Concert Review: Dubfest at Hollywood ArtsPark, September 5

Bunny Wailer
Featuring Bunny Wailer, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, and others
Hollywood ArtsPark at Young Circle
Saturday, September 5, 2009

Better Than:
Anything that has come to the ArtsPark in a very long time.

The Review:

Last Saturday, the rain just wouldn't let up. By the time 2:00 p.m. rolled around, yet another burst of storm clouds descended on downtown Hollywood. Promoters from AEG Live, along with DubFest's dozen vendors, looked annoyed as they scrambled to stay dry. But still, the steady stream of concertgoers kept clamoring through the barricades, overly energetic and fearless in the face of rain. These weren't your typical South Beach nightclub enthusiast, after all, but diehard festival pros. A little water wouldn't deter their Croc-wearing dancing feet! So where did these people come from, anyways?

"We drove all the way from Saint Augustine," screamed one DubFester in the crowd. Others said they came from as far north as Gainesville and as far south as Key West. By the end of the day, some 3500 dub-heads showed up to consume Hawaiian lager Kona Beer (their Fire Rock Pale Ale is awesome!) and jammed to 10 hours straight of live music.

The vibe was the perfect mix of Southern Florida meets Southern California, the crowd dotted with punk rockers, old dread heads, and the surfing-skater bros that one usually finds catching waves in Delray Beach during a Category Two hurricane. And despite the gloomy weather, Dubfest creator Jesse Stoll wasn't too worried. "Yeah, the weather definitely put a damper on what could of have been a good portion of walk-ups," he said, "but all in all, our sponsors are happy, our artists are happy, and if they're happy, I'm happy."

And everyone had good reason to be happy, with a multi-genre, multi-generational lineup of musical talent. Fresh new artists like SOJA and Ballyhoo! lit up the then-wet stage with their firey brand of alternative roots reggae and modern-day ska, respectively. And of course, there were major singalongs to the Sublime tribute band Badfish.

By about 5:30, the sky was clearing up, and L.A. ska/punk band Goldfinger took to the stage playing a cover of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." Frontman John Feldmann announced, mid-set, that it had been 10 years since Goldfinger last played in South Florida -- a milestone moment that many folks in the audience cheered with reverence. Although they played several songs off their latest album, Hello Destiny, it was the classics like "Here in your Bedroom" and "Mable" that transported my 30-year-old self back to high school. Goldfinger has been around for 15 years? Where did the time go?

After Goldfinger came the mystical figure Lee "Scratch" Perry, clothed in bedazzled regalia of a Star-Trek-meets-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean style. Perry brought the rain back, but it was fitting for his mellow, magical 45-minute set. Perry is often considered a madman -- and proud of that -- and as such his performance was borderline genius and incoherent. 

Aside from playing covers of Bob Marley songs like "Kaya" and "Exodus," Perry would often freestyle and improvise, letting the spirit of Jah Almighty overtake his physical body. The highlight of his performance had to be his performance of his semi-hit single "Pum Pum" off his 2008 album Repentance. A tribute to the glories of the female's down under, Lee brought up two scantily clad college girls to do their best "dutty wine" next to his 72-year-old self. Rastas don't need Viagra to get up, stand up.

By 7:30, it was twilight, a splash of sun finally peeked again through the crowds, and a hazy rainbow formed across the main stage. It was against that backdrop that Huntington Beach's third wave ska heroes Reel Big Fish appeared. The band's three-piece horn section is still fierce, and frontman Aaron Barrett's quirky personality made the crowd laugh and dance simultaneously. The band's hour-long set was heavy on ska-ified covers: A-Ha's "Take on Me", Poison's "Nothin But a Good Time," Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," and a medley of Metallica. Still, sprinkled in there were the classic Reel Big Fish hits like "Sell Out," "Turn the Radio Off," and "Don't Start a Band."

And then finally, it was the moment everyone was waiting for -- a performance by living reggae legend Bunny Wailer. The three-time Grammy winner took the stage like a king commanding his kingdom. As the last surviving member of the Wailers, Bunny made it evident that he still has it. And as this was Bunny's only U.S. appearance in 2009, his performance was flawless. Every note was hit, every rhythm was met -- it looked so damn easy for this 62-year-old.

Singing such reggae classics as "400 Years," "Soul Rebel," "Rasta Man," and his famous "Blackheart Man," Bunny got the crowd swaying in unison. It was, however, his heartfelt version of "No Woman, No Cry" that made the audience shed a couple tears. The thousand or so DubFest goers sang word for word, chanting, "Everything's gonna be alright" as they flashed their lighters in the night sky. With timeless moments like this, in which strangers can share a slice of heaven created by great music, it's no surprise that people drive hundreds of miles and stand drenched in the rain.

Critic's Notebook

Random Detail: There was a half-pipe ramp positioned at one corner of the park, but with the weather, it served more as an adult slip and slide than a place for skateboard demos.

By the Way: One of DubFest's sponsors, Jeremiah Weed, is in fact a liquor, not ... well, weed. Nevertheless, their country peach sweet tea-flavored vodka might just be the best thing since, well, weed. I highly recommend it on the rocks with a splash of lemon; Martha Stewart would so approve!

-- Esther Park

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