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Bigger and Better than Ever Record Breaking Attendance For Nine Hours of Groovin In The Park 2016
Now entering its sixth glorious staging that took place on June 29th, the annual Groovin in the Park outdoor festival held in Roy Wilkins Park clearly continued its commitment to providing high-quality music entertainment. The reward? The festival is fast becoming well known for expertly booking acts that blend an excellent mix of Reggae and R&B musicians whose performances are suitable for attendees regardless of age, and being in control of one of the hottest must-buy tickets for the summer. And so it should be absolutely no surprise to anyone that this year’s Groovin In The Park saw record breaking attendance; this year’s production also included a broader sampling of R&B acts for the largely Caribbean audience representing various islands. There is long-time awareness that people from the Caribbean are far more diverse in their appreciation of different genres of music than is usually imagined by outsiders. Groovin in the Park’s proven ability to tap-into the listening sensibilities of the Caribbean community and then bring to their stage the music that audiences want to hear is clearly paying off. This year’s festival brought us internationally acclaimed and award winning artists Regina Belle, Peabo Bryson and Brian McKnight fully representing the American R&B/Soul side of the bill, and top-notch award winning singers Duane Stephenson, Toots Hibbert , Beres and Tessanne Chin falling into the Reggae/R&B/Soul experience for a “groovy” mix of high-quality entertainment. In addition to the entertainment segment of the festival, vendors were diverse and plentiful with patrons appearing to delight in their purchases.
Early vibes that captured the attention of the audience came from VP Records artist Duane Stephenson, an outstanding singer also recognized as a top-notch song writer with songs like the chart stopping super hit tune written for Jah Cure called Reflections. With three solid albums that to his credit have all reviewed well, From August Town (2007), Black Gold (2010) and most recently Dangerously Roots (2014), Stephenson had a multitude of excellent songs to share which he did in grand style fully basting the stage with style and personality and easy on the eyes good looks. With one of the hardest jobs of the night, opening a star-studded production, he was unquestionably the right man for the task evidenced when the crowd burst into applause following his exit.
BackStage Moments with Duane Stephenson
Stan Evan Smith, Grace Vanriel of Live Reggae NYC, Duane Stephenson
Lavern Tatham Riley, and Duane Stephenson
With her background as a Reggae/R&B/Soul singer, 2013 season five champion winner on NBC’s “The Voice” competition, Tessanne Chin very successfully balanced out the lineup. Backed by other incredible singers definitely worth mentioning, she sang Lifeline, and several remakes including her 2013 version of Bridge Over Troubled Water (which charted extremely well on the iTunes “Overall Top Songs” chart). Tessanne also gave us the Aretha Franklin R&B classic Respect and on the Reggae side, her 2006 Reggae/Soul hit debut single Hideaway (taken from her freshman album “In Between Words”) and a sweet-sweet version of the Bob Marley classic Redemption Song. Once again sporting a longer length hairstyle with very modest makeup Tessanne looked gorgeous but more importantly, she took the stage, sang her heart out showing everyone present just what star power truly means.
Vocalist Thamar Williams
Robert DubWise Browne on Guitar
Dr. Una Clarke & Tessanne Chin
Following her performance it appeared to be a heartfelt moment as Tessanne received a Congressional Proclamation eloquently presented by former Brooklyn Councilwoman Una Clarke, mother of Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (11th Congressional District, New York) who as it was explained was unable to personally make the presentation because she was on the road with the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Barry G along with Tessanne and Dr. Clarke
TOOTS (HIBBERT) & THE MAYTALS
They say that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” ” and with the Groovin in the Park appearance of Jamaican born four-time Grammy nominated artist Toots Hibbert (of Toots and The Maytals) the reaction to his being there proved the saying to be absolutely true. His presence follows what has been a considerable absence from the stage following serious injuries he sustained in 2013 when a drunken concert attendee hurled a vodka bottle that connected with his head taking him off the concert tour circuit to recuperate. Groovin in the Park is only the second concert Toots has performed on since returning to the stage. With sixty-plus years of solid performance credits under his belt, Toots popped off early warm songs like Dog War and Pressure Drop for appreciative fans who let him know in no uncertain terms they were happy to see him; singing along, dancing and applause by the swollen crowd was the method of delivery that expressed their delight. Toots, oftentimes credited as the originator of the word “reggae” took the audience on a nostalgic journey through timeless music that solidifies his long career as he cemented his endearment to the audience with songs like Sweet and Dandy, Take Me Home Country Road and “Bam-Bam.” A truly fun part of his set was his Ska selections like Monkey Man that had a sizable portion of the audience dancing further highlighted by an unexpected demonstration by Barry G (MC for the Festival) who could hardly contain himself and joined Toots on stage to demonstrate the “right way” to dance to Ska. Near the close of his set, Toots performed his iconic song 54-46 Was My Number from his album Pressure Drop – The Golden Tracks. Toots looked fantastic, sounded marvelous and his entire well thought out and executed performance was well received by an appreciative audience including a young wide-eyed generation of festival goers. Truly great artists and music are indeed timeless. Following his performance Toots also received a well deserved Congressional Proclamation awarded by members from the office of Congresswoman Yvette Clarke.
Host Barry G and Toots share a laugh on stage
Toots received a Congressional Proclamation from the office of Congresswoman Yvette Clarke
Since her 1987 freshman album All By Myself, Regina Bell has continually amassed a solid bevy of classic hits like the well known song she first gave to the Groovin in the Park audience called You Know How To Love Me followed by other hits like Make It Like It Was along with my personal favorite Baby Come To Me. Her music, combined with a glowing stage presence and lyrics draws you into the storyline then wraps you in the experience. Despite being a long-time fan of her music I’ve never had the opportunity to see her perform on stage so I was grateful that at last I was receiving the Regina Belle experience. Her set was short and when it was over I wasn’t ready to see her leave.
Peabo Bryson is another artist who I greatly admire but never have seen him live in concert. He was equally amazing drawing from his bursting catalog of hit songs. He shared many of what should be called heart-stopping classics like Tonight I Celebrate My Love, my personal favorite Can You Stop The Rain, and Ain’t Nobody Love Me Better. Bryson already had us firmly in his grasp when he unexpectedly invited Regina Belle back to stage forming a duet of their Grammy Award Winning song, A Whole New World (produced for Disney’s 1992 animated feature film Aladdin). Following a suburb performance the romantic crooner looking super cool and relaxed despite the temperature handed out red roses to the ladies…twas a very nice touch and incentive to arrive early with already purchased VIP tickets that provided an up-front view!
Peabo Bryon sings a duo with one of his supporting vocalists
Fans enjoying the performance as well as the roses!
After opening sets delivered from a bevy of exceptional artists, Beres finally stepped onto the stage looking sharp; his warm teasing smile was just like a turn on switch – it lit the stage signaling he was ready to entertain. Do I really have to say he never disappoints? Beres flowed through selections of countless hit songs that we all know, love and can practically sing in our sleep including Feel Good, Can’t Stop A Man, No Goodbye, One Dance and She Loves Me Now.
Beres Hammond & The Harmony House Band
An impromptu invitation to join him on stage went to his former background singer none other than Tessanne Chin who had been watching Beres from the pit. Together they sang Step Aside Now and the ensuing roar of the crowd was not only loud but continual. My very favorite part of Hammond’s set that afternoon was his tribute to late-great Reggae artists who will forever remain close to our hearts including the Crown Prince of Reggae Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, John Holt, and of course the recognized King of Reggae Bob Marley. A bonafide crowd-pleaser, he had most of the audience singing along to every song so that some might say that if you don’t know at least one Beres song, you really don’t know very much about Reggae.
Tessanne Chin serenades Beres Hammond
If by chance you’re under the impression that R&B, Soul and Reggae Roots & Culture ruled the night, well yes they did but you should add to that list Dancehall with the surprise guest artist appearances of Tiger and Johnny P who gave us great music to groove to.
Ladies in attendance did a whole lot of orgasmic type screaming at Groovin in the Park 2016 right up to the very last performer of the evening who was Brian McKnight, the dangerously handsome super-talented R&B singer who closed the show – what a way it was to end the day! Truth be told the only noticeable hitch of the entire nine-hour production happened before his set and it was the forty-minutes it took to set up the stage, a fact that had some attendees mumbling that perhaps he might be a no-show (an all too familiar reality at far too many other smaller local Reggae events).
Not to worry, McKnight was there and even was spotted on the sidelines with friends watching the show prior to stepping on stage. His performance was highlighted by a splendid band and the technical enhancements of an overhead projection backdrop that enhanced the feeling of being drawn onstage. Everything considered it was well worth the wait. Granted, his start was slow but as he moved to his mega hit songs like Do I Ever Cross Your Mind and Back At One he totally captured the audience especially the glossy eyed swooning ladies mouthing all too familiar lyrics. McKnight’s set was an unending flow of love songs he’s well known for such as Love of My Life, You Should Be Mine and many others.
Caribbean Food Delights World Jamaican Beef Patty Eating Championship
Sabrina Hosang of Caribbean Food Delights
To my surprise “Competitive Eating” is actually classified as a legitimate sport and this year’s Groovin in the Park featured an exciting competition called the “Caribbean Food Delights World Jamaican Beef Patty Eating Championship.” As the name implies, it was sponsored by the well known and popular Caribbean Food Delights corporation where as they say, “Quality is Our Priority.” A family business under the leadership of CEO and philanthropist Vincent HoSang in partnership with festival organizers, the competition was managed by All Pro Eating Promotions leaders in the field of competitive eating competitions.
Molly Schuyler (this year’s winner) being introduced to the competition
At the finish line it was a hands down landslide win for the only female contestant, housewife and mother Molly Schuyler for chucking down a record breaking thirty-eight patties in the allotted eight minutes of competition winning her an impressive cash prize of $10,000. Barely appearing to weigh 125 pounds only Jah know how she could eat so much! The second place winner of $5,000 was taken home by Patrick Bertoletti (aka Deep Dish) for eating 22 and ½ patties; third place and a prize of $2,500 went to Bob Shoudt (aka Notorious B.O.B.) who ate his way through 19 patties very closely followed by fourth place winner Dave Brunelli (aka “Tiger Wings and Things” ) who devoured 18.5 patties. Wayne Algenio (aka Wayney Wonder) captured fifth place by eating 16 patties and took home a cash prize of $500.
And speaking of food you would want to eat,I’ve just got to mention the scrumptious finger-licking good food and non-alcoholic Caribbean specialty drinks prepared by the Presenting Sponsors of the festival, namely The Door Restaurant. I sampled their delicious Jamaican food then fought off serious urges of scouring the park for plastic bags to cart away some for later consumption. Seriously, if you haven’t been already, get to The Door Restaurant located in Queens NY.
It seemed as if nobody wanted the day to end but as it did, I easily eavesdropped snatches of conversations discussing the lineup and rating the experience at the 2016 Groovin in the Park production that could be easily captured by any passerby. My conclusion? Groovin in the Park was a huge hit although I didn’t need anyone’s confirmation. The energy both on and off stage was way up, the weather was hot but accommodating and the flow of smiling faces throughout the day and after a truly wonderful event are always the final barometer of what actually took place. BIG UP Groovin in the Park, their “major sponsors” TC Tropical Products, TD Bank, Nutrament, and their many excellent event partners who helped make this glorious production a reality. We’ll all have to wait and see what the producers have planned for 2017 however it’s not too early for everyone local and afar to start planning their summer activities to include Groovin in the Park knowing all the while, it’s definitely going to be special.
Press play below to check out more photos in our Groovin In The Park 2016 slideshow!
Grace Vanriel is the founder and CEO of the Live Reggae NYC network and co-founder of The Reggaeholics Movement to preserve and promote Reggae music as a traditional Jamaican art form; she is a freelance writer for Where Itz At Magazine, Senior Correspondent for ReggaeReflection.com, CatchTheVybe.com, and BuildUrBuzz.com.
Empress K is the Founder and Editor of ReggaeReflection.com. Reggae Reflection features artists and events of interest from around the globe.