Hampton Reggae Festival Review

By: Jeremy Sanchez

It may have been frigid and drizzling outside, but January 21, 2012 sparked a fire inside of the legendary Hampton Coliseum - a fire that has the ability to spread for years to come. The first ever Hampton Reggae Festival brought local and international acts to fans from across Virginia, for a reggae party that was an experience to cherish. Bands often unite for a good show, but rarely does such a large musical family unite in a spirit of togetherness. As performer Ras Puma said during a talk with the audience, this festival was more of a family reunion than a simple day of music, and those who shared in the day’s vibrations were bathed in love.

The talent ran deep and wide, featuring more than just the main-stage highlights. The first of the day’s mix of music came from the Hampton City Schools Steel Drum Ensemble. It was inspiring to see that the Hampton Public School System backs such a group! Their young hands skillfully drummed out a list of recognizable tunes, one of their more notable being Bob Marley’s “One Love” – a perfect selection to fit the event’s irie meditation.

A sample of the talent appearing on the multiple side stages included the World Drummers drum circle with Arthur Lopez, a “Tribute to Vinyl” DJ set with DJ Barry and the Conscious Brothers (other DJs woven between the bands included DJ Jerseygoodas and regional heavyweight DJ Badjoe), a reggae karaoke session featuring some of the crowd giving their best efforts on the microphone, and a set by Willits Bowditch (also appearing on the main stage) with his acoustic guitar-driven songs. There was no lack of entertainment (including an indoor skate park!) and delicious ital food; all one had to do was take a few steps and something was sure to keep them smiling.
The main stage was witness to the finest talent Virginia’s reggae scene has to offer. Performing under the name of Royal Nyabinghi Drummers, first on stage was a collective of some of the region’s well-known musicians in an inspirational binghi session to get everyone’s hearts pumping. Royal Nyabinghi Drums are hand made by two of the group’s key performers, Young Lion and Gene Selah.

The bands flowed heavy, and they kept the crowd’s collective feet shuffling. Virginia’s best offered its blessings through undeniably talented groups. Antero displayed musical diversity in its creative arrangements, Crucial Elements’ vocal harmonies were elegant and thoughtful, Session Rockers dropped some of the day’s thickest dubs, and United Souls brought the party to the venue. A chain of singers performing under the name of Three the Hard Way (Ever-G, Ton A Hope, Junior Blessings) exploded in a show of diversity, and Nature’s Child displayed concise talent that ended in a crowd sing-a-long of Bob Marley’s "One Love".

Once they took the stage for a blessed set of performances, Stable Roots never left, starting off with a talent showcase featuring four artists in succession: Mighty Joshua (an undeniably skilled vocalist), Ever-G (his talent earning him a second appearance on stage), Ras Puma (a lyrically uplifting man who never disappoints and who tours with musical giants, Thievery Corporation), and Corey Harris (an internationally-known blues and reggae pillar).In a show of endurance, the Stable Roots band never stumbled, and their time on stage was topped with reggae talent of legendary proportion. The day’s three crowd-pleasing capstone sets included the world-renowned crooning talent of The Itals’ Keith Porter, the long-lived energetic ferocity of The Meditations, and Culture’s enduring flame, as kept alive by Kenyatta Hill.

Made a reality by the collaborative minds of the Buckroe Beach Reggae Community, Virginia Reggae, Hampton Pipe and Tobacco, and the operators of the Hampton Coliseum, the first Hampton Reggae Festival went down without any complications. As the festival grows and word of mouth spreads, the future can only get bigger and brighter. No matter how large this spirited festival is destined to become, the first one only comes around once, and those who battled through freezing rain to find a spot on the dance floor can rejoice for their efforts. They were a part of something bigger than themselves, something that rings eternal. They were a part of a family united for a day, and the world rarely sprouts anything as beautiful or more destined to bear future fruit.