There is a reason why Summerfest Promotions calls Reggae Sumfest the ‘Greatest Reggae show on Earth,’ as the show consistently puts on a slew of quality performances and eye-popping moments that get music lovers this year.
Once again, that standard was met as organizers found the right fits for each night of their week-long festival. Many established and emerging names graced the stage, as well as some international acts who won over a new section of fans after gracing the stage at the Catherine Hall Entertainment Complex in Montego Bay.
Each year, this humble writer drops a review analyzing the happenings at Reggae Sumfest. This year, however, the review takes on a slightly different form as highlights and lowlights (though there weren’t many this year) at this year’s show as well as assessing grades overall for the nights in question. Here we go:
Perhaps the biggest highlight on this night wasn’t the performances, but the crowd that came to witness them. Over 25,000 patrons filled Catherine Hall last Thursday for Sumfest’s Dancehall Night, one of the biggest crowds in the show’s 22-year history. They set the tone for an energetic and fun-filled night which provided many solid performances from the best in the genre.
Highlights – There were many to choose from on this night, including Spice, who kept up her tradition of out-of-the-ordinary performances by donning her new male alter-ego while performing, Like a Man.
Ninja Man was also a hit, performing many of his classic songs while engaging in a friendly lyrical clash with his Downsound Records label mate, Specialist, which was well-received by the crowd. Gage stood composed, yet brimming with energy as he performed in front of his hometown crowd, who gave him many forwards; Aidonia gave a strong performance clad in an armed forces-like suit, and even peered through security in attempt to gauge more interest from the fans, a tactic that worked well.
Baby Tash called a lucky male fan on stage for a lap dance, Tifa performed a slew of covers to a solid reception and Assassin was fluent in delivering several hit Dancehall and Reggae songs from his lengthy catalogue.
However, the heaviest hitters on the night were Mr. Vegas, who, decked out in a suit and retro boots, performed hits such as I Am Blessed and Man a Gallis before bringing on veteran deejay, Wickerman,as well as protégé, Latty J for an entertaining rendition of their new single, Who Rule. Bounty Killer was in typical militant mode during his set, questioning the morality of Dancehall while taking a few shots at his former protégé, Mavado. I-Octane, who closed Dancehall Night for the second straight year, followed suit, cheekily remixing his chart-topper, Gyal a Gimme Bun to call out Mr. Vegas, who he has had issues with since last Sumfest, by implying Vegas performs oral sex on women. Safe to say, the disagreements between these two aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, but it certainly makes for great entertainment as it did on this night.
Lowlights – Much was expected of Dancehall’s rising star, Alkaline, who was performing at Sumfest for the first time as a main event act given the acclaim and hype surrounding him over the last year. However, his performance left a lot to be desired. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, performing hits such as 1-2-3 and On and On. But throughout the set, it seemed like, to use one of his song titles, he would have to ‘Move Mountains’ to get the crowd to react to much of his set, with the reception lukewarm at best. Whether it was the Montego crowd’s way of supporting hometown boys, Tommy Lee and Gage, who Alkaline has had issues with in recent times, or their lack of familiarity with his songs, we don’t know, but his performance just failed to click like a faulty mouse on this occasion.
Overall Grade: A-
International Night 1
Arguably the best night of the lot, International Night 1 provided high energy and positive vibes throughout, with Reggae star, Chronixx the star of the show on this night. He performed a plethora of his hits such as Start a Fire, Smile Jamaica, Here Comes Trouble, amongst others. But he also took time to address the contrasts and similarities between Dancehall and Reggae music, suggesting neither are whole without the other.
“You know how dancehall came about? Because radio stations wouldn’t play the foundation artistes songs. So they created their own space to promote and enjoy their music,” he said, educating the audience on how the two genres are forever intertwined. He received some of the loudest ovations on the night – including when he brought out Protoje to perform their joint single, Who Knows – superseding the set he gave at his Sumfest debut last year.
The Montego Bay crowd again showed love to their home acts as former Digicel Rising Stars winner, Shuga, Nature and Jah Cure all received strong praise from the home fans, singing hits such as Soul to Jah, Revolution Sound and Unconditional Love respectively.
The international acts were spot on with their performances as Wiz Khalifa got the crowd moving to hits such as Taylor Gang and Black and Yellow while Jason Derulo had the ladies excited throughout, performing In My Head and Riding Solo, among other songs to screams and cheers from the crowd before bringing on former American Idol winner and significant other, Jordin Sparks to perform Vertigo and her collaborative single with Chris Brown, No Air..
Beenie Man closed the show at sunrise with a trademark performance as he performed several of his classics as well as newer material and used some of his set to pay tribute to incarcerated Reggae superstar, Buju Banton, who celebrated his birthday during Sumfest. Overall, the night went without a hitch and put pressure on the performers on International Night 2 to try and put on a better show.
Lowlights - None
Overall Grade: A
International Night 2
Highlights – This night belonged to two crossover Jamaican stars who were welcomed home with open arms and reminded the locals of how they managed to attain their success. Tessanne Chin surprised patrons, donning a black tux and bow tie for her set. But like her outfit, the performance was very sharp, delving into songs from her recently-released major label debut album, Count on My Love, including Heaven Knows, Tumbling Down and Everything Reminds Me of You as well as her classic, Hideaway, which garnered very positive reactions from the crowd.
After 10 years away from the Sumfest stage, Sean Paul was glad to be back at a major Jamaican stage show, and his female fans were certainly happy as they scream and shouted to no end. Also donning a suit, he performed classics such as Gimme The Light, Get Busy and Hot Gal Today as he reingratiated himself with his Dancehall fan base.
His performance preceded Reggae legend, Freddie McGregor who closed the show in fine fashion with hits such as Big Ship Sailing, Don’t Wanna Be Lonely and many more, while also being honoured by show organizers for his vast contributions to the Jamaican music industry, over four decades worth to be exact.
Rap star, Future also found favour with the locals, donning a Jamaica t-shirt as he belted out hits such as Get Lucky and had them participating at every turn. Not a bad way to try and win over a typically demanding fan base.
Lowlights – For all the thrills delivered on the night, there was one spill that nearly ruined a part of the show as Reggae crooner, Sanchez furiously walked off stage due to ongoing sound issues during his first set at Sumfest in several years.
The sound quality in the opening minutes of his performance was spotty at best and frustrated him to the point he constantly asked soundmen to fix his microphone before temporarily leaving the stage until the problem was fixed. After a few minutes, Sanchez returned and managed to salvage his set somewhat, but you hate when things like this happen at major stage shows, especially to a decorated entertainer who has always been meticulous about his performances. A good effort on his part to deliver for the crowd nonetheless.
Overall Grade: B+
All in all, Reggae Sumfest 2014 was a great success, considering the crowd, quality of performances and the right blend of overseas flavour added to the show. The show was missing top names like Damian Marley, Lady Saw and Sizzla, but didn’t take away from what should go down as one of the best and smoothsts Sumfests in recent memory.
Overall Grade for Reggae Sumfest 2014: A-