Painfully close to 96 degrees in the shade, the oppressive heat didn't deter a healthy crowd to descend on Charlottesville's downtown Pavilion to witness a sublime evening of resonant reggae music on Sunday (27th).
Iron Lion opened the festivities (featuring longtime Harrisonburg roots-reggae rockers from Stable Roots, Chris "Peanut" Whitley and Greg Ward) with a bass-heavy thump of classics and originals... and two guests that brought the sound home, in more ways than one: Ras Mel on guitar and vocals, original member of Awareness Art Ensemble (whose reunion had just taken place in Richmond, the previous evening) and the sweet harmonies of Davina Jackson, (twin sister Davita, a vocal phenomenon in her own right, in support in the crowd). As the shadows gathered, the drums ignited.
Many local lovers of reggae had their appreciation begun by the seminal 1972 film, The Harder They Come, starring the evening's headliner, Jimmy Cliff. Amazingly, thirty-eight years hence, Mr. Cliff's vocal range delivered the favorites from that soundtrack in note-perfect tribute as he stridently commanded the stage with his crucial band of musicians. A wry update of his classic "Vietnam" morphed into "Afghanistan"... the force of years and change of venue, seamless in song and events. Dancefloor, sweaty and packed.
To my ears, though, the crescendo of the evening occurred when the musicians laid aside the electrified instruments and gathered at stage center to engage in traditional Nyabinghi drumming and chanting to personal favorite, "Bongo Man".
The booming syncopation and intricate harmonies of an ancient musical form echoed down those commercial streets across from the Pavilion in a call-and-response that reminded me that those doors were firmly closed... but Jimmy Cliff's grasp of the roots were wide open.