Reggae fest draws hundreds

  • Luke Appleton-Webster, of the Berklee Bob Marley Ensemble, from the Berklee College of Music, led by instructor, Matt Jensen, performs with the ensemble at the Charlemont Reggae Festival at the fairgrounds, Saturday, August 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Cameron Thrower, of the Berklee Bob Marley Ensemble, from the Berklee College of Music, led by instructor, Matt Jensen, performs with the ensemble at the Charlemont Reggae Festival at the fairgrounds, Saturday, August 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Maria Wadman of the Berklee Bob Marley Ensemble, from the Berklee College of Music, led by instructor, Matt Jensen, performs with the ensemble at the Charlemont Reggae Festival at the fairgrounds, Saturday, August 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • David Stewart of the Berklee Bob Marley Ensemble, from the Berklee College of Music, led by instructor, Matt Jensen, performs with the ensemble at the Charlemont Reggae Festival at the fairgrounds, Saturday, August 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • A woman listens to a band perform at the Charlemont Reggae Festival from the backstage area at the fairgrounds Saturday, August 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Attendees of the Charlemont Reggae Festival listen to music under the pavilion at the fairgrounds Saturday, August 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • David Stewart of the Berklee Bob Marley Ensemble, from the Berklee College of Music, led by instructor Matt Jensen, supports Ryan Shea, 6, of Agawam, on his shoulders as he sings into the microphone at the Charlemont Reggae Festival at the fairgrounds Saturday. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Kalpana Devi, of the band ReBelle, performs at the Charlemont Reggae Festival at the fairgrounds Saturday, August 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • David Stewart of the Berklee Bob Marley Ensemble, from the Berklee College of Music, led by instructor, Matt Jensen, performs with the ensemble while Ryan Shea, 6, of Agawam sits on his shoulders at the Charlemont Reggae Festival at the fairgrounds, Saturday, August 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Attendees of the Charlemont Reggae Fest dance as the band ReBelle performs at the fairgrounds Saturday, August 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • The band ReBelle performs at the Charlemont Reggae Festival at the fairgrounds Saturday, August 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Maria Wadman, of the Berklee Bob Marley Ensemble, from the Berklee College of Music, led by instructor, Matt Jensen, performs beside A'kai Gables, 10, of Brattleboro with the ensemble at the Charlemont Reggae Festival at the fairgrounds, Saturday, August 6. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

For the Gazette
Published: 8/7/2016 9:30:12 PM

CHARLEMONT – Bubbles blown by gleeful children floated through the air as Tuff Riddim International played on stage in the Charlemont Fairgrounds’ pavilion. Compelled by the beat of the music, men and women shimmied before the stage, some holding children of their own.

The annual Charlemont Reggae Festival returned to the fairgrounds Saturday, bringing together 12 local bands and hundreds of reggae fans, many of which have been routinely attracted to the festival for its family atmosphere.

“Every year, there’s a certain core group of families that come,” said organizer Elizabeth Loving. “It’s kind of heartwarming (to watch the children grow up).”

Loving and longtime volunteer Patty Samuels described meeting people at the festival who would come one year with their boyfriends or girlfriends, the next year with their husbands or wives, and then with their children.

“The magical part is it’s been going on for so long now,” said Samuels, who drives from Deering, New Hampshire to participate. “It’s kind of cool just to watch the world pass.”

Spectators listened to the various musicians from picnic tables, lawnchairs, blankets on the ground and several camping tents on the fairgrounds property. Vendors sold food, clothing, jewelry, and vape and smoking accessories from booths around the pavilion.

Local roots

The festival first began in 1985, according to organizer Ras Jahn Bullock, whose band, Loose Caboose, was among the first reggae bands in the Pioneer Valley. Bullock was approached with the idea for a festival after playing a show at Berkshire East in Charlemont.

“At the end of the show, some people from Charlemont asked me if it would be possible to do more reggae in the town,” Bullock said. “So I got bands that I had been working with to come and play.”

The first festival brought together four bands – Loose Caboose, African Roots, The Happy Campers and Zion Initiation – and approximately 200 spectators, Bullock said. This year, he anticipated 400 spectators.

“Every year it gets better and better,” Bullock said. “The families have always attracted other people. We have an audience that has continued to grow and spans generations.”

Furthermore, Bullock said that a lot of the children who attended the early festivals were inspired to get involved in music themselves.

“A lot of the people playing here today as grown-ups were here in 1985 as children,” he said.

Bullock commented that festival guests come from across Massachusetts, New York, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and beyond. Bands from Jamaica, Africa, Switzerland and the west coast have inquired about getting involved with the festival.

“I set this up for local talent so they’d have a place to play,” Bullock said. He said he intends to stay true to those roots and continue to support local artists, though some guests have suggested making the festival a two-day affair to accomodate well-known acts.

“My dream was to create a place where all that new energy (around reggae in the Pioneer Valley) could be channelled,” Bullock explained.

He remembers meeting renowned reggae musician Bob Marley, who was an inspiration to him, and having Marley invite him to his studio in Jamaica to record Loose Caboose’s first album. He feels the festival is a way for him to support local bands as Marley supported him.

“That’s part of the reason why I do this – to give it back, the energy that I got from Bob.”

Looking for volunteers

Bullock estimated 45 volunteers played a role in organizing this year’s reggae festival, and a six-member planning committee meets regularly to organize the annual event.

However, Loving emphasized a need to get more local residents involved with the planning committee, volunteering, operating social media and various other tasks. Interested residents should email crfestival@gmail.com.




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