Photos & Feature by Empress K
On Saturday, 08/20/2011, The Montreal International Reggae Festival entered it's 8th year with a weekend filled with an outstanding line up of of top Reggae acts aimed to please the young crowd as well as the more mature reggae audience for a fun filled two days of musical enjoyment. For the Dancehall themed day, clear skies set sail for Montrealers and visitors alike to enjoy the day in this quaint section of the Quays of The Old Port of Montreal , which is located on the banks of the St Lawrence River. Taking advantage of the beautiful weather and cool scenery of the cobblestoned pathways, I took a stroll around the area to take photos and speak with some of the local business operators. They shared with me that they were excited to see so many local people out and about enjoying the day in addition to the typical tourists that one might encounter visiting the city. According to Wikipedia, this bustling area attracts over 7 millions visitors on an annual basis. Although the start time of the festival was advertised to be early in the afternoon on Saturday 8/20, it was obvious that the Reggae audience still favors coming out later than schedule states.
Enjoying The Quays of the Old Port of Montreal
Day One - 08/20/2011 I Love Dancehall
A steady stream of patrons flowed into the venue throughout the day. Since I arrived early, I proceeded to check out the the vending booths to see what local offerings were available. Numerous vendors lined the sides and back of the fenced in space to display their wares ranging from clothing and jewelry vendors to many food vendors offering tasty Carribbean fare. Jah One (www.jahone.com), a famous Canadian Based Rasta Clothing Line had their own booth complete with a showcase displaying pictures of many celebrities sporting their brand. Sea Heart (www.seaheart.com) another Canadian based company was also present. The owner spent some time describing the history of the Sea Heart and the polished pods in the shape of a heart that make beautiful jewelry pieces.
I encountered many fans traveling from Ottawa and Toronto as well as the majority of fans based in Montreal. While Toronto is just about as far as Boston and NY, I did not meet any US travelers, which surprised me. While two day passes were offered, a majority of fans I spoke to purchased only the day that suited their musical tastes rather than to purchase a weekend pass.
Vendors at the Montreal International Reggae Festival
Many people including myself had been speculating if Mavado would make his headlining appearance as planned given his latest issues. Speculation ended about 3:00pm when the DJs announced that Mavado would not perform as planned. About the same time, a press release was issued by the festival citing that Mavado would not be performing due to circumstances beyond their control. A long list of Canadian favorites took the stage throughout the late afternoon and early evening. The later evening set included the more internationally known artists Sustane, and Exco Levi followed by Don Skilachi joining Jahvinci as he performed for the first time in Canada since his departure from the Portmore Empire. Immediately after his set, Jahvinci made his way back stage as did most of the artists to be interviewed by the media. With Mavado not present, Gyptian closed out the first night of the festival with the only set backed by a live band and dancers. I looked forward to this since I have never had the opportunity to see Gyptian perform with a band and he did not disappoint. Gyptian was in high spirits as he took the stage with his signature growl. He captivated the audience with his most famous hits and brought out surprise guest Nitty Kutchie. Gyptian then continued to please the ladies in the audience with a number of favorites including 'Beautiful Lady' and the well known international hit, 'Hold You' as the final song of the evening.
Top Dancehall Artists take the stage by nightfall
Reggae Supporters from Near and Far
Day Two - 08/21/2011 Reggae Legends Rain or Shine
Day two of the festival was geared toward a slightly more mature crowd with headliners Third World, Wayne Wonder and Beres Hammond on deck and featured not as many artists as day one. Another noted difference is that most of the artists were backed by live bands. Weather of course is always going to be an unknown factor for outdoor festivals. While the first day had only a slight rain shower which passed quickly, it was a gentle reminder of the weather challenges facing day two. Early on it was clear that weather alone was not going to deter or delay the steady stream of loyal reggae fans from making their way into the venue well equipped with umbrellas & rain gear that reflected the international flavor of the event. Having just covered a festival the previous weekend where it also rained, I was prepared with enough rain gear to withstand at least most of the rain.
Iley Dread complete with his full band and background vocalists kicked off the afternoon's schedule. Next up in the early evening was the legendary band Third World coming on stage to play all their classic hits including, '96 Degrees in the Shade', 'Now that we've Found Love', and many more favorite songs from their extensive catalog of hits. Lead Singer Bunny Ruggs pulled out all the stops to engage the crowd throughout their lengthy set. Demonstrating the band's versatility, drummer Tony 'Ruption' Williams stepped away from his drum set to take center stage and thrill the audience with an energetic drum solo set to the beat of the pouring rain. And to the crowd's further delight, Stephen Cat Coore brought out his cello and performed his own solo with a wonderful rendition of Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song'. Long time Montreal favorites Mello G followed by Jah Cutta continued to ramp up the audience for the final set of the evening.
Worth the wait in the rain......
Fans eagerly awaited the introduction of the Harmony House Band backing Wayne Wonder and Beres Hammond who were wrapping up their own very successful "Love Within the Music Tour", which played to a sold out crowd in Toronto the night before. A sea of umbrellas bounced to the beat of all their classic songs. Despite the relentless rain especially during Beres Hammond's set, fans could not have been more pleased with the line up on Sunday and left fully satisfied with a magical evening of reggae music beneath the rain drops. While the majority of fans were able to hold up under the conditions, my camera would not cooperate and forced me to end my photography about 1/2 hour before the end of evening. I was happy to have been able to photograph Wayne Wonder and Beres Hammond the previous weekend under better conditions and instead just enjoyed the music for a change of pace. I am already looking forward to next year and I hope that the US fans take note and start planning their 2012 trip to Montreal to enjoy the Sights & Sounds of Reggae at the Quays of the Old Port of Montreal. An experience and location not to be missed.
Wayne Wonder & Beres Hammond close out the festival
The journey home - Thank you Montreal .