2017 Chesapeake Bay Reggae Festival

by Jul 2, 2017Articles, Report

2017 Chesapeake Reggae Bay Festival


When: May 20-21, 2017

Where:  Downtown Hampton, Virginia

Reporter: Robert “Higherman” Heilman

Additional Photos: Gail Zucker

Copyright:  2017 – Robert “Higherman” Heilman

A reggae festival solidifies it’s own unique vibration after building it’s Foundation, year by year, brick by brick. This is certainly the case with THE CHESAPEAKE BAY REGGAE FESTIVAL; all roads leading to Hampton, Virginia. On May 20-21, 2017, the evolving event celebrated its 7th anniversary and cementing its open hearted appeal as The East Coast’s premier Reggae celebration. A Heartical and genuine gathering of Foundation veterans backed by journeyman musicians, amazingly talented local artists fulljoyed with total Love and respect by the massive.


Chesapeake Bay Reggae Festival promoters/organizers Kevin Purnell and Crystal Selby have gone the distance with razor sharp focus and vision to keep this Fyah burning. They started with an unwavering passion to bring music to the community not asking for an entrance fee; just to fulljoy the grassroots experience. From 2011-14, this was a no charge event, held at neighboring Buckroe Beach. The award winning Buckroe Beach Reggae Festival was brimming with local talent; including the yearly presence of TUFF LION. This veteran’s contribution to King’s Music is undeniable and monumental; just one of the many Royal messenjah’s who live in this beautiful region. Kevin and Crystal were able to have Culture and iconic Living Truth (Leroy Ridgeway) perform in this time frame. Winter splashes soon followed, featuring the likes of The Itals, Sister Carol and Midnite. The event moved to the picturesque Mill Point Park in 2015 with the historic Chesapeake Bay serving as a backdrop. Since then, it’s blossomed into a masterclass two day event with minimal admission and maximum appeal. The last two years have been flush with legendary artistes and rising Lions. Talking about Keith Poppin, Winston”Flames”Jarrett, Carl Malcolm, The Meditations, Carlton Livingston, Tuff Lion, Kevin Isaacs(Gregory’s son), Ras Iba and Michael Edge (Peter Tosh’s nephew). Dash in serious local artistes like Mighty Joshua, Nature’s Child, Empress Michel, Cultivated Mind, Ambassdors Of Joy, United Souls and the Heartical spirit of this festival has been culminated.


Days and nights leading up to the Chesapeake Bay Reggae Festival were full of symptoms and signs of Rightful things to come. Rehearsals with Donovan Carless (Soul Syndicate) and Tuff Lion Band at Joe Talley/Pamela Jo Sward’s inviting Soniqual Studios were dynamite. Connecting on the levels with the legendary Keith Poppin (performing for a second time) taking in the open hearted CABLES rehearsals was a beautiful “in yard” atmosphere. One of the many appealing elements is the proximity of The Crowne Plaza Hotel to the stage; a picturesque three minute trod. With the artists cooling until taking the stage; this translated to dynamic and historic performances…


Saturday’s vibrations at Chesapeake Bay Reggae Festival commenced with the return of The Ambassadors Of Joy, who radiated Heartical frequencies all the way. Empress Michel is a Royal veteran who ignited the stage with Zion power and delivered solid anthems from her diverse catalogue. The festival is set up with two stages (Mill Point/BAY Stage); and the short walk between the two were lined with Heartical vendors and an authentic atmosphere radiating from the respectful massive. Virginia’s Cultivated Mind is a committed Roots unit who bring forth real deal sounds. Anthony Brand, Ro Diggs and crew delivered a crucial set featuring tracks from their “Tend The Garden” album. A band to check out for sure! Mighty Joshua is another local Rootsman whose been in the festival lineup for years now and put forth a commanding performance brimming with experience and commitment. Took a break to get the legendary Donovan Carless to the stage with the crowd starting to swell.


Kevin/Crystal’s ability to book veteran artists who aren’t actively touring is amazing to say the least. Donovan took the stage backed by The Tuff Lion Band. The lyrics to riddim atmosphere was sky high. Tuff Lion’s band was brimming with precision. From Tuff’s bass, to Walker Pillow’s guitar and the bubbling of Biggs and Befekadu Assefa; riddims so nice. Mr. Carless commanded the stage with “Red, Gold & Green”, a tight lick of Gregory Isaac’s “Love Is Overdue” and his own 1972 hit, “Garden Party”. He continued with “Tonight” and flexed in a few bars of Shaggy’s “Boombastic”; diversity that truly worked. He recalled Soul Syndicate history with the timeless “Harvest Uptown, Famine Downtown” – absolute musical dynamite!! He finished his historic set with “Peace & Harmony”, a solid project he recently completed with Tuff Lion. This was an uplifting performance backed by one of the most important and relevant ambassadors in the business – TUFF LION.


V.I. Roots warrior Ras Attitude flew in directly from a Brazil tour and took to the stage as smooth as the breeze coming off the Chesapeake Bay. Backed by a well rehearsed band, he ignited the stage with lyrical Fyah. Hit after hit. He opened with “Zion Gates”, “Here We Go Again” and a soul stirring, “Don’t Be Afraid To Pray”. He mesmerized the massive with “Melt”, “Instrumental Love”, “Humble Ways” and finished up with two new anthems, “Show You” (recorded in UK) and “Marijuana We Burn” (recorded with Sly & Robbie and Christos DC’s Honest Music label). A truly gifted artist who this writer had the honor to reason with on numerous times after his set. A humble man with manners and respect.


By all accounts, Saturday saw the biggest attendance in the festival’s history; thousands were able to witness the historic performance at Chesapeake Bay Reggae Festival by Mr. Keith Poppin. “Mr. Energetic” performed here in 2015 and his return was heavily anticipated. Keith took to the stage backed by Crucial Fiya, a world class band based in North Carolina that will be showcased later in this report. Keith delivered such a soulful and heartfelt performance; the true essence of Jamaican music history unveiled before our Heart and Soul! A set list that encompassed his 50 years of timeless songs. He began with “Righteous Man” and “What A World”. As he delved into “Envious” (early ’70s smash hit), the legend was “soul communicating” with each and every one in attendance. Crucial Fiya was riddimatically flawless as he crooned “Who Are You”. Keith presented “Same Thing For Breakfast” with the same power as when he first voiced in the dawn of the ’70s; memory lane indeed. He was immaculate with “Make Hay” (from his 2002 “Journeys” album) before delivering “Some Dem Ago Shame”. Crucial Fiya provided a taut vibration for “Speak Out” (title track from his 2011 album). He closed out his rousing set with “Easy Skanking/Keep On Moving” and the ESSENTIAL “Get Together”. Quite an amazing set to close out the evening…


Sunday’s performances at Chesapeake Bay Reggae Festival continued in crucial vibration. The Lakesiders are a home grown band with two months as a unit. Sounded like they’ve been together for years. A diverse and vibrant set with Kevin Purnell’s son Jahvin on keys, steady vox from Luke and violin from Anders. Greg Ward & The Dubsetters represented Virginia Roots with maximum appeal. Mr.Ward is a bonafide veteran and set the vibes with truth and conviction. Crucial Fiya delivered a brilliant set after flawlessly backing Mr. Poppin the previous night. Founded by bassist/vocalist Ras Iyam, this heavily in demand riddim section is anchored with experience and true vision. Over the years, they’ve backed the likes of Frankie Paul (rest in Love), Everton Blender, Barrington Levy, Luciano, Mikey Dread (rest in Love) and many more. The core of Neal Boyke-keys, Chasper Horton-drums and Joseph-guitar alongside the direction of Ras Iyam is full strength indeed. They delivered an engaging set with original material and immaculate Beres Hammond and Peter Tosh treatments. Crucial Fiya all the way!!


Marcia Aitken recorded a heap of classics for Joe Gibbs in the late ’70’s and she took the stage radiating Royal Empress vibrations indeed. Veteran ambassador Ev Rich (CRS Radio) brought her on, elevating the atmosphere to the levels. Something truly special was blowing in the wind. Marcia was backed by another incredibly tight band, Stable Roots/Culture Band. Founded by the veteran keyboardist Chris “Peanut” Whitely; this riddim section has many legendary musicians. Consider Desi Hyson (former Wailers frontman), guitarist Mongezi Chris Ntaka (Lucky Dube’s axeman for 16 years/6 albums), bassist Jayson, drummer Paapa Nyarkoh and a wicked horn section including Jeff Saunders. Truly fulljoying the adoring massive, Marcia delivered “My Man”, “Come To Me” and “Reggae Music” with an intoxicatingly beautiful essence. She continued with “Give Me Your Love” (a gem from her “Reggae Impact” album). Yes, Sean Paul/Sasha scored a world wide hit with “Still In Love with You, Boy”, but it was Marcia who originally scored this timeless anthem in the late ’70s for Joe Gibbs. She ignited the entire town as she took us back to a special time and place in Reggae history. Such an incredible delivery topped off with “Uptown Top Ranking”. An amazing performance from a beautiful artist inside and out. Her rapport with the Chesapeake Bay Reggae Festival audience was accentuated with truthful reasonings to respect and recognize men and women with dignity.


Stable Roots/Culture Band stayed in place for the arrival of The CABLES. Active since 1962, the trio of Keble Drummond, Vincent Stoddart and Elbert “Stewie” Stewart have created some of the most beautiful and resonating music to come out of Jamaica. This was a flawless lyrics to riddim affair with historic value. They opened with “Many Rivers To Cross”; sounding as sweet as they did many decades ago. Keble had a commanding yet sweet presence as “Baby Why” and “Feel Alright” rolled back the years. The magic continued with “Love Is A Pleasure” and “No More Heartaches”. “Be A Man” showed the respect and trust between the Foundation group and the seriously tight riddim section. In the late ’70s, Keble recorded “Praise Jah” (his first Rasta anthem) and it was brought to full light with the mastery of Stewie/Vincent’s ethereal baritone/falsetto. The Cables closed out with “What Kind Of World” in total Studio One levels. How good and pleasant it was to witness The CABLES in total unity; a reminder that FOUNDATION sounds are in full effect in 2017.


As mentioned, the presence of Tuff Lion was a beautiful element before, during and after this festival. He joined in the prolific reunion of The Prisoners; one of the most organically Rooted groups to culminate from this musically rich region. Their live shows and 2009 self titled album are respected to the highest levels. The Rootical ensemble of Tuff Lion, guitarist Walker Pillow, vocalist/keyboardist/melodica Zach Moats and the heartical Scott Davis on percussion, drums was a unity directly inspired by The Most High. A truly engaging set with classic songs, including “Communication” and “Jahovia”. The organic chemistry was intertwined with flecks of Jazz, Blues and a Gladiators caliber essence. True reflection of the abundance of Royal talent that flows seamlessly from this Ites region of The East Coast. Chesapeake Bay Reggae Festival Sunday night closed out with a deeply spiritual set from Tuff Lion. His ability to communicate through any instrument is amazing; a journeyman in the business whose craftsmanship shows no boundaries. It was not possible to witness every performance at both stages; maximum respect to all performers not mentioned here. In essence, every artist made this celebratory experience something that solidified the overstanding that King’s Music is embraced, beloved and presented the Rightful way in these turbulent times…


THE CHESAPEAKE BAY REGGAE FESTIVAL would not be a reality without the undiluted efforts of countless volunteers, the audience and devoted ambassadors within the industry. Maximum respect and gratitude goes out to Kevin Purnell, Crystal & Jason Selby, Kenlocks, Fred Barrett (security with Heart and Soul), Jamie McGurk, Jeremy Sanchez, Ev Richardson, Deb Brown, Maurice Cuffee, The Mckenney’s, Thelma Kelly, Terez Dean, Amy Payne, Steve Price, Terez Dean, Crowne Plaza staff and the countless people who extended a hand in hand, Heart to Heart atmosphere from start to finish. If you’re looking for a truly unique and engaging Reggae festival, take the road to Hampton, Virginia. Go deh!!