Austin Reggae Fest’s Easter Sunday
Everton Blender closes down displaced event
By Kevin Curtin, 3:15PM, Mon. Apr. 21, 2014
At twilight on Sunday, final day of the 21st annual Austin Reggae Festival, its longtime emcee Jah Ray addressed the crowd. “Remember as we’re gathered here in Butler Park, it’s only temporary. Next year we’ll be back at Auditorium Shores.”
He was referring, of course, to the waterside park’s major, ongoing renovation, which recently caused South by Southwest’s annual free concert series to jump across Riverside Drive and will similarly affect Fun Fun Fun Fest in November.
“Some people want to do it here again,” he continued, “but the vendors don’t. They didn’t make as much money this year, but we give thanks to Butler Park anyway.”
Indeed, rows of merchant booths, which offered a wide array of Bob Marley swag, jewelry, pipes, bootleg reggae CDs, Rasta clothing, and $600 vaporizers, marked inopportune territory – tucked away on the cement walkway around the Palmer Events Center instead of being in the festival’s main thoroughfare as usual. A couple of venders I spoke to agreed that sales were down from recent years.
Backstage, Jah Ray confirmed that Nineties hitmakers Inner Circle, authors of the Cops’ theme “Bad Boys” and “Sweat (A La La La La Long),” drew the weekend’s largest crowd Friday, but he was proudest of “culture” bookings like Sunday headliner Everton Blender. With a couple thousand attendees powwowing on bongs and djembe drums, the Jamaican crooner emerged in his Moses attire of a white robe and wooden staff.
“We don’t sing bling bling,” he declared. “We sing positive songs about the island.”
Backed by the Yard Squad, a multi-racial workhorse band from St. Louis whose keyboardist convincingly imitated steel drums, melodica, and remixes when necessary, the 59-year-old Blender delivered an 80-minute performance of love songs, oppression songs, weed songs, and praise songs. He must have praised Jah 200 times.
Between each tune, Blender chanted Rastafarian prayers, the content of which was difficult to discern because of his heavy patois, except they referenced Haile Selassie. A proud, spiritual man, he demonstrated the righteous quality that can make reggae potent. To a small congregation in front of the stage, including one spectator tirelessly waving a banner with a flaming marijuana leaf, Blender threw down his dancehall-inspired roots party.
The band discharged his class war anthem “World Corruption” before hitting the sweet melody of “Sensi.” Blender brought his son onstage for a ganga duet with the simple refrain “Marijuana, marijuana, more weed, more weed.” After ending the set with his best known tune, the triumphant “Ghetto People Song,” the singer encored by showing off his dynamic vocal talents on a pair of a capella verses that augmented his smooth croon with imitation echo.
That conjured such intensity that even the reddest eyes left in the park were drawn to the stage.
Turning around to exit, I saw Austin’s skyline and realized this year’s performers had a better view than the audience. In both atmosphere and accessibility, Butler Park is a downgrade, but fortunately only a temporary one. In this year of non-use, locals will come to appreciate what a unique, one-of-a-kind music venue Austin has in Auditorium Shores.