Sunday, September 4th, 2011 – For many people, Labor Day Weekend in the US signifies the end of summer – a time to celebrate with family and friends at local gatherings. For me, it means time to take a trip to NYC to visit my adopted Reggae family and check out the melting pot of activity that attracts so many visitors to the city on Labor Day weekend. The annual Irie Jamboree festival usually held on Labor Day weekend did not take place in 2010, which definitely left a void in the city for a live outdoor festival. That void was filled this year with the inaugural launch of Reggae Rhythm & Blues touted to bring the best in Reggae, Dancehall and R&B together on the same stage. Mavado, one of the first artists advertised got his work permit back this year. Announcements soon followed for R&B headliners BabyFace & Monica, Reggae Singer Tarrus Riley, and Machel Montano to round it out with some soca vibes especially appropriate since it is was also Carnival time in NYC.
Many individuals and families came early to the spacious area of Roy Wilkins Park located in Queens, NYC well prepared for the day and evening ahead with chairs, blankets and even umbrellas which this time was for a completely different purpose – to protect from the sun rather than from the rain that I’ve recently encountered at other reggae festivals over the summer. The large vending area located at the back of the park grounds provided a wide array of caribbean art, merchandise and as expected numerous Caribbean food stands. Roast Corn, a major favorite at Caribbean festivals, seemed to be on everyone’s plate. The Door, one of my favorite Jamaican restaurants in Queens was present with a steady stream of customers. For cool refreshments, Sky Juice SnowCone was a popular choice along with Baba Roots & Hi*T serving up beverages to quench the thirst. It was quite some distance to trek from the stage area to the vending booths, however a large display screen on the stage provided a good view for those in the back on the park grounds.
Machel Montano Pumps Up The Crowd
Machel Montano was one of the earlier headliners to hype up the crowd with his high energy soca set backed by his band and along with the HD dancers and special guest Patrice Roberts to wow the crowd. Monica, the only female headliner on the event kicked off the R&B segment of the program and entertained the audience prior to Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds taking the stage. By the reaction of the crowd, Babyface easily satisfied the R&B lovers performing a solid set of his well known hits.
Beenie Man Arrives in Style
Meanwhile Mose Davis more popularly known as Beenie Man arrived in high style complete with a Rolls Royce and was quickly surrounded by the media, paparazzi style as he was quickly whisked back stage. Beenie Man was in attendance to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Prior to accepting his award, a video tribute honoring Beenie Man’s achievements in Reggae Music was shown. Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke had the honor to present the award to a beaming Beenie Man. Since he had not yet received a work visa, he engaged the crowd dancing along to the music and brought out a surprise guest, Khago performing for the first time in the area. The late VP Executive Joel Chin was also honored at the event with a heart-felt video tribute to acknowledge his significant contributions to the Reggae Music Industry.
Beenie Man receives Lifetime achievement award
Tarrus Riley fresh from a successful European tour was up next with his only area appearance. Backed by Dean Fraser and the Black Soil band, he performed many of his well known hits although a few sound issues appeared to be present, delaying the start of his set. As the festival neared it’s early evening ending time, it was time for the long-awaited return of Mavado to close out the Reggae Rhythm & Blues Festival. The festival was definitely a successful blend of Reggae, R&B, Soca, and Dancehall and will hopefully continue next year to keep the tradition of having a family friendly festival on Labor Day weekend in NYC for years to come. Labor Day weekend in NYC would not be complete without partaking in some of the numerous Carnival festivities. For me, it was time to experience my first and most definitely not last time celebrating Jouvert in NYC before heading back to Boston. Click here for photos & story => J’Ouvert 2011 NYC. See the Reggae Rhythm & Blues slide show below to see all the pics from the festival.