Irish artiste Andrew Hozier-Byrne deserves some style points for his atmospheric staging. Light beams of various colours cut through the dark and the smoke, making the stage look like the interior of a gloomy cathedral.
The other notable visual feature was the Hozier name rendered in jagged strokes; in addition to appearing in the typical kick-drum location and on other equipment, the logo appeared most notably as a large backlit display at the rear of the stage.
Normally, the plastering of an artist’s name all over his stage would indicate a massive ego, but the writer of the song seemed anything but that. Even though the large screaming audience appeared to be very familiar with his material, he still took a lot of time in between songs to talk about their meanings, making his large-stage festival show feel more like an intimate coffee-house appearance.
In addition to a typical lineup of keyboards, bass, guitars and two female backing vocalists, the band’s instruments also included a cello.
Hozier himself strummed a lovely assortment of guitars as he sang selections from his 2014 self-titled debut. The material ranged from bluesy tunes (“To Be Alone”, “It Will Come Back”), ornate acoustic ballads (“Like Real People Do”) and string-oriented songs (“Someone New”).
As might be expected, the last song of Hozier’s set was his international hit ballad, “Take Me To Church.” Certainly a soulful way to end a Saturday night.
Like his half-brother Stephen, reggae/dancehall artist Damian Marley emulates blues musicians such as the late B.B. King in terms of how to make an entrance. First, his band took to the stage before him, to play an instrumental version of Bob Marley’s “Sun Is Shining.” The group includes Damian’s longtime collaborator Shiah Coore on bass.
Like Damian, Shiah is a second-generation reggae musician with an impeccable pedigree: his father is legendary guitarist “Cat” Coore of the group Third World. Also in Damian’s band is one of his brother Stephen’s musicians, guitarist Ranoy Gordon.
At the end of the instrumental, longtime Marley M.C. Sky High came onstage, dressed in a suit of many colours, to announce “Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly present to you, all the way from Kingston, Jamaica… Damian ‘Jr. Gong Zilla’ Marley!”
Even with an introduction worthy of a boxing match, Damian still didn’t take to the stage, leaving it to his band and backup singers (Roslyn Williams and Nikki Burt) to perform “Confrontation”, a track recorded with Bunny Wailer for his hit album Welcome to Jamrock.
[Island Stage photos above by Empress K of Reggae Reflection]
Then as the band started playing “Mek It Bun Dem”, a recording collaboration with DJ Skrillex, Damian could be heard doing the toasting intro offstage. Finally he came into view, accompanied by a dread flag-bearer whipping around a flag with the colours and crest of the Rastafarian religion. This energetic flag-bearer would keep up his frenetic activity for the entire show.
Like SOJA before him, Damian made good use of the catwalk, striding its length with his ankle-dreads waving behind, as the band accompanied him for “More Justice.” But no stage-diving for this Reggae star; Damian was simply using the catwalk to get a little closer to his fans, who had turned out in full force despite the late afternoon heat.
Just about all of Damian’s albums were represented in his set: Mr. Marley (“Trouble”); Halfway Tree (“It Was Written”); Distant Relatives, the collaboration with his 2010 SunFest partner, rapper Nas, ( “Land of Promise”, “Patience”); the compilation Set Up Shop Vol. 1 (title track, “Affairs of the Heart”); and the aforementioned Welcome to Jamrock (“Hey Girl”, “Beautiful”, and the “Exodus”-inspired “Move!”, amongst others). Of course, Damian’s father’s material was also represented, with covers of “War/No More Trouble” and “Could You Be Loved” at the end of the regular set. For Damian’s combination of the Bob Marley hit and his own hidden-track version from Half Way Tree, he was joined onstage by his young son Elijah. Damian kicked off his encore with another Bob Marley/Peter Tosh classic, “Get Up, Stand Up.” Even people outside the SunFest gates could be seen jamming to it. Damian ended with his best-known song, the dancehall hit “Welcome To Jamrock.”
Soldiers Of Jah Army, an eight-piece reggae band from the D.C. area, took to the SunFest main stage mid-afternoon of Day 4 of the festival, just as it did three years earlier when promoting Strength To Survive, its first release on Dave Matthew’s ATO label. Now the group is promoting its latest ATO release, Amid The Noise and Haste, which was nominated for the Reggae Grammy in February.
Despite the bright South Florida sunshine, frontman Jacob Hemphill took off his sunglasses from time to time as he sang and played guitar. Most of the lead vocals were handled by Hemphill, but blond-dreadlocked bassist Bobby Lee provided his deep-voiced delivery to the deejay break for the song “You Don’t Know Me”, from the 2006 album Get Wiser.
In addition to executing his signature high-kick during the show, he and other band-members made good use of the catwalk that jutted into the audience. At one point, Hemphill was joined on the catwalk by trumpeter Rafael Rodriguez and saxophonist Hellman Escorcia, and lead guitarist Trevor Young also used it as a launching point for a dive into the crowd. Throughout the show, explosive conga beats were provided by percussionist Kenny Bongos.
The group played tracks from its five-album catalogue, including “Mentality” from Strength To Survive, and from its latest release, the track “I Believe”, recorded with Michael Franti and Nahko, “She Still Loves Me” (recorded with Collie Budz), and “Shadow”, with lead vocal by Trevor. In the three years since the group’s previous appearance at SunFest, its following has grown exponentially, as evidenced by the large crowd that braved the heat to watch the band. But while this performance was good, I couldn’t help but feel that the group’s 2012 SunFest show was more engaging, and Empress K of Reggae Reflection preferred the band’s performance at the Nine Mile festival in Miami in February. But we were probably in the minority in thinking that, and I imagine this won’t be the last SunFest will see of SOJA.
Give this classic-rocker credit for addressing the elephant in the room. Since his heyday of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Eddie has both gained some weight and lost some vocal strength.
So in his Sunfest set he compensated for the latter by having the audience do a lot of singing along, and he tackled the former with a series of jokes between songs. Most took the form of his wife making fun of him (a sample joke, about his portly video image: “I told my wife the camera adds ten pounds. She said, ‘How many cameras were on you?’ “)
Eddie’s set consisted of singing his many well-known hits to the accompaniment of a seasoned four-piece band.
The show kicked off with “Baby, Hold on to Me”, followed shortly by “Walk on Water”, then later “Take Me Home Tonight,” for which the studio recording had featured Ronnie Spector of ’60s girl-group The Ronettes. For the encore, Eddie dug deep for the classic-rock staple “Shaking.”
This bar-band-made-good is best known for its top-ten hit “On The Dark Side” from its soundtrack for the 1983 movie “Eddie and The Cruisers.” Fortunately for this Sunfest roving reporter, this was the third song on the set-list, but unfortunately this was apparently still early enough in the show for the sound engineers to be having issues, as John Cafferty’s vocal was so low as to be almost inaudible. Everyone in the crowd knew the words, though, and they were happy to turn that part of the performance in a group sing-along.
Immediately afterwards, John’s mike got turned up enough for the crowd to hear his story about working with Ben E. King, who had passed away two days earlier. The legendary ‘60s soul singer did a guest vocal for the “Cruisers” soundtrack on the song “Boardwalk Angel.” According to John, Ben was very complimentary about Cafferty’s writing for that ballad, so the group then performed the tune as a posthumous tribute.
Cafferty made a point of singling out the group’s sax player, Michael “Tunes” Antunes, who was not only one of the band’s original members, but also the only one to have an acting part in the Cruisers movie, as a member of the fictional band.
Students from the Palm Beach School of Rock have been performing at Sunfest since shortly after the Palm Beach franchise was established in 2008. But until this teenage quintet took the stage on Sunfest Saturday, no member of the after-school music program had ever played on one of the festival’s big stages. So it says something about Jumbo Shrimp Inc. that this Sunfest appearance was actually its second large-stage set for the week, having played the House of Blues Orlando that Monday.
And big gigs were not the only highlights for the band’s week, as it also released its second album, Nostalgia Calls, the day before its Sunfest show. Half of the songs on its festival set-list were from that new release, whose title seems to be an allusion to the psychedelic and retro-rock styles captured within.
Guitarist/frontman Benny Rothschild led the young band through a set that was mostly originals. The few covers performed were an eclectic selection: the Abbey Road medley by The Beatles, “Shout!” by The Isley Brothers, and “My Body” by alt-rockers Young The Giant, who Benny noted had played Sunfest the year before.
Bassist Angel Leiser bounced around the stage in between backing vocals, while the other half of the rhythm section, John Cardillo III, banged away happily on his drums. Joining in on a drum of his own was newcomer Austin Klewan, who also played saxophone.
But the band member wearing the most hats musically was Dylan Thomas, who also played sax in addition to guitar, keyboards and backing vocals.
Unlike the other Sunfest bands this year, Jumbo Shrimp is still a local act, so catch one of the group’s bar gigs around town while you still can.
[Island Stage photos shot by Empress K of Reggae Reflection]