Where’s the best place to absorb a reggae festival?
- Swinging in a hammock beneath the stage (apparently with an all-access pass).
- Meditating on grass, 10,000 square feet of it.
- Chilling on the outskirts as a 2-year-old girl dances the evening away in a tie-dyed shirt and two 9-year-old boys dart by, guided by their neon hoop neckware.
- Engaging in the party pit at stagefront.
- Any of the above.
More than 4,000 concertgoers had multiple choices Saturday when they filled the outdoor arena at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino for the fourth-annual Lake Tahoe Reggae Festival. They were not disappointed, as Hawaii’s Mike Love opened the evening with island reggage vibes, followed by Jamaican artists Don Carlos and Israel Vibration & Roots Radics, and capped off by Pepper, Hawaiian natives who now call SoCal home.
The festival was a glowing success, the best yet for Lake Tahoe. The first fest, held at MontBleu Resort and Casino across the street, was marked by long lines to enter the show and a storm that muddied the venue. Last year brought another thunderstorm, which interrupted the show for more than an hour on an otherwise blistering day. The 2016 edition included more shade, a later start and a fresh-grass sod spot on which to chill. Perfect.
Ky-Mani Marley, one of Bob Marley’s sons, wasn’t able to make connections for the show. But nobody was trippin’. There was plenty of reggae for all to share.
Don Carlos, a godfather of roots reggae and founding member of Black Uhuru before embarking on a solo career, blessed the crowd with some “Sweet Reggae Music.” Looking sharp and fit in a white blazer and patent leather dancing shoes, Carlos, 64, played the part of his song “Johnny Cool” in a one-hour set. He fired up some “medicine” at one point, firing up his fans.
Last year, Carlos parted the skies, or at least lightning bolts did, and the crowd departed for a mandatory timeout before he could finish his performance. Better luck this year.
“The was great, nice.” Carlos said backstage. “The crowd was lovely, excellent.”
Carlos offers conscious, uplifting music with positive vibrations.
“Music is music,” he said, noting, however, that he’s not one for the “gangster lyrics” that some reggae groups have drifted toward over the years.
Israel Vibration & Roots Radic also brought an hour set of old-school Jamaican reggae.
“Are you Irie?” singer Cecil “Skelly” Spence asked those in attendance, who assured him that they were. Spence first met fellow frontman Lascelle “Wiss” Bulgin at the Mona Rehabilitation Clinic when they were youngsters who had contracted polio in the epedemic that struck Jamaica in the 1950s. Supported by crutches, they moved slowly up the backstage stairs but were fully in stride when they reached the mics.
“You are beautiful,” they sang, later sparking up a “Ball of Fire.”
Pepper flavored the last 90 minutes of the festival with a high-energy, rockin’ performance. Frontman and guitarist Kaleo Wassman, joined by bassist Bret Bollinger and drummer Yessod Williams, had plenty to smile about.
“Thank you, Lake Tahoe.” Wassman said. “Your attitude is beautiful, your women are beautful, but your weed … thank you for providing the entire United States with (that).”
“Where’s the green air conditioning?” he wondered. That’s kind of like a green building code, only with a different tilt to it.
Wassman lamented that he’s never been able to enjoy a Pepper show from a proper perspective (the band has been playing for nearly 20 years) because he’s always onstage. So he introduced a buddy who he described as “the greatist guitarist in the world.” When Eric Hillman took over lead guitar for a bit, playing a song from Pepper’s new album, “Ohana,” Wassman headed into the crowd as a spectator. Hillman’s wife, Ashley, later accompanied the couple’s two young children onstage to watch dad in action.
Old school and new school. And then the reggae school was out for another summer.