May 11 marked the 3rd annual Inland Empire Reggae Festival in San Bernardino, Ca. Situated on the National Orange Show Event Center fair grounds, reggae fans weathered 103 degree temperatures to enjoy over 13 hours of music.
Gates opened at 11 am. as the H.G.R Productions crew was still doing a soundcheck. An unknown selector, whose lack of proper cross-fading technique became apparent as he created annoying bursts of noise when sequeing from one song to the next, entertained the steady stream of arriving festival goers. The crowd was still light so we were able to find a nice spot on the lawn under a shade tree to set up camp, strategically facing the center of the stage, which was setup across from the lagoon. By around 1pm Zion Love Soundsystem w. Selecta Chinne featuring the legendary Shinehead on the mic could be heard filling the air.
Soon So-Cal's Living Stone took the stage, playing their rocksteady version of Ritchie Valen's "We Belong Together". They were followed by Indio, California's own Tribe-O, featuring the dual vocals of siblings Siah and Ann "Lady Law" Nix. Then San Diego's Piracy Conspiracy played some original riddims before singer Mel C announced she felt the crowd would enjoy some more familar ones as the band launched into "Full Up" with Mel C chatting some original toasts.
As the sun got hotter so did the music. The crowd, which represented a multicultural mix of all peoples from different races, class and creeds gathered in front of the stage as MC Junor Francis introduced a pair of the most prolific musicians in reggae music: bassist Fully Fullwood and guitarist Tony Chin. Founding members of Soul Syndicate, Jamaica's Number One recording band in the 1970's as well as being members of Peter Tosh' Word Sound and Power Band and Big Mountain respectively were there, live and direct, in San Bernardino as part of the Fully Fullwood Allstars Band.
The first artist The Fully Fullwood Band backed was Ras Sojie, whose forth coming cd, featuring Tony Chin and Fully Fullwood, promises to be a highlight among this summer's releases.
Next up was the enigmatic Ladee Dred and her four backup singers. Her song "Makeshift Memorial" provided one of the festivals most poignant moments, as she lamented the plague of urban violence sweeping the nation. Following Ladee Dred was upcoming Jamaican singer Errol Bonnick who had the crowd singing along to his rousing "War Against Lucifer."
During a short break Zion Love Soundsystem once again filled the air with classic cuts. Festival goers could shop at the many vendors staked out around the edges of the grass or eat authentic Jamaican food from Stones and Chin. While a VIP tent offered relief from the heat for those who could afford the $75 ticket price, it would have been nice if more shaded areas were provided for festival goers who were not so keen to dance in the blazing sun.
The Fully Fullwood Band took the stage once again in the early evening, running through several original numbers by band members. The group holds court every Sunday at Huntington Beach's Don The Beach Comber's in support of Reggae For A Reason and some of the regulars attended this event, dancing in front of the stage to their favorite numbers.
As the sun began to fall Hawaii's Reggae Ambassador Marty Dread took the stage and did a heartfelt, Mother's Day tribute to the late Garnett Silk, one of Jamaica's finest singer songwriters. With the Fully Fullwood Band flowing seamlessly from riddim to riddim, Marty sang Garnett Silk favorites like "The Rod," "Bless Me," "Nothing Can Divide Us" and many more.
After another quick break Better Chemistry took the stage featuring a surprise visit by Papa Michigan of Michigan and Smiley fame as well as Shinehead, who wowed the audience with his perfect- pitch whistling abilities.
The Festival was billed to end at 11pm but for reasons unknown to this writer went well past midnight. Which was a shame as many had long left the festival before legendary toaster Ranking Joe graced the stage backed by Kington 13 Band playing some skillful Roots Radics riddims.
Heavyweight toaster Brigadier Jerry closed the show, chatting hits like "Pain" and "Jamaica Jamaica" for the faithful.
If you missed this years show fret not; rumor has it the promoters are already planning for next year!
See you there!