Wednesday, June 21
“Do you remember the days of slavery?” bellows Winston Rodney, a/k/a Burning Spear, and though a quick age/demographic sweep may suggest otherwise, the sizable throng gathered here at Rockefeller Park this mercifully temperate evening whoops and hollers and generally cheerfully assents. You’d be tempted to find this somewhat problematic, if you weren’t too busy a) dancing, and b) watching Winston Rodney dance.
He’s quite a dancer, Winston, skipping around the stage merrily despite appearing to be older than any two members of his sizable backing band (those horns!) combined, whacking his congas with both aplomb and alarmingly frequency. (“One of my theories on why he takes so many drum solos,” notes my dear friend and companion this evening, who incidentally named his own dog Winston in tribute, “is that no one can tell him ‘no.'”) For 90 minutes or so at this free River to River fete, he skips around within an enormous roots-reggae catalog, the title tracks to 2008’s Jah Is Real and 1975’s Marcus Garvey (start there) happily coexisting. The songs are stretched-out, well-fed, agreeably rambling: “The P-Funk of reggae,” my friend asserts, further noting that the encore of “African Postman” is the best version of the tune he’s heard live, and incidentally the first time he’s experienced it while not stoned. The crowd is unexpectedly large and completely dialed in, particularly on “Red, Gold and Green,” whose lyrics (“Meet me at the bank of the beautiful river”) are probably not referring to the Hudson, but this too is a minor factual point, easily overlooked.