Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Festival season can bring with it a certain set of anxieties, namely worrying whether one is going find oneself in an altercation with some booze-fuelled bogan who has had his fill of Nickelback and is now looking for entertainment in the form of aggro. Raggamuffin, now in its fourth year, is the perfect corrective for that kind of stress. It’s a completely hassle-free zone, a mellow, musical trip that’s the perfect way to while away a balmy January afternoon. There’s no chance of drama here, for the simple reason that the vast majority of the crowd is stoned to the gills.
There, we said it. Now on to the music.
Melbourne dub outfit The Red Eyes and New Zealand fusion group The Black Seeds drew the scheduling low card, having to make do with performing for a venue which was still only filling up by the time the Seeds had wrapped their set. The situation wasn’t helped by a ticketing foul-up that saw many having to queue for up to an hour to get in through the gates, which meant both bands were playing to a much smaller crowd than they could have been.
It was inevitable that Bob Marley would cast a long shadow over the proceedings – it’s the 30th anniversary of his death, after all - and his presence was felt the most during the one-two punch of his son Ky-mani Marley followed by The Original Wailers. Both served up a healthy dose of their recent work, and the songs from Ky-mani’s upcoming album Evolution Of A Revolution have a heft and a rhythm reminiscent of the old man’s work, but the songs most warmly received were, predictably, those made famous by Bob, with No Woman No Cry, Redemption Song, and I Shot the Sherriff, among others, all getting an airing.
Dancehall exponent Sean Paul was a no-show, but the amazingly-haired Maxi Priest brought enough energy and soul to ensure the punters didn’t bemoan Paul’s absence. By this stage of the game the crowd was well and truly caught up in the vibe, and Priest worked them like a pro, conducting a vibrant and uplifting call and response on Wild World.
Elder statesman of reggae Jimmy Cliff, resplendent in an immaculate white suit, proved that age shall not weary him, rocking the crowd with a verve and power that is the envy of performers half his age. Once again, it was the classics that drew the most acclaim from the crowd, with I Can See Clearly Now and a drum-heavy rendition of Rivers Of Babylon being greeted with roars of approval.
R&B diva Mary J. Blige wrapped up the night with a routine that, while snappy and polished, seemed at odds with the rest of the day’s performers. After a solid eight or so hours of mostly old-school reggae, it was somewhat jarring to have the event capped by Blige’s more contemporary grooves, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind, lapping up a set that, really, was more sizzle and steak.
For a festival, Raggamuffin has a vibe more akin to a laidback backyard party. Cool, relaxed, and endlessly entertaining, if you missed it this year, make sure you don’t make the same mistake next time.