Festival Report: SummerJam 2013

July 11, 2013



REVIEW – FRIDAY – DAY ONE by Angus Taylor
One word of warning before we start. Your correspondent has a bad back. So the concept of “when music hits you feel no pain” will be tested tonight. And if the reaction to your favourite artist is less than favourable – you can tell yourself it was probably just a grumpy mood.

12:00 – The SummerJam location has a fairytale quality to it. Last year the campsite was filled with furry friends. This year downy seeds float through the breeze like in every Ridley Scott movie.

12:22 – Before the festival even opens there’s a hip hop flavour in the air in expectation of the arrival of Snoop Dogg (or is he Snoop Lion?) later tonight. Gin and Juice can be heard testing the speakers of the lakeside Red Stage. The Beatpackers sound system near the mint tea stand responds by scratching KRS One’s MCs Act Like They Don’t Know half to death.

14:51 – It seems Snoop Dogg to the Lion has another show in Luxembourg at 2am. It’s a shame as a post SummerJam Snoop press conference would have been even funnier than Beenie Man’s last year.

15:14 – There is a giant gold black and green bird molesting people. He is the mascot for Jugglerz who play the dancehall arena at midnight. Damn, it must be hot in that suit.

16:14 – Bielefeld’s Uwe Banton’s English/Jamaican cultural and reality messages on the Green Stage sound like those of a first language speaker. The band – who back him and his barking deejay friend Ganjaman are excellent too. They are motored by drummer Marco Baresi who used to play with Gentleman – appearing tomorrow with his Evolution band as the last Red Stage show of the night.

17:53 – It’s a shame politically engaged Ghanaian Rocky Dawuni isn’t pulling as big a crowd on the Green Stage as the Latin tinged dancehall hip hop of Ohrbooten. His uplifting mix of roots reggae and afrobeat is perfect for this intermittently baking hot day. Partly it’s because the occasional sound problems that affected the smaller, more picturesque of the two stages last year are back again, muffling his vocals. His band could also use some real horns. If possible, Bob Marley looms larger of African roots reggae than it does over its Jamaican or European relatives – and he consolidates with a rousing Get Up Stand Up, sounding more like Peter Tosh than Bob.

19:09Matisyahu has the Red Stage area heaving. As his fellow Americans SOJA did last year. With short greying hair, dressed in a smart shirt, chugging on a beer he looks like his teenage fans’ trendy schoolteacher. His lyrics on latest album Sparkseeker are very gauche but he has a way with a catchy tune. He seems a bit spaced out and distant much of the time but the crowd go wild for Sunshine. Quite a few people leave immediately afterwards for Max Romeo but he keeps enough fans to orchestrate a mini stage invasion at the end.

19:28 – A white clad Max Romeo is killing it on the Green Stage with a thunderous Melt Away. His gathering is also very large. The decision to replace Ken Boothe with him was a good one. His English band includes a horn section. “I shouldn’t even be here” he says. He really should. After SummerJam, Mighty Max will be stepping in to save the day a second time when he replaces the injured Toots at Womad in the UK.

20:49 – Everyone going into SummerJam 2013 knew they’d have to spend time marching between equally worthwhile or intriguing acts. But having top Jamaican deejay Busy Signal play at the same time as top Jamaican singer Romain Virgo was the first major scheduling error of the weekend. Who can say they are a fan of one but not the other? Busy has the gigantic crowd. Romain has the voice. Both have the songs. Busy leads what sounds like a billion people chanting “We nah go a jail again” and sings a surprisingly adequate Reggae Music Again from the album he made before he went back to jail. Romain wisely focuses on his earlier reggae material over his later dancehall direction. He turns Live Mi Life into Toots 5446 and serves Food For The Plate No Money Love Doctor and all the other big tunes he has amassed just two albums into his career. Oh well, better keep trudging back and forth.

22:48 – We have the same situation with Snoop and Tarrus Riley. At least they are different enough that people can feel comfortable making a choice. As Tarrus and his pinpoint rehearsed BLAKSOIL Band can be heard performing Contagious on Bob Marley’s Coming in from the Cold rhythm, Snoop’s army of fans are patiently waiting in the dark. Snoop – who has three dressing rooms backstage to everyone else’s one – is running late. Based on watching an MTV televised concert where an over enthusiastic post production engineer mixed out the crowd – the old Snoop seemed pretty good live. Given the roar when he ambles on to the Red stage and touches the glittering mic with his silky drawl – audience sound won’t be a problem here.

22:57Snoop seems to be confused as to whether his surname is dog or lion. His hype men ask the fans to chant for both. He yells “give me some motherfucking pimp music” while wearing a Bob Marley T shirt. The Snoop Dogg catalogue and a Tupac video tribute are received enthusiastically by the German hip hop loving massive. The smattering of Snoop Lion material, delivered in a thin voice, doesn’t really work. At time he simply smokes while his dancers writhe. But it doesn’t matter. Snoop has pulled off the biggest PR coup in reggae with his transformation. His album is selling well and he is topping the bill at SummerJam. Job done. After less than an hour he leaves abruptly for his next show without saying goodbye.

23:35 – Meanwhile over at the Green Stage Tarrus and Dean Fraser know exactly who they are and what they are all about. Every note of their show is planned to microscopic accuracy. But even if you’ve seen it before the flawless interplay between Dean’s sax and Tarrus’ extraordinary voice during their cover of John Legend’s Stay With You will impress. They aren’t doing too badly in terms of audience size either. This is a reggae festival after all.

00:00 – The Red Stage has provided the spectacle and the Green has offered the singing talent. At the strike of midnight various groups of friends can be heard singing Happy Birthday to someone before heading off to th e dancehall arena to party…

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