festival there had been many magical, memorable moments, and surprises but as an entire set Michael Franti and his message of love stole the festival for me.  With his stage extending far out into the crowd through a series of fenced off barricades so he could connect with as many people as possible Michael ran from the main stage out into the crowd embracing as many people as possible.  When out on the remote stage he would invite fans up and sing with them.  At one point a woman hopped up that was not invited and the security rushed to pull her down and Michael, stopped security and said, “let her up let her up.” This woman shared that she had experienced a loss recently and Michael gave her the biggest hug and whispered into her ear that only she could hear.  Michael would go back to this remote stage off and on throughout his performance, but at this moment he ran back to the main stage and invited a child from the audience on stage with him to sing “The Sound of Sunshine,” one of the most precious and genuine moments of the weekend.  Franti’s songs of love, hope and family brought so much love to the crowd, and there were many of us in the photo pit with literal tears in our eyes from his performance (and that my friends does not happen).  Michael Franti ended this beautiful experience with his song Say Hey (I love You), and opened up the gates for any children in the audience to join him on stage to dance and ham it up for the enormous crowd.  Easily 20+ kids joined Michael Franti on stage enjoying the spotlight in front of a park full of more than 10,000 mesmerized fans.  While Michael Franti may not be considered reggae in sound, his message of love, promise, and perseverance is closer to reggae than what many sang about during the weekend, and clearly his message transcends generations like reggae has for the last 60 years.            

Just as I am not sure how anyone could’ve followed Stick Figure on night one, or Damian Marley on night two, I wasn’t sure how any band could follow Michael Franti’s performance…  Closing out a festival has got to be one of the hardest things a performer can do.  Tens of thousands of fans had just given every ounce of energy for 3 full days, beautiful memories tucked away to be shared with others, countless new friends that you hope to see year after year at the festival, and then here you are the closing act, asked to wrap this experience up and send everyone with THE performance of the weekend.  Rebelution was the band put to the task for this festival, and man did their fans represent.  I have seen Reb several times, enough to know that their sound is consistently one of the best live sounds that I have experienced.  I have also seen them enough times to have set myself up for disappointment, (unpopular opinion coming up) in my past experiences their stage presence had always been straight-up boring.  I had this predisposed idea that they were going to be just like every other time I had seen them… I am happy to say that I was wrong (at least for a bit).  From the moment the Rebelution squad hit the stage they brought the energy!  Eric, Matt, and Marley were all over the stage dancing and running covering the entire stage while still bringing that perfect sound to an audience that matched their energy.  Rory behind the keys and Wesley behind the drums, along with a blazing horn section looked like they were having a blast  as the band opened up with De-Stress and kept the vibe flowing through Safe and Sound, Attention Span, and Outta Control.  An opening to their set unlike anything, I had ever personally experienced in seeing them many previous times.  From there the band did settle down (ironically this was right when they were Settle Down Easy), and lost some of that early energy they brought to the stage.  What did not settle down, however, was their sound – so smooth, I honestly think that they could randomly record any of their live performances and release that as an album…they are that consistent, and one of the reasons they have so many loyal followers.

Until next time… lift up, and move forward.

Matt Grube
Todd Judd
Iron Lion Images

Reggae Rise Up Maryland Festival 2023