Buju Banton & Friends at Bayfront Park 01/16/11
When I first heard about the Buju Banton & Friends show scheduled in Miami on the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend, I knew this was one concert I was not going to miss. Bayfront Park Amphitheatre in Miami is a favorite place of mine to see a Reggae concert, having previously attended many Marley Festivals in the same area. Heading to a warm destination during this very cold & snowy winter was definitely a strong selling point!
Arriving in Miami the night before the show, I felt positive about the weekend ahead. Unexpectedly two things occurred that confirmed my belief. While attempting to find parking near my hotel in South Beach, I discovered that the Buju & Friends official after party was being held at Mansion, a club only two blocks away. Then upon checking into my hotel, I glanced down and noticed the latest New Miami Times magazine on the counter featuring who else but Buju Banton with 'Free the General' as the cover story! This is certainly going to be a trip to remember.
photo at Reggae By the Lake CT Summer 2010
Perfect sunny weather in the 70s made for a glorious start for the day ahead. I enjoyed the morning by exploring South Beach by foot before heading into Miami. Underestimating the amount of traffic getting out of South Beach as well as the gridlock encountered in the vicinity of Bayfront Park, I finally arrived about 5:00pm to find long lines of patrons already awaiting security checks to get into the park. A familiar sight brought a smile to my face. Amidst the crowd was the “peanut man” with his wheel barrel full of peanuts for purchase. Many of you will know whom I am referring to. He seems to be at every big event in Boston, CT, and NY as well as Florida. It was also nice to see the representative from 4Seasons Party Cruise out of Atlanta working the crowd by handing out flyers for their upcoming 15th Annual Cruise featuring Freddie McGregor, Wayne Wonder, Marcia Griffiths and more taking place in October 2011. I made my way through the standard security check and of course the first person I saw was my favorite photographer, the very talented and famous photojournalist Roy Sweetland of Sweetland Photos / Buzz Magazine capturing the vibrant essence of the day through his lens for LIME TV.
Press representing writers, photographers & videographers for web and print based media traveled from all over. Jamaica was heavily represented as expected, with LIME TV, a sponsor of the event having a large team present that were easily recognized by their matching LIME green ‘Before the Dawn’ T-shirts. For those unable to be in Miami the show was broadcast live on LIME Mobile Tv. A media team from World A Reggae based in Amsterdam, and Irie Vision from San Francisco were among those that I encountered that traveled the most distance along with many other media outlets from NY and Florida as well. While the general sentiment from the Press was that access was too restrictive by only allowing press to photograph and video from the press pit during the first song of each artist’s set, the majority made the best of the situation and were happy to be part of this event.
Newcomer Richie Loop kicked off the festivities about 6:00pm as reggae fans were still steadily streaming into the venue, followed by veteran artist Everton Blender who performed an enjoyable set of crowd favorites. More of the biggest names in Reggae were soon on their way to center stage to perform several of their well-known classic hits. Quality sets from Nadine Sutherland, Freddie McGregor, Wayne Wonder, Gramps Morgan, Wayne Wonder, Tarrus Riley & Dean Fraser, Shaggy, and DJ Khaled were well received while entertaining the sold out crowd. There were also many surprises in store throughout the evening as special guest artists graced the stage to the delight of the enthusiastic audience. Surprise guests included Sean Paul, Spragga Benz, Gyptian, Mykal Rose, Rayvonn, Serani, and Busta Rhymes as well on DJ Khaled's energyzing hip hop set, the final set before Buju's long-awaited performance.
Carmelita Harris (Irie Vision) & David Oscar Markus
Quite a few of the artists made appearances in the Press area to be interviewed and pose for photographs including Everton Blender, who was the first artist welcomed by media eager to obtain his thoughts on the event. Other artists that I observed in the Press area were Nadine Sutherland, Freddie McGregor, Wayne Wonder, Gyptian, Tarrus Riley, and Gramps Morgan. Buju’s lawyer, David Oscar Markus, also made a brief appearance sporting a bright green ‘Free Buju’ T-shirt and graciously took time out of his busy schedule to speak with reporters and pose for pictures with some members of the media.
Buju's Friends Command the Stage
The highly anticipated arrival of The Gargamel to the stage
Around 10:00pm, Elise Kelly of Irie FM Jamaica had the privilege of introducing Buju as he appeared on stage performing many of his classic hits as well as new material from his 2010 Grammy nominated best Reggae album, 'Before the Dawn'. Beginning with his timeless classic ‘Destiny’ he performed every song stronger than the previous with each song taking on a more personal and profound meaning during this unique performance. When singing the verse of ‘Sleepless Nights’ with lyrics referring to losing trust, it was obvious that to the contrary this audience had most definitely not lost their trust and faith in the Gargamel, despite these times of turbulence.
Nearing the end of Buju’s stellar two hour performance, he was joined on stage by several of his closest friends. Marcia Griffiths a long time friend and mentor to Buju was a surprise guest and performed a duet with Buju. Although Beres Hammond was also rumored to be appearing, Buju took a few moments to explain to the audience that Beres was not able to make it after performing a late night set at Rebel Salute the previous night.
As expected, good friend Stephen Marley joined Buju on stage for three songs. Starting with a most appropriate song for the occasion, he sang Duppy Conqueror. Damian Marley further ignited the audience’s excitement during an encore of Stephen & Damian’s hit song ‘Traffic Jam’ before the three continued with their new song collaboration, ‘Jah Army’. Before the night was over, Wayne Wonder and Gramps Morgan returned to the stage to perform their hits with Buju. And Buju’s lawyer, David Oscar Marcus, also appeared briefly on stage at the very end before the venue’s curfew ended the show. If not for the curfew it seemed as though Buju could have continued until the morning with his tireless energy.
Buju with friends Stephen Marley, Damian Marley and Wayne Wonder thrill the audience with their song collaborations
VIP Section of audience at close of show
A lot of media hype and high expectations led up to this historic event. When describing this event as historic, at least a few people questioned my description. I have a very simple response. The circumstances of this event are unprecedented. Fans of Buju Banton will always show their support for their favorite artist, however this time, most everyone had an additional purpose to be at this show. Traveling from near and far, fans came in steady fashion to show their love and support for Buju before he heads back to court next month. No one can predict the outcome, however, I’m certain that Buju felt the love and positive energy surrounding him from the sold out capacity crowd to his closest friends and colleagues as well as the media on hand to document the evening. Too often these events are held in memory of a passing artist. This concert displayed great unity that brought everyone together for the right reasons and will hopefully serve as a positive model for future endeavors to come.
After returning home to Boston, I reflected upon my experience and reviewed the photos that I had the honor to take. I realize that words alone simply cannot express the feeling of being at this event. As they say a picture is worth a thousand words. My hope is that the pictures fully convey the emotion that Buju and his closest friends put forth as well as the joy and love coming from the fans in support of a great artist. Much will be written about this event by the various media outlets. This is just my personal reflection, which I shall remember as a day not to be forgotten.
Photo Gallery of Buju Banton & Friends 'Before The Dawn' Concert